Early Life

Becoming a Sailor

Preparing for D-Day

D-Day

Reflections on D-Day

Operations Dragoon and Downfall

Postwar Life

Reflections

Annotation

Robert Lewis Curl was born in 1925 in Warrior, Alabama. He had two brothers and one sister. All his siblings were older than him. His father was a Methodist minister and would move every two or three years to a different assignment. His mother was a homemaker. Curl would walk four miles to and four miles back from school every day. The family lived in small towns for the most part but eventually moved to Birmingham. Curl never had long term relationships with his teachers because the family moved often. His closeness with his siblings was limited because they were a good bit older than him. Growing up in the Depression, he asked for a job at a local movie theater. The owner laughed at first, but accepted when Curl offered to pick up paper just to see all the movies for free. Movies cost ten cents at the time so his friends were jealous. Curl was 16 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor [Annotator’s Note: on 7 December 1941]. They thought the Japanese were not capable of doing so. It was quite a surprise. A friend in high school wanted to join the Army but Curl wanted to get into the Navy. His friend did not like the Navy because he did not want to be eaten by a shark. Curl responded that he did not want to be stabbed by a bayonet. The men went separate ways in the military. Curl’s father gave his permission for his son to enlist in the Navy. His father had not served in the World War I but he was very patriotic. Curl's father told him that he wished he could accompany his son into the service. Curl graduated from high school and the next morning he joined the Navy. That night he was on a train headed to Bainbridge, Maryland for his basic training. He had never taken a train ride before. He went to the dining car to get something to eat. When the waiter asked him what he would like for an appetizer, Curl responded that he was already hungry. He did not know what an appetizer was at the time [Annotator’s Note: Curl chuckles at his lack of worldly experiences at that point in his life]. When Curl was nine years old, he and his mother were in a large department store when it caught on fire. They were told not to use the elevator because it was safer to use the stairway down. When they reached the bottom, they could not see through the smoke. They heard a voice telling them to come toward that direction. Someone had broken out a display window and that was how the two Curls made their escape. It was shortly afterward that Curl noticed a lady showing superior strength. She fled the fire carrying a heavy hair styling machine attached to her head that she otherwise could not have picked up normally. Her strength was bolstered by the critical circumstances. After that woman rested, she tried to pick up the machine again. She could not do so. People can show super strength depending on the urgency of the situation. When Curl was 17 years old, his father was assigned to a new church. Curl had few friends at that point other than a few boys. When he attended church, he noticed a girl giving a devotional. Curl committed to marrying that girl. He did not know at the time that she had taken note of him at the same time. After church, the young people normally met for what they called a "fireside" gathering. Fireside had been cancelled that night. The young lady that caught Curl’s attention offered to provide refreshments if the meeting would carry on as usual. That was when Curl and his future wife met. It was on Valentine’s night in 1943. After the first meeting, they dated for three or four months until he joined the Navy. She wrote to him the whole time he was in the service. When he went to England, the couple communicated using V-Mail. V-Mail was an efficient way of transferring thousands of letters on a reel of film to the recipients either overseas or back at the home front.

Annotation

Robert Curl entered the Navy never having been very far from home. It was to be a different experience for him. He had been a photographer before enlisting. He had several photographs that had been published. Upon examination in boot camp, he was led to believe that he would be assigned as a photographer in the Navy. He would be trained in Pensacola, Florida after post-basic training leave. When he returned from the leave, he was told he would be going into Scouts and Raiders training in Bradford, Virginia. He questioned the officer who told him of the assignment and was promptly told to get back into the selected group. He was to be a frogman. After several days at the new training, his unit was mustered together. They were queried concerning anyone scoring high on an examination. Those with high scores were told that they should step forward. Curl was reluctant for fear of volunteering for something that would be worse. After briefly hesitating, he realized his current assignment was no plum. He stepped forward. He was told that he would be sent to Woods Hole, Massachusetts for secret radar training. He thought he was getting out of Scouts and Raiders but it was not to be. The new radar was to aid in the forthcoming assault on the beaches of Normandy. There were two images that Curl worked with in his assignment. He had a map of the beach which he superimposed on top of his radar. When the images matched up, they were at the correct beach. His assignment turned out to be Omaha Beach. The training in Virginia included marches along the beach where the men had to take cover by diving on the sand during simulated enemy air raids. Right after that training, Curl was sent back to Camp Bradford, Virginia and then amphibious school in Little Creek, Virginia. At Little Creek, the men were formed into crews. They shipped to New York to pick up new Landing Craft Control boats [Annotator’s Note: Curl holds up a photograph of a Landing Craft Control, or LCC, boat which resembled a PT torpedo boat with extensive communication antennas]. The LCC was listed as the second most secret weapon of World War II. Curl did not realize that at the time. He was assigned to sail on a Liberty Ship with three of these LCC boats on top of it. He met his crew in England. The crews were stationed in Plymouth, England. From there, they practiced landing coordination.

