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Francis Currey's Medal of Honor


Currey was born in 1925 in Loch Sheldrake, New York and grew up in the small community Hurleyville, New York. His father died when he was 5 years old and his mother passed away when he was 12 in 1937. He was raised in a foster care program in Hurleyville. When he was 17 years old and in high school the Army came out with the Army Specialized Training Program [Annotator’s Note: ASTP], where they selected students nationwide during an examination. He took the examination and was 1 of the fortunate ones that passed. The requirement was you had to be graduated from high school or at least a senior and into the Army before your 18th birthday. This was because if you were 18 you were subject to the draft and could not volunteer. You could enlist or volunteer for the draft, but with no assurance of what branch or service type. Currey enlisted in the Army just prior to his 18th birthday in June 1943. He went into the ASTP program that was set up for about a thousand people at the infantry school at Fort Benning [Annotator’s Note: Georgia]. That is where he took his basic training. 1 of the objectives of this program was to see if you could go straight from civilian life into training without a basic program and be commissioned. Currey finished the training and felt it was excellent, it was determined that he was too immature yet for duty. He was assigned to regular infantry.Currey felt that at such a young age, he could absorb all that training like a sponge. He could fire most any weapon by the time he finished his training. He had grown up with light weapons hunting, but this training exposed him to heavier weapons.Currey was told after ASTP that the war would be over eventually and there would be a field for engineers and they were needed. He went to Cornell University from Fort Benning and took an engineering course. This was during the preparation time for the invasion of Normandy and new draft infantry divisions were starting up. Within 2 weeks, he was sent to the 75th Infantry Division and took part in the Louisiana maneuvers. He stayed with the 75th Division through the maneuvers as a rifleman. He was then put on a BAR [Annotator’s Note: Browning Automatic Rifle] team and sent to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. He was eligible to go overseas as a replacement. They were getting replacements out of the stateside divisions in preparation to invade Normandy and anticipating a potential of heavy losses. At that time, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that you couldn't go overseas until your 19th Birthday. Currey wasn't 19 yet so he was held back until his birthday, which was June 29. After the invasion, they stepped up the number of replacements going overseas. He was finally sent over to England and assigned in the replacement system to a division. Currey came to Omaha Beach a couple of months after the invasion.Currey was assigned to the 30th Infantry Division right as they were breaking out of the hedgerow area and were chasing the Germans through France, Belgium and Holland. They were held up at the Siegfried Line. He went through France, "almost like a tourist." He recalled going up to the front in a truck through Paris. He was moved forward in replacement depots until he reached his division. You were assigned at the division rear. Eventually, you were assigned to your regiment and then your company.Currey finally met up with the 30th Division in the Netherlands. The first action he had was in the middle of September in Kerkrade in Holland. He recalled there were 3 of them that went through the replacement system together from England. One of the guys was a "buck" sergeant [Annotator's Note: 3 stripe sergeant or E-5]; Currey and the others were privates. When they got on the line, they asked this sergeant to see if he could ask the company commander if they could stay together. When he asked, the company commander replied that he had lost a whole squad that day. Currey recalled that the replacements looked at each other and they all wondered what they were getting into. During September and October they fought in Holland and got to the Siegfried line. The first big German city they came to was Aachen, Germany. The 30th Division was the northern flank of the American Army. He recalled half the time they didn't know where they were and would end up alongside the British and some of Montgomery's command.Currey recalled his first real action was to take the city of Aachen. The 30th Division was to flank it from the north and the 1st Infantry Division was to come from the south and they were to meet on the outskirts behind it and the 29th Infantry Division was to move in and take the city. Currey remembers there were a lot of small rural towns into Germany and along the Siegfried Line. He recalled that the Siegfried line was not just 1 line, but went several miles deep of fortified villages. It took them about a month to fight their way to the banks of the Roer River. The Germans opened the gates and flooded the valley so that they couldn't cross. In the middle of December the Germans started the Battle of the Bulge. Almost overnight the whole 30th Division was moved down into Belgium to try and help stop the German attack. 


