Local World War II veteran Frank Curre died Wednesday, exactly 70 years after surviving the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Curre, who served in the Navy, died Wednesday morning after battling mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, for more than a year.
The Waco native was 88 years old.
Curre was a mess cook aboard the USS Tennessee at Pearl Harbor when the naval base was bombarded.
Curre later was assigned to the USS Petrof Bay during the war and he participated in attacks at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
“It’s like he held on for today, which is his special day,” said Curre’s daughter, Linda Lee. “He was very much a family man. He taught us family values, patriotism and love for our country.”
Lee said Curre was exposed to asbestos as the ships were bombed and set ablaze, spreading the harmful chemical into the air. Lee and her sister, Peggy Hunt, had been Curre’s caregivers for the past year.
After leaving the military, Curre worked as a pressman for the Waco Times-Herald, now the Tribune-Herald , for 42 years. He continued to work part time for the paper for another 18 years.
Curre was the president of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He has returned to Pearl Harbor four times with group members, most recently last year for the 69th anniversary of the attack.
“There’s a lot of stuff I don’t remember much in my old age. But that day? Everything that happened that day is tattooed on your soul,” Curre told the Tribune-Herald in a November 2010 interview, a month before the trip. “It never leaves you. You carry it with you the rest of your life.”
The three remaining members currently are in Hawaii for the 70th anniversary with other Pearl Harbor survivors.
J.C. Alston, vice president of the chapter, said the tour bus pulled over and held a moment of silence for Curre after learning of his death.
Alston said the Veterans Day parade last month was one of the last times the group was all together. Alston said Curre rode in the front seat of a convertible a car dealership donated for the event, but he wasn’t in good health.
“At least he’s gone on to a better place, because with his condition, he was in a lot of pain,” Alston said, adding that he considered Curre like family. “They couldn’t operate on him, so he had to tough it out, and they just kept increasing his pain medication as he got worse.”
Robert Carter is commander of the William B. Moody Memorial VFW Post 2034, where Curre was a member. Carter had been visiting Curre in recent days as his health declined. He said Curre was bedridden for about five days and by Monday could only nod or shake his head to acknowledge people.
Carter said he and Curre would visit local schools like Rapoport Academy and talk to students about World War II. Carter said Curre also loved to go to the McDonald’s on North 19th Street to drink coffee with fellow veterans and a police officer he knew.
“Frank was quite a guy,” Carter said. “He loved America, and he loved his uniform, and he couldn’t stand for anybody to talk bad about it. He would be the first one to tell you to shut up if you did.”
Mary Duty, a history teacher at Tennyson Middle School, said Curre was a frequent guest speaker in her class. The school named their Hall of Honor after Curre last school year, and Duty’s class presented him with a plaque.
Two students created posters of Curre to march in the most recent Veterans Day parade. Duty said she will take the artwork to Curre’s two daughters to keep.
“He was funny at times, but he would tell very serious stories,” Duty said. “He had a gift as a storyteller, he would lean into them and talk to them in a manner that made them want to listen.
“He told kids that every day after Pearl Harbor was like a gift, because he should have died that day, and when he didn’t, every day for the next 70 years was from God.”
In 2009, Curre was featured in an oral history interview with the city of Waco. The video already was scheduled to run Wednesday night because of the Pearl Harbor anniversary.
City spokesman Larry Holze said the city added a tribute to the end of the video acknowledging Curre’s death and noting that he “proudly told the stories of those who lost their lives serving our country.”
“He often wondered why the boys standing on each side of him died and the boys in the back of him died, and he was just standing there,” Lee said. “Maybe God sent him back to be a messenger, because he had some purpose and plan for bringing him back.”
Funeral arrangements for Curre are pending.