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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 19, 2008

Profile in courage: World War II combat hero says we can learn from our mistakes

By David S. Lewis

ALTAMONT – Sixteen-hundred World War II veterans die each day.

With the numbers of the Greatest Generation dwindling, at a time when our once-internationally vaunted flag, a symbol of freedom and security, is now questioned and criticized across the globe, is there relevant wisdom in the stories of that generation, and its wartime experience?

Francis S. Currey, the last living World War II Medal of Honor Recipient in New York State, thinks so.

“If they can understand what’s gone on before, they don’t make the same mistakes made before,” said Currey, one of 10 local veterans, mostly from the World War II era, who spoke with students from Albany’s Christian Brothers Academy at Cindy Pollard’s Home Front Café in Altamont last Saturday. 

“However,” Currey went on yesterday, “I would say, it doesn’t seem like we have learned much on the national level.

“I read a lot, and I have a horrible feeling that this administration is going down as the worst since General Grant,” said Currey.

“It was so unusual,” Pollard said of Currey’s openness. She hosts many veterans and student groups at her café, which is decorated like her mother’s world War II-era kitchen. “I don’t know if those young men know how special that was,” she said.

According to his citation, Currey’s Medal of Honor was for valorous action in Malmedy, Belgium.  German tanks had penetrated Allied lines and were threatening its flank.  Currey, using his “extensive knowledge of weapons” and “repeated braving of murderous enemy fire,” launched an offensive on the German armored units, and, while frequently changing his position, levied such a hail of anti-tank fire at the enemy, including anti-tank grenades and a handy bazooka, he was able to rescue five wounded comrades and to stem “an attack which threatened to flank his battalion’s position,” according to the citation.

Now a resident of East Berne, Currey said that the situation today was markedly different than his 1940s.

“We were attacked.  I try not to sound too anti-administration, although today it is difficult not to,” he said. 

“We were not lied to, in World War II,” he continued.  “It was quite open; the Japanese attacked us.  We didn’t antagonize them too much, other than siding with the British against the Nazis.

“We were justified then, where it is very difficult today to find where we were justified,” said Currey.

He spoke as a student of history. He had excelled in the subject as a youth, he said, and earned a full scholarship to the state university, which he never took advantage of after returning from Europe.  Instead, the history buff became a full-time combat soldier.  Currey made his way up through the ranks, from rifleman to platoon leader. He is still an avid student of history.

“In those days, all you had to do to be promoted was survive,” he told the Christian Brothers Academy students.

 “So I sympathize with our service people today,” said Currey.  “We thoroughly believed in what we were doing then; we knew the whole country was behind us, and we were looked up to. That spirit isn’t there today.

“So I do what little I can to inject in them the spirit of patriotism, and I try to do a little history lesson on World War II.”

At the end of May, Currey was visiting friends in the great state of Virginia, and he was able to talk with young Marines, who were recently graduated from training near Quantico, and preparing to be deployed to Iraq.  Currey was able to advise them about combat.  He was their age when he embarked on his voyage to Belgium, as a combat solider in the United States Army.

“There is satisfaction in talking to them, and sharing my experience with them,” he said.  “It was different talking to the CBA students, because I wasn’t going to give them any advice about combat,” he said.

“They just like to hear a war story.”

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