Currey recalled combat along the Siegfried line as being like combat anywhere. They are shooting at you and you are shooting at them and the idea is to get them before they get you. Currey says they were running against second rate troops, but didn't really know it at the time. He felt it was good training for the Battle of the Bulge.Currey talks about Aachen and about a lot of mopping up around there. German civilians had mostly been evacuated in that area and they weren't running across many. They knew anything they ran into would be German Army. In Holland, they had to cope with civilians. As they entered Germany they didn't really have that problem until they got near the Roer River.Currey mentions that the reason for the 30th and the 1st Infantry Divisions attacking Aachen from the north and south while the 29th came in to take the city was to prevent the Germans from getting out of the area and continuing the fight elsewhere.Currey remembered there wasn't steady resistance outside of Aachen. There were isolated instances where it was severe and you had isolated instances where you fought and had losses, but it wasn't to the extent of what they later got in Belgium.Currey noted that they didn't know about the start of the Bulge, but that they just got orders to move out and they got on trucks that took them to Belgium where they were spread out on the line, as always. They were from Malmedy to Stavelot and Stumont. He recalled being down there for several days before the Germans actually attacked them. He remembered where he was at the bridge at Malmedy and a recon group came by. He recalled a conversation with the company commander there and were told that armor couldn't operate in that terrain. So the most that Currey and his men would get would be German infantry infiltrating the line, so they should just leave a squad to guard the bridge and they would be ok. There was a factory nearby the bridge that had been a US Army hospital that was evacuated the day after Currey and his unit got there. He remembers they were there about 2 days and at about 4 o'clock that morning the German tanks were coming. He has always considered Army intelligence an oxymoron.The first thing they knew, they heard firing in the distance and they had an anti-tank platoon with a half-track there that had set up way ahead of Currey's position. They left the half-track back near Currey and his men. Currey recalled they could hear some firing and it was a Norwegian outfit on the bank. They had started action and later on they found out that the anti-tank gun was overrun. Currey recalled that the next thing they knew, there was a tank barrelling its way down the road toward them. It was about 4 o'clock in the morning and hazy. Currey could see a German tanker in the turret and he opened up on the German with is browning. The tank went on across the bridge. Across the bridge was their company Command Post (CP). Someone there had a bazooka and put a round into the tank's gas tank and blew it up. The next thing they new, there was another tank headed for them. Currey recalled that with another tank coming at them and with only 1 squad of about 8 of them defending the bridge, they felt vulnerable. They ran into the factory and had already had some of their stuff there. Currey found a bazooka and he and another GI went back out with it. One tank had come to their old position, but had turned around so his rear was to them and he was looking toward the city of Malmedy. Currey loaded the bazooka and they fired at the tank. He doesn't know how he did it, but apparently what happened was that it was a Sherman tank that the Germans captured and put a German insignia on started coming there way. Currey put a round right where the turret turned to disable it. The tank button up and pulled off. Then Currey remembered they fought the German infantry. And after a while he went out to see what was going on. He ran into some German infantry and he knew there were 3 Germans standing in a door and he opened up on them with his Browning and took care of them. The Americans and Germans were fighting back and forth in a stalemate. Finally, not much was happening in the battle for either side there and so Currey went out to see what was going on. All of a sudden, 3 German tanks came their way and pulled up and a fourth tank stayed back a little bit. Currey remembered seeing the anti-tank gun had been knocked out. The crew had dug foxholes next to the gun and couldn't move on account of the German tanks.