Annotation

Robert Curl took part in Operation Tiger to practice landing operations at Slapton Sands in England. On the morning of the landings, Curl and his craft led several waves of assault troops into the beaches. [Annotator’s Note: Curl was a radar man on a Landing Craft Control, or LCC, boat which resembled a PT torpedo boat without torpedo tubes but with extensive radar and communication antennas]. Later that night, they noticed many assault troops floating upside down with their legs jutting out of the water. It had turned out that German E Boats, torpedo boats, had attacked some troop ships and hundreds of soldiers had been killed. Many of the troops had drowned when they overturned while wearing their Mae West life belt preservers. The belt was to be worn loosely but the men had not been informed of that. When they got into the water, they were turned upside down. Several bodies were picked up by Curl and his crew. After the return to their base, they were told that General Eisenhower [Annotator’s Note: General D. Dwight Eisenhower] had ordered that anyone speaking of that operation would be court martialled. News about the Slapton Sands incident was finally released in the 1970s. Six hundred died that morning. Later, Curl was sent to the Royal Naval Academy in Dartmouth. He was briefed on the invasion of Normandy. He saw details on maps and models of the beaches. It included representations of German pillbox locations. After seeing the models of the German emplacements and being told that his death in the first wave was a high probability, Curl felt pessimistic about his chance of survival. He wrote a letter to his mother telling her that he wished he had been a better son. He thought he would not live past the opening moments of the invasion. While stationed in England, the troops always had to carry a gas mask. Buzz bombs [Annotator’s Note: German V-1 flying rocket bombs] would come over at night. When the buzz bomb engine cut out, it signaled that the bomb was coming down. Curl raced to the shelter one night and forgot his gas mask. He sat next to a man who asked him if he smelled gas. Curl was anxious about hearing the question because he had no gas mask. It turned out that the man thought he smelled gasoline not poison gas. Curl was going to grab the man’s gas mask if the need arose. When the troops were deployed to Normandy for the invasion, they wore an impregnated suit over their uniform to protect them from poison gas. They also wore an armband which changed colors when exposed to poison gas. Curl constantly monitored both his radar and the armband on the morning of the invasion. The Germans never used the poison gas. Curl and his fellow crewmates were sent to Weymouth to prepare for the invasion. They left on 5 June [Annotator’s Note: the original date for the Normandy assault had been 5 June 1944 but because of the heavy weather, the date was moved to 6 June 1944]. There was a heavy storm so the boat returned to their port. The LCC tied up next to a troop ship. Curl’s boat had no food on it although there were 12 petty officers and two commissioned officers onboard. There were only two officer bunks on the boat. The rest of the men slept on stretchers barely off the deck. Curl went aboard the adjacent troop ship and slept on a mess table. When he left the troop ship, he forgot to salute the flag on the stern of the ship. An officer called him back to do so. The officer observed that Curl had something under his shirt. Curl explained that it was a loaf of bread for the men on his boat who had no food. The officer acknowledged that Curl could carry on with the bread.

