• This Veterans Day We Remember One WWII Medal of Honor Recipient’s Exploits

    Surge Summary: This Veterans Day we help honor all who’ve served by recalling the astonishing World War II feats of Francis Currey, until recently one of America’s few surviving Medal of Honor recipients. He passed away October 8 of this year. 

    Francis Currey was one of the last three surviving recipients of the Medal of Honor for valor during World War II. He hailed from Hurleyville, a town in the Catskill mountains of New York, working for an embalmer during high school. One week after his graduation in 1943 he decided join the Army.

    Emily Langer (the Washington Post) continues:

    He shipped out in the spring of 1944 for Europe, making his way from Normandy in the wake of the D-Day invasion to the Netherlands and then, by winter, to the Ardennes region of Belgium. There, as a 19-year-old private first class during the Battle of the Bulge, the infantryman was credited with almost single-handedly holding back a German attack on the town of Malmedy.

    For his actions — heralded days later in a New York Times account reporting that he had “helped immobilize three German tanks, wiped out a house full of Nazis, rescued six of his trapped buddies and saved five wounded men” — Mr. Currey, who attained the rank of sergeant before completing his service, received the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration.

    The not-yet-20-year-old Currey was 6 feet tall but only 130 pounds when he ended up in the bloody thick of the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of World War II. The butcher’s bill from that campaign? 80,000 American and 100,000 German casualties. The town of Malmedy was the notorious site of a Waffen-SS troops massacre of more than 80 U.S. soldiers who’d surrendered to them at the start of the battle.

    Four days after the massacre, at about 4 a.m. on Dec. 21, 1944, Mr. Currey was in a foxhole when “a German armored column spearheaded by captured American tanks rolled out of the heavy mist,” the Times reported, overpowering an American antitank unit and surrounding Mr. Currey and several other soldiers.

    Taking shelter in an abandoned paper factory, the American soldiers discovered a bazooka but no ammunition. Mr. Currey left the building and, while completely exposed to enemy fire, ran to a supply of ammunition across the street to load the bazooka. With another soldier, he shot at a German tank.

    An account in the book Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty supplies the detail that, “By what he would later call a miracle, the rocket hit the exact spot where the turret joined the chassis and disabled the vehicle.”

    Mr. Currey then turned his attention to a German-held stone house, firing with an automatic rifle on three enemy soldiers. “I got all three with one good burst,” he told the Times, “then, while the other fellows in the factory covered me, I stood up in plain sight and knocked down half a wall of that house with the bazooka.

    He then spotted a group of American forces trapped in a foxhole between himself and the house. They apparently had been stuck there for hours and asked him for help.

    In a desperate effort to rescue them, he obtained grenades, which he used to attack the house and German tanks threatening the Americans. When the grenades ran out, he continued firing on the Germans with machine guns.

    “Under his covering fire the 5 soldiers were able to retire to safety,” reads the citation for his Medal of Honor. “Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the enemy was forced to withdraw. Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Sgt. Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing 5 comrades, 2 of whom were wounded, and for stemming an attack which threatened to flank his battalion’s position.”

    Decades later, remarking on his heroics that day and exhibiting the kind of self-effacement that was common at one time in that, the “Greatest Generation”, he told the Times-Union newspaper of Albany, N.Y., “It was just one day of nine months of steady combat.”

    Ironically, he actually completed Officer Candidate School training, but, per Medal of Honor, he was deemed “too immature” for a commission.

    “We were all teenagers, the oldest one was maybe twenty-one years old, and I was the one with all the training,” he said in the book  Voices of the Bulge  by Michael Collins and Martin King. “I knew what I was doing, since I had been in training the year before.”

    Umm, where’s the big-budget, Hollywood production of this guy’s feats? Mel Gibson? Michael Bay? Clint Eastwood? Somebody please get one of these three or someone of their directorial caliber them on the phone, please; stat

    Along with the Medal of Honor (received July 7, 1945), the military decorations Currey collected included the Silver Star, the Bronze Star Medal and three awards of the Purple Heart. Judging from his Malmedy exploits, it’s safe to conclude he merited all of them.

    Following the War, Mr. Currey went to work as a benefits counselor at a veterans’ hospital in Albany, N.Y., and ran a landscaping business.

    He’s survived by his wife of 70 years, the former Wilma French, and three children (two sons and a daughter), seven grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

    Oh, yes, decades later one more honor awaited the WW2, Upstate New York war hero:

    Mr. Currey became the first Medal of Honor recipient to be represented as a G.I. Joe action figure. However, he preferred not to seek attention for his recognition. “I got it; that’s all,” he told the Times-Union of Albany in 2013. “I don’t make a big issue out of it.”

    More self-effacement. Yep, the “Greatest Generation”.

    Francis Currey’s death leaves just two living honorees from that globe-spanning conflict: Charles Coolidge, 98, acknowledged for his fall-of-1944 actions as an Army technical sergeant in France; and Hershel “Woody” Williams, 96, honored for bravery as a Marine Corps corporal in the Pacific’ Iwo Jima.

    Happy Veterans Day to all who’ve served.

    H/T: Emily Langer/Washington Post

    Image: American Troops/Battle of the Bulge; Creative Commons; CC by @2.0; Adapted from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/soldiersmediacenter/27279240339

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