Currey picks back up on his Medal of Honor action story from the point in time right after he fired on the tank with the bazooka he found. He went back to the half-track and was trying to find a way to get the anti-tank crew and his men out of there. He found a whole case of anti-tank grenades at the half-track. He found that they will not knock out a tank. What happened when you fired was you had to have an adapter on an M1 rifle and when you fired it it smoked and made a big noise, but that was about it. He used them anyway and kept firing at these tanks with that ammo. Currey recalled you had to get within around 50 to 60 feet to hit them. The tankers thought lots of things were being fired at them and they abandoned the tanks. There was a machine-gun crew nearby that had been knocked out, but Currey got the gun operational and he held the German infantry down so that the other GIs could get out of there. He told them to take off 1 at a time, but they all just ran out of there.Currey recalled having 2 wounded, 1 fellow from his squad got hit pretty badly. At the time of this interview, the man was still living and Currey visits with him regularly. This GI spent about a year and a half in an Army hospital. The other wounded GI, Currey never found out who he was, but he was 1 of the wounded anti-tank guys.It became dark. It was Currey, 5 other GIs and 2 wounded. They wouldn't leave the 2 wounded behind. When the Army left, they abandoned their hospital with everything in it. Currey recalled they found a jeep with 2 stretcher mounts on it and they found 2 stretchers in the hospital. They put the 2 wounded guys on stretchers. They put them on the Jeep and Warren Shinn [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] could drive a standard so he drove the jeep. The other 4 guys held onto the stretchers and Currey offered to ride "shotgun" on the rear jeep wheel [Annotator's note: the spare wheel attached to a bracket on the rear of the vehicle] and if they were challenged, Currey would jump off and hold them off. They went past this burning German tank and were never challenged. The 6 of them, from 19 - 21 years old were in the middle of Belgium on a rural road without the slightest idea where they were. They were on the main road to Francorchamps so they kept going and eventually ran into a road block from another 1 of their regiments. They had a problem though, because they were coming from the German side with American uniforms on [Annotaters Note: during the Battle of the Bulge, Waffen SS Standartenfuhrer or full Colonel Otto Skorzeny had about 2 dozen German soldiers in the field wearing American uniforms that were to confuse and manipulate the American lines. Rumors of this spread quickly down the lines and GIs had to be on the look out for anyone suspicious. This was known on the German side as Operation Greif]. Currey and the men were challenged. Their guns, the jeep, and the wounded were taken and they were held as prisoners. Currey, even as a PFC, recalled telling 1 of their challengers to point his rifle in another direction. They finally worked their way up to headquarters.[Annotator's Note: the interview is interrupted briefly by loud background noise]Currey takes a brief break and comes back saying he had 9 months of combat. He notes in World War 2 that the average lifespan of an infantryman was 10 days. A platoon leader was even less. He had 9 months and screwed up the statistics really good. He was both a rifleman and then a platoon leader after the Bulge. So in 9 months of combat, the 21st of December was just 1 day of 9 months as far as he was concerned at the time.When he first opened up on the tank with the BAR from the bridge, he was dug in on the side of the bridge entrance with 3 foxholes, with a big open field on to their side.Currey, after finding the bazooka in the factory, had someone helping him load. A bazooka team is 2 men. You have the bazooka with 2 wires connected to a flashlight battery. 1 man holds it while the other loads the round and clips the wires on. Then the loader taps the man holding the bazooka on the helmet to let him know it is loaded and gets out of the way.[Annotator's Note: the camera is stopped at this point at Currey's request.]


The GI that helped Currey with the bazooka was Adam Lucero.Currey recalled the events of the actions that lead to him receiving the Medal of Honor were just a reaction to him. He felt well trained and knew that he knew what he was doing. He was probably thinking, "Where the hell is that tank fire coming from?" From his location, before firing on the tank with the antitank grenades and after killing germans in the house, he fired on Germans in a doorway and he later knocked out a wall. The Germans pulled 4 tanks up, 3 of which Currey was shooting at with the antitank grenades. When he hit the wall, he was trying to get the Germans out of the building. He was moving around and taking advantage of any cover he could as a well trained infantryman.When he was looking the situation over and saw the tanks coming in, he noticed the AT gun that was destroyed and then saw that there were guys in there. He crawled up to them and analyzed the situation. That's when he crawled back to their half-track for ammunition. He analyzed the situation and crawled to the hole with the machine-gun. He told the pinned down men from the anti-tank gun to take off when he opened up with the machine-gun. They took 1 wounded guy with them too. Currey was providing mostly covering fire with the machine-gun and tried to keep the German infantry down that he knew would be there. Once he got back to his squad, the anti-tank guys went across the bridge and were gone. He never saw or heard from them again. Currey remembers that they were not really any good to he and his squad and would have been in the way. He explains that when you are an