Annotation

Robert Curl and his boat crew left the English port at midnight on 6 June [Annotator’s Note: 6 June 1944] headed to the beaches of Normandy. The seas were still rough. As they approached their destination, they observed troops coming down cargo nets to load into LCVPs [Annotator’s Note: Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel or Higgins Boats]. Because of the rough seas, many men were injured trying to board the LCVPs. As the final boats were loading, those previously loaded circled around until all were ready to follow the LCC [Annotator’s Note: Landing Craft, Communication] as the first wave of the assault. Curl’s LCC [Annotator’s Note: USS LCC-10] was then to standoff the beach about 1,000 yards and wait for the subsequent waves to advance on the beach. There was a German pillbox that was giving Curl’s boat a fit. The enemy could see the radar dome on top of the LCC and knew that the boat was leading the landing crafts to the beach. The Germans were firing on the LCC. Curl could see the battleships firing on the German positions. The projectiles looked like footballs flying overhead. A destroyer backed in close to the LCC and, using a 5” turret, destroyed the troublesome German pillbox. Curl was gratified for the accuracy of the gun crew in placing the killing round through the firing opening of the pillbox. The pillboxes were constructed of thick concrete walls to protect them. Often the shells that hit them only chipped away some concrete but did not knock out the emplacement. The work amazed Curl who had a new appreciation for the way Germans made concrete. Many of the enemy positions are still there today. The day after D-Day, Curl worked on placing old Liberty Ships in formation to sink them to provide a breakwater to protect offloading Allied ships. An old French battleship was also used for this purpose. Curl would sleep on the sunken ships at night. When the Germans bombed the area, the sunken Liberty Ships would rock with the explosions. Afterward, Curl began to sleep on the old battleship which was far more heavily armored. The boat skipper told Curl that he would join him in the future. Curl and his crewmates stayed in Normandy for about three weeks. They lived off K and C rations, which was fine at first but got old after awhile. Returning to England, the crew lived in a Quonset hut and had access to a mess hall. Curl had to retrieve his mess kit from his sea bag in order to be fed at the chow hall. While still at Normandy, Curl went ashore on the third day. He decided to make a meatloaf out of Spam and Army butter. He put a spoon of butter in his mess kit in order to melt it. He was surprised to see the coating of his mess kit melting but the butter not liquefying at all. The morning of D-Day, things were not going well at first. The initial three waves were just about knocked out. The fast firing German machine guns were wiping out the troops as they exited the LCVPs. Bodies were everywhere. Curl’s LCC was to lead LCTs [Annotator’s Note: Landing Craft, Tank] loaded down with floating DD [Annotator’s Note: Duplex Drive] tanks. The tanks had canvas sides on top of them to prevent water from getting inside. Although the tanks had worked fine at Slapton Sands, they largely failed at Normandy. Of the 60 DDs that were released to assault the beaches, only six made it ashore. Curl’s crew picked up bodies of some of the drown soldiers from the tanks. Until noon, the issue was in doubt. It was then that the troops got off the beach and advanced up the cliffs where the pillboxes were located. Using Bangalore torpedoes, the men moved forward and took out the enemy positions. Late that afternoon, Curl and his friend were eating Lifesavers when they were given the order to pursue German E Boats [Annotator’s Note: torpedo boats]. The two men became seasick. When they threw up, it looked like Roman candles going off. They did not want to catch the E Boats after all because they only had two twin .50 caliber gun mounts compared to the more heavily armed German boats [Annotator’s Note: German E Boats were similar to American Patrol Torpedo, or PT, boats except larger in size and better armed]. Curl was aboard Landing Craft Control 10. Nine had been built in Brooklyn and Curl was assigned to go with three of them on top of a Liberty Ship to England. Most were to be used in the Normandy assault but some went to the Pacific. Curl witnessed the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach. It was amazing how so many troops survived the enemy fire. Some landing crafts were hung up on hedgehog obstacles off the beach. LCC 10's skipper was smart. Each time a German shell would hit close by, the skipper would move the boat to that location. The next shot would barely miss them and the boat would then be moved to the last impact location. Curl’s boat was a control boat for the landings. It looked like a PT boat but was not as fast. Although the LCC guided the landing craft in on the morning of the invasion, many of the troops landed at the wrong locations. This was particularly true of Utah beach which lost its LCC. Curl wished that the troops he was responsible for could have landed at Utah because the fortifications were not nearly as strong as they were on Omaha beach. The battle at the beaches raged most of the day. Cables were used to hold barrage balloons over Allied ships. The balloon cables prevented enemy aircraft from sweeping in close to their targets. That was the same type of balloons used in England to ward off enemy aircraft. Not a single German airplane was lost to damages due to the barrage balloon cables. During the early stages of the invasion, there was a worry that the Allied forces might have to withdraw. A year earlier, an Allied raid had disastrous results [Annotator’s Note: an unsuccessful Allied raid was launched against the Germans at Dieppe, France in August 1942].

