By Catherine Ellerton
Moapa Valley Progress
December 7, 1941: Pearl Harbor had been bombed and the United States was dragged into WWII. Logandale veteran, Gene Curtis remembers a tremendous feeling of patriotism at that time. His uncle fought at Normandy and his dad had been in World War I.
In 1943, Gene went into the recruitment office to sign up. He was kicked out because he was too young. So he tried again. And once again, he was kicked out. After all he was only 16 years old.
So he went to his mother and advised her that he would run away from home if he was not allowed to sign up. She relinquished and gave her permission.
Gene was duly sworn into the Marines. He was there to help win the war and that is where the rest of the story begins.
Curtis was sent to Boot Camp in San Diego and then to Tank School at Jacque’s Farm, California. He was assigned to the Second Marine Division as a Tank Commander and headed to Pearl Harbor on the USS Kadashan Bay and into the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre.
Gene was assigned to the USS Kermit Roosevelt – a Luzon class internal combustion engine repair ship. Their mission was to repair any type of machinery that was sent to them. Curtis was one of six Marines assigned to the ship to protect it with the anti-air craft guns. They were heavily involved in the island hopping Battles of Saipan, Tinian and Okinawa.
The Battle of Saipan was nicknamed by the troops “Hell’s Pocket,” “Death Valley” and “Purple Heart Ridge.” These names indicated the severity of the fighting in that area.
Gene remembers that when the tanks were taken on shore they could not be used because they were too heavy for the terrain.
“Other memories were so scary that you just lived past it,” Curtis said.
He remembers a fellow Marine began screaming and making no sense. He slowly lost his mind and had to be removed. He was 13 years old!
Another night a fellow soldier talked that he wasn’t going to do it anymore. He had had enough. All laughingly agreed. This young man killed himself right in front of all his fellow warriors.
Tinian was next. This became an important base for further Allied operations in the Pacific Campaign.
Then on to Okinawa which was known as “Operation Iceberg.” It was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific theatre of World War II. The Second Marine Division was kept on board as an amphibious reserve but was never brought on shore.
Later Gene served on the first ship, The USS Grimes – a troop carrier. Approximately twenty-five days after the bomb had been dropped they went into Nagasaki. Curtis remembers the fires were still burning.
Their mission was to release the POWs that had been incarcerated from the Philippines. Over 9,000 Allied POWs (including 2,300 Americans) were processed at Nagasaki. This mission began before the radiological survey was completed.
Curtis stated that this was a very emotional time – for them and for the prisoners. When they came into the prison camps he remembers going through buildings that were filled with packages of clothing and food sent from home that had never been given to the prisoners. The prisoners had been locked in teak cages in which there was no room to sit or stand up. These prisoners could only assume the fetal position and pray. The condition of the prisoners made it necessary to carry them back the approximately 20 miles to the Navy Hospital Ships – the USS Mercy and the USS Comfort. This has always been a horrific memory for Curtis.
Shortly after leaving the area, the troops started passing out and their joints began to swell. They all had the same symptoms; therefore, they were accused of slacking off. That was before the affects of radiation poisoning were known. They all came down with radiation poisoning.
Gene was released from active duty in 1946 and served in the Marine Corps Reserves until 1950.
When he left active duty, he obtained his high school diploma at a Veteran’s High School. He completed his college education on the G.I. Bill and soon began work for the State of Wyoming as a Highway Patrolman. He retired from there as a Captain in 1977. He then went to work for the Department of Revenue and Taxation for the State of Wyoming until he retired once again ten years later. He moved to the Moapa Valley as his daughter had introduced him to this area. Curtis met his current wife, Bernice, at a dance at the Overton Senior Center.
Gene served as the Commander of the local VFW – twice. He and his friend David Fox teach special workshops at the local high schools as they feel the current history books leave out a lot of the turbulent times of the 30s and 40s and of World War II. Their current mission is to develop a little patriotism in America’s youth.
As I took my leave, Curtis shook my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “Remember, I am not a hero. I am a survivor. The heroes are the ones that we left behind.”