infantryman, you don't want anyone with you that isn't infantry.Currey later learned from John Eisenhower's book The Bitter Woods, that Joachim Peiper [Annotator's Note: Waffen SS Standartenfuhrer or Colonel Joachim Peiper] was on a hilltop on the outside of Malmedy and saw what was going on down there. Peiper thought there was such an overwhelming force there since he lost 4 or 5 tanks, that he pulled his attack back. In the evening the artillery had opened up and had zeroed in on tanks and things. Currey recalls that they really didn't do anything. The artillery had kept the Germans from massing for an attack.Looking back on the Battle of the Bulge, Currey recalls that that point was really the farthest that Peiper had made. Stavelot was the main objective at that time for Peiper. Because of the terrain and location, they had a whole company guarding from the opposite side. When they couldn't make it there, their last gasp was Malmedy.Currey recalled that the Malmedy Massacre actually occured at Baugnet at 5 Points [Annotator's Note: 5 Points was the name used by the Americans for the Baugnez crossroads]. He remembered that they stayed in a defensive position for about 2 weeks until they all regrouped to secure the Bulge and push the Germans back. They moved out of Malmedy and dug into a hill. The Germans were on the other side of a valley and they lobbed artillery back and forth. He recalled being pulled back into Malmedy. When they moved out they went on the main highway and his regiment was in the lead. Currey remembered they uncovered the massacre. It was already known about though. Some of the men that escaped had been picked up. They knew what they would see there and Currey remembered the bodies were laying there. By the time his company got there, the bodies were starting to be uncovered. Currey also recalled that after seeing that they didn't take prisoners for quite some time until their headquarters said they needed prisoners to interrogate.


After going past the site of the Malmedy Massacre, they kept going and their next major battle was in a town called Thirimont. Currey recalled that they fought the Hermann Goering Paratrooper Division [Annotators note: the enemy unit Currey is referring to was the 3rd Fallschirmjager Division] and some of the SS Panzers were there. Currey recalled they were on a flanking position. He recalled a farmhouse outside the village that was in their way. They moved out and he was in lead with Lucero. Another fellow, Raymond Gould, was with them too. He was from Tupper Lake, NY. Gould had covered him at 1 point when he was out front. He went up into the second story of a house to cover Currey in case any Germans popped up nearby. Currey recalled hearing him fire a couple of times and he saw Germans and was keeping them back so Currey could get out of there. Curry, now a squad leader, talked to the Company Commander about getting Raymond out of there because he was taking too many chances.The next thing Currey knew, Raymond was right at his elbow as they were going across the field. They didn't know it at the time, but they were assaulting the Regimental Headquarters to the Herman Goering Paratrooper Division [Annotator's note: 3rd Fallschirmjager Division ]. They were shot at by automatic fire and Gould was killed. Currey got hit and went down. Lucero went over Currey with a grenade. He got into the house and lobbed it and Currey ended up behind him. The Germans were upstairs and Currey and Lucero were downstairs. They got into a hayloft and eventually the company commander joined them. Germans were lobbing grenades and the Americans were firing. When it got dark, the company commander got out and the executive officer and Currey left there. Currey set the hay on fire and when it blazed, they got out. Currey managed to shoot a few Germans. On the way out they received fire from other nearby Germans too.The next day, they went into Thirmont. That was the closest he ever got into it. Once while trying to go up the stairs once and a German came out with a Schmeiser [Annotator's Note: MP40 submachine gun] and they shot at each other. Currey's helmet was shot off by the climbing German weapon.Currey has returned there several times and there is a museum there. He noted that 1 time a Belgian lady told him that most of the time Germans come back there and there are very few Americans. Reflecting on the house fire, Currey says the Germans were on the second floor and couldn't get out so some of them were burned alive.Currey has been to Malmedy several times. He recalled that for the 2 weeks they were there, there was a farm house a quarter of a mile behind them. They could alternate and go back in the daytime to get hot food, write letters and get warm. They had a daughter Currey's age there and he got to know her, and of course her parents were there all the time. The Germans would fire shells in their direction, but would over or undershoot. Currey recalled 1 time he grabbed her and went tumbling down into the basement when the Germans started shelling. He shielded her with his body and before you knew it they were kissing. That is as far as it went with her parents there. About 20 years or so before the time of this interview, a bunch of GIs from Currey's unit went to Stumont on a tour for a big celebration. Belgian civilians came from all over. Currey remembered they were in a parade. Currey and his wife were walking down the street and a woman jumped out and said, "Francis Currey, you haven't changed a bit! I met you in 1944 in Malmedy." Currey says he was never in Malmedy, but was outside of it. He assumed she read that in a newspaper and was mixed up, but there was something familiar about her. He realized it was the girl from the farm. He doesn't know her name. He would have loved to have talked to her more, but he didn't realize who she was until later.