Annotation

Robert Curl did not realize the importance of the actions that occurred on D-Day until years afterward. The same was true of when he was in a building on fire when he later became a fire fighter [Annotator’s Note: as a small child, Curl was with his mother in a department store when it caught on fire and had to escape through a broken display window]. Curl never talked about the actions of D-Day until years later. His story is on the internet. He is sometimes asked for his autograph. One individual has captured his autograph and is selling it for 35 dollars. Curl’s son complained to the people but they responded that they would give the money to veteran’s organizations. The seriousness of D-Day came later to Curl. When he was receiving a French military award, he and other veterans were placed in chairs. A French general came over to Curl and saluted him. With Curl’s name and rank printed on the back of his chair, the French officer made a mistake. He thought the abbreviation for radar man, RDM, meant rear admiral. Curl took his salute and has the incident captured on video. The next day, after the initial assault of Normandy, there were still bodies floating everywhere. Ernie Pyle wrote a story about the D-Day carnage. It was censored before being sent in for publication. Curl was given a copy of the story by Pyle. After the war, while in school, Curl was having problems with his writing ability. He was making Ds in his course. He decided to copy Pyle’s story word for word but was baffled by a word that Pyle had used, retrospect. He looked it up in the dictionary and was ready for the instructor to question him. It turned out that Pyle made a C plus on the writing assignment [Annotator’s Note: Curl chuckles about the story]. Over the years, Curl lost the letter that Pyle had written and given him. Standing 1,000 yards off Omaha beach, Curl witnessed the many waves going to the beach and the destruction that resulted. There were bodies and wrecks everywhere. That was what Ernie Pyle wrote about but never reached publication.

Annotation

Three weeks after D-Day, Robert Curl was sent around Gibraltar to Naples and Salerno, Italy. From there they went to Sardinia and Corsica to prepare for the invasion of southern France. Curl and his crewmates led the first wave into the invasion of Southern France. It was much different than Normandy. The LCC [Annotator’s Note: Landing Craft, Communication] had smoke generators that masked the approach of the Allied LCVPs [Annotator’s Note: Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel, or Higgins Boats]. It was easy compared to the previous experiences. Afterward, Curl was sent to a rest camp in North Africa. He had the best job there. He was a rat exterminator. He mixed poison and put it around the Quonset huts. At night, the rats would eat it and drink themselves to death. He could sleep when he was not performing that duty. He was sent back to New York. While there, he had a chance to enjoy his favorite hobby. He was fascinated by cameras. In New York, he decided to buy a new one. In a store, he found one he wanted, but it was made specifically for the Navy. A purchaser had to have an A1 priority to acquire that type of camera. Curl did not want a used camera. He wanted the special camera. Curl was told he had to go to the Empire State Building to get the necessary priority. When he reached there, he discussed it with the officer in charge. When Curl revealed that he led the first wave into Normandy, the officer invited him in to tell him about those experiences. The officer asked if Curl had been in Plymouth, England. Curl confirmed that it had been his home port in England. When the officer showed a photograph of his daughter who was located in Plymouth and serving as a Red Cross girl, Curl exclaimed that she had served donuts to him and his buddies every Wednesday. The officer immediately gave Curl the A1 priority and the camera was subsequently his. Curl still has the camera [Annotator’s Note: Curl proudly shows the camera]. It was a special camera built for the Navy in World War II. It is heavy and has automatic shutter winding when the film was wound. At one point, Curl had a collection of 300 film cameras. He donated them to a thrift store. He gave his library of photography books to the Birmingham Library. Film cameras are not worth much these days. Curl had a dark room at home and would do photographic work for the fire department also. After his return to the United States, Curl was given a 30 day leave. He went home and photographed his girl friend. After the leave, he reported back to duty and was sent to Fleet Service Radar School. He was to pick up a new rocket ship in Charleston, South Carolina. That vessel was to be used in the invasion of Japan. It had gyro-controlled rockets that allowed the ordnance to be aimed accurately even when the ship rocked in the seas. It also had a 5 inch gun on it [Annotator’s Note: Curl holds up a picture of a ship labeled 406 or 408 depicting an LSM(R), or Landing Ship Medium (Rocket)]. Before the invasion was needed, the atomic bombs were dropped. The ship was told to turn around and head back to Honolulu. The vessel then headed to Washington during which time the crew was told to drop the ammunition overboard. Curl had previously traveled through the Panama Canal en route to the invasion of Japan. They went to San Francisco and practiced shelling San Clemente Island. From the West Coast, the ship went to Honolulu and then on to Eniwetok. On one of the Pacific islands, he was given a haircut by a Japanese lady. There were flames all around during the haircut. He did not know what was going on but was informed that he had a singed haircut which was supposed to be a deluxe treatment. Nevertheless, Curl was not sure of just what was happening at the time.

