By Sharon Semanie
For the Piqua Daily Call
Like many military veterans who defended their U.S. homeland during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and wars of recent decades, Charles Curtis is adamantly reluctant to discuss his experiences. At 86 years of age, the decorated Army sergeant who fought on the front lines in Korea simply says “I did my job, served my country and came home.”
His quick wit and love for family is quickly tempered by his recollections over a half-century ago. “I worked in a brewery in Fort Wayne, Ind., when I was drafted (in 1951),” he haltingly began. Two weeks prior to being shipped to Korea, he married the former Maxine Smitley of Piqua and the last song he ironically heard as he stepped onto a military ship was “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now.” With shrapnel scars imbedded in his forehead, the retired Meadow Gold Dairy and Third Savings Bank employee was discharged in 1953 and, together, he and Maxine have raised two children, Jan Palmer and Jeff Curtis, both of Piqua.
Curtis was one of seven sons and three daughters born to Fern W. and Matilda “Tilly” Curtis. Charles and his sole surviving brother, Louis, now 84, claim both were the “greatest” parents in the world. The elder Curtis, at 6’2”, was inducted into the US Army during World War I in 1918 and served as a sergeant with the 56th Balloon Company until he became sick and was discharged in 1922. Matilda, or “Susie” as he fondly called her, was a diminutive 4’10” woman described as an “amazing cook, loving and caring.”
As the family grew up on East Greene Street in Piqua, each of the seven sons was drafted into the military, served their country and safely returned home beginning with Clifford Klase, a half brother, always considered a biological brother by his siblings. Klase reportedly “lied” about his health in order to join the Navy during World War II; however he was rejected and sent home six months later because he was flat-footed. “You could hear him coming, flap, flap, flap” jokingly interjected Charlie. Upon his return home, he married the former Mary Arbogast and, together, they raised two daughters. He was a lifetime meat cutter associated with the Klase Meat Market. A victim of Parkinson’s disease, he died at 86 years of age.
Paul Curtis was inducted into the U.S. Army in October 1942 and dutifully served as an ambulance driver with the 60th medical battalion in northern France, the Rhineland and Normandy. As a corporal he was discharged in December 1945 and married the former Catherine Schmerge. They raised five children until he died of cancer at 70 years of age.
George Curtis was a Sea Bee in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Described by Charlie and Louis as the “quiet one,” George served on an island in the Pacific where he drove a truck. Having spent his entire life in the grocery business, the “good-looking kid” as his brothers noted, married the former Gertrude “Aunt Blondie” Schmerge and they raised five sons. He, too, died of cancer at 83 years of age.
“They (brothers) all had dark hair and dark eyes except Dad (Charlie) who was a blue-eyed blonde,” interjected Jan Palmer.
Ray Curtis joined the U.S. Navy and served aboard the USS San Jacinto, an aircraft carrier with the 3rd and 5th fleet. The surviving brothers claim Ray experienced the “greatest amount of combat” during the war having served in the Pacific. He and his wife, the former Marie Ahlers, raised eight children. He was 70 years when he passed.
“Dad (Fern) was naturally worried about his sons but he lived through it,” noted Louis, adding his father had a large map to track everyone’s whereabouts.
Louis was 19 years of age when drafted in 1950 and quickly adds “I didn’t care for it at all”. Having survived an appendectomy, his status into military duty was temporarily deferred until he had to quit his produce job at the former Kroger’s grocery on Main Street and join the Army. He reported to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for engineering training and later became a cook in Alaska during the Korean War where he was stationed with a tank company with the 4th Infantry Regiment. While stationed in Alaska he married the former Nancy Brockert of Piqua and, together, they raised five children: Karen Lawrence, Kathy Creager, Keith Curtis, Kim Wagner and Kevin Curtis.
Louis, who was discharged in 1952, was asked about his culinary abilities nowadays. “I didn’t know how to cook (when I entered the Army) and I hate to cook to this day,” he jokingly replied. He opened the P&J Grocery Store on Wayne Street upon his return and has remained in the grocery business his entire lifetime.
Fernie Curtis, the youngest of the seven brothers, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1954 during the Korean War, received his basic training at Ft. Belvoir, VA. and, after 16 weeks, was transferred to Walter Air Force Base, Texas. and later to North Labrador. Now deceased, he was married to the former Peggy Link and they raised three daughters.
In addition to the Curtis sons, three sisters included Theresa Mikolajewski, of Piqua, who has six children; and Rosie McCawley and Eileen Deeter, the two latter both deceased.
As Veteran’s Day now approaches, Charlie and Louis Curtis can be proud of their family’s unselfish military service and representation in every branch of the military with the exception of one. Laughing, Charlie interjects “We weren’t smart enough to be in the Marines.”
As Charlie sat surrounded by oxygen tubes, a walker and suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease, he and Louis were asked the significance of the Nov. 11 holiday.
“I think people take them (veterans) for granted,” lamented Charlie. “I feel we deserve more respect.” Nodding affirmatively, Louis, who’s survived cancer and open heart surgery, suggested “It’s important they (U.S. citizens) remember what (veterans) did.”