Currey left the burning house. He ran for the American line. They stayed in a defensive position that night. The next morning they went in to clean out Thirmont. It took them the whole day due to the houses being stone and like a fortress. You had to take each home individually. You had to clear them all as infantry and they didn't bring much armor up. That was the last village Currey remembered. He recalled the rest of the combat being out in the open.He recalled the worst part was at night. The ground was frozen and you had to shovel the snow to 1 side. All of the fighting was basically done above ground.After the Battle of the Bulge, they were taken back to Holland. 6 weeks later and they were back in the same foxholes they had previously held. Currey was promoted to platoon leader. He recalled 3 of them were put in for commissions. He was acting platoon leader up to them. He got picked and made the 5 senior Battle of the Bulge survivors he had on hand he made sergeants.There were 3 of them, including Currey that wanted a commission badly. When they crossed the Roer River, a new company commander was killed on patrol and Currey was advised not to take the commission. Currey declined it, but was made a platoon leader anyway. He thinks he was about the only Tech Sergeant [Annotator's Note: Technical Sergeant or E-7] platoon leader in his unit for the rest of the war.


After the Bulge, Currey felt the rest of the war was routine. He had casualties, but nothing compared to the Bulge. Once they got across the Ruhr, things seemed to open up for them and move quickly. Currey felt the rest of the war from there was just mopping up. He recalled they went all the way up to Wessel to cross the Rhine with the British. Casualties were minor. Currey attributes their casualties as being because he was given all the young casualties. If you are up front, all you have to worry about is small arms fire. The platoon Currey led at the end of the Bulge was pretty well intact by the end of the war.Currey recalled having some rifle fire when they crossed the Ruhr. He recalled stepping across on a footbridge and there was someone laying dead, but not from Currey's platoon. They had to step over him. Once they got across, there wasn't much action. The last gasp of the Germans was Magdeburg. He thinks he had 1 casualty in a few days of combat. The combat was in the city primarily.They weren't really trained for going house to house in a city. You kept going as long as you didn't draw fire. Currey remembered 1 time when there was a pile of rubble after the Air Corps dropped a bomb in the street. The Germans had set up a machine gun there. He looked things over and saw a balcony on the third story. Currey worked his way to the apartment and to the balcony. He went up to the third floor and kicked the door in to the apartment and there was a German family inside. The man of the house was standing in the bathroom shaving. There was a woman and teenage girl at the table that froze. Currey saw the balcony and crawled up on it and peeked over. 1 of the guys that went upstairs with Currey from his squad was a BAR man. Currey called him up to look over the balcony and quickly shoot the Germans. He did and got all 3 of them. Currey recalls that you do this kind of thing day after day in the infantry to the point it is almost automatic. Currey still carried a BAR at times, but when he became a rifle squad leader, he switched to M1.Currey recalled they took concentration camps in northern Germany. They would round up the guards and move on. He recalled nobody told them about the camps. At 1 of the camps, Currey took a whip out of the officer's office. It is now at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.The odor of the camp was horrible. AMG [Annotator's Note: unsure of what Currey is referring to] knew about it, but Currey recalled he was never told about it. Once the camp was taken and the guards were rounded up, others came in and took the camp over. Their function was to just take it and move on. That's the function of the rifle company. Currey relates that the rifle company is like a long spear. It is the tip and everything else comes behind the rifle company. Currey says the armor would argue against that, but that the infantry has to clear a space for the armor to operate.Currey relates that they were moving so fast at the end of the war that he has no concept of names of places he served. He noted you took it and moved on. You weren't supposed to mingle with civilians, so you tell the guys not to get caught. You had guys 19 to 21 years old and girls that age, so what do you expect? Currey related that he was guilty of it himself. The non-fraternization was a ban he would never enforce. He did have a couple of guys get caught. 1 of his best Staff Sergeants got caught right at the end of the war. They were in a town and the Staff Sergeant was with a German girl on the bicycle. The Regimental commander drove up and bust his rank down to Private.