Annotation

Robert Curl liked serving in the Navy. The food was good and he enjoyed his time in service. There was one thing he did not like. There was an uncertainty of where an individual would next be based. As a result, Curl left the military. While returning home, he stopped in New Orleans. A carnival was going on while he was there in the layover. A barker for the carnival enticed Curl into taking a chance at one of the games. Then he talked him into more and more chances. Before long, Curl was out of money. Curl discovered then and there that he did not like gambling. He returned home to his girlfriend who was attending the University of Alabama. She had waited for him all the years he was away. She quit college and the two got married. They had a wonderful life together. Curl loved her for 72 years before she passed. Curl attended Birmingham Southern College on the G.I Bill because his father wanted him to do so. Curl’s grades were not acceptable to him so he dropped out. He then got on the job training in a photographic studio. Curl knew everything that they were trying to teach him so he left and joined the Fire Department. In that job, he maintained multiple roles. He taught at night in addition to running to all the fires in his red car. He was put under significant stress. He had a heart attack and was bleeding internally. After convalescing, he told the Chief that he had to retire. The Chief told him that he could not stop working because he had a lifetime job. Curl replied that he could die at any time but that incident happened in 1973. Curl returned to work. The doctor gave him Valium tablets to take in case of stress. While making his way to the Fire station one day, Curl heard an urgent call indicating an accident was nearby. As he approached the scene, he saw the crashed vehicle with its broken window on the driver’s side. When he gazed down on the pavement, he noticed a head of hair on the ground. He thought the lady had been decapitated. On closer examination, it only turned out to be a wig and not the driver’s head. Curl went about directing the fire trucks after that. In another incident, Curl attended a fireman’s funeral. At the funeral, a quartet made up of firemen sang the first verse of a song. Those in attendance expected the singers to continue on with the second verse. Instead, a bugler who was behind the attendees blew on his trumpet. It startled all in attendance. Curl thought for a moment that Gabriel was blowing his horn for him.

Annotation

Robert Curl was proud of his service in the Navy and loved the food except for C rations. During the D-Day invasion, he was amazed to see projectiles flying overhead. They looked like footballs. He noticed two ships with their American flags flying upside down. Curl thought they did not know how to fly the flag. He subsequently learned that it meant that the ships were in distress. One of the destroyers that day came very close to shore to destroy an enemy pillbox. That took the pressure off Curl and his vessel [Annotator’s Note: Curl was a radarman on USS LCC-10, a Landing Craft Control boat, which resembled a PT boat without torpedo tubes but with extensive radar and communication antennas]. The shell went exactly into the firing slot that the 88 [Annotator’s Note: German 88mm artillery piece] shot through. It seemed that the Germans had very effective weapons compared to those the Allies had. The 88 guns, the machine guns, the Lugers, the buzz bombs [Annotator's Note: German V1 rocket bomb] and the V2 rockets were all good weapons. One day in England he was watching a P-38 [Annotator's Note: Lockheed P-38 Lightening fighter aircraft] when all of a sudden something circled around. It was a German jet plane. The numbers of jets were limited but could have made a big difference in the outcome of the war. Curl recollected a prank that caused one of his fellow crewmen to jump overboard. It involved another crewman tossing a deactivated hand grenade and surprising the man who jumped overboard to escape [Annotator’s Note: Curl laughs at the memory]. While Curl was with the fire department, a lady came in with her son. He had his finger caught in the firing pin of a grenade. Curl used a hacksaw to cut the pin away. It took Curl some time to get adjusted after he returned home. He gradually learned that he was not going to get killed at night by enemy fire. He was glad he had a part in the war. It meant a lot to him. Curl spoke to school classes about D-Day. When he went to the Normandy pillboxes on the third day after D-Day, he gave some of his rations to the French people. They enjoyed