Currey didn't agree with the non-fraternization rule. There were apparently military fears that the Germans would contaminate GIs with their propaganda.At the end of the war they were on the Elbe River at Magdeburg. The outskirts of Berlin were on their next back. They were told to stop at the bridge and that the war was over. They had to wait for the Germans to surrender. They were there for a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the Russians were still taking Berlin and they eventually moved up and the Americans met with the Russians briefly there.Currey felt the Russians were nice guys. He was a little surprised when he noticed that a Russian MP was female. Currey feels if it was up to the GIs, they would never have a problem with another person.Currey feels it is important to teach the war and learn about it. He quotes Lincoln [Annotator's Note: Currey is actually paraphrasing George Santayana] in saying that if you don't study or honor your past, then you'll have no future. Currey feels we are repeating a lot of our mistakes. The military did its job fabulously. We should have learned from Vietnam. Unfortunately, there are no Eisenhowers or Pattons today. Generals now are more like managers. He thinks we worry today too much about what other people think.Currey found out he was getting the Medal of Honor from a friend of his that cut it out of the paper and sent it to him. He can't remember where he read it and at the time it didn't mean anything to him.Currey got his Medal of Honor overseas from his Division Commander. It was in France and there was a division review. He had been transferred to Division Headquarters and was a VIP. At the time it didn't mean much to him, but he was glad to be out of combat after 9 months. The Division was initially going to come back to the states, regroup and head to the Pacific. The war ended before this happened. He was told when he got to the United States that he would be out of the war and would not go to the Pacific. He was 20 years old when he earned the medal.He entered the Army "green" at 17 years old and hadn't lived much. He grew up on a farm and was on the foster county program until he was 16. He worked on a for a living on the farm and earned his room and board. He went right in the Army from there. He matured a lot in the Army.After the war, he worked for the Veterans' Administration Annotator's Note: also referred to as the VA]. He talked with General Bradley after the war when he was head of the VA and he told Currey that there was a special slot for Medal of Honor recipients if they were interested in it. Currey took advantage of it. He wanted to go back to college, but took the job. It was a counseling job with a little bit of public relations. They trained him and put him in the education department with the GI Bill. He helped guys and the disabled out. Then, they had him troubleshooting on problems with getting guys into their schools. A bulk of guys were coming out in 1946 and if a school gave them trouble then they had to get it straightened out.Currey recalled 1 interesting case where a man of Italian descent. He had his papers with him and come to found out he was an immigrant. His family was wiped out in Italy except for 1 sister. His wife had also died in childbirth. He was saddled with this baby and was trying to get his sister into the country to help him and the Italian embassy was screwing him over. Currey called in a few favors with some political connections. Within a month or so, the man's sister arrived in the country. Currey got a letter getting complimented from a Congressman. It was from Vito Marcantonio, a communist Congressman from the Bronx and someone told him he may not want it in his file.Currey also helped with breaking a drug ring in the medical center.


Currey talks to school kids, some of which are about the age he was during the war. He tells them that if the situation arises, then you can rise to the situation. He tells military guys to take all the training you can and make sure you know how to operate that weapon.He feels it is interesting to have museums like The National WWII Museum. He particularly likes to look at Civil War museums, like the Confederate Museum in Richmond. He feels they are educational, especially for students. He feels the USS Yorktown in Charleston Harbor is a good educational tour. He considers history very important. He feels like they don't teach it much anymore in high school. Currey says he ends up giving them a history lesson when he comes to speak.Currey says it is a great honor to wear the Medal of Honor. He agrees with a lot of the other recipients that they wear it for others that didn't come home and that it is very representative. He says it is a team effort even though they single you out. Each of the men with him the day he earned it got a Silver Star, but he was singled out for what he did. He doesn't care what others may say because he knows that he did what he did, but he couldn't have done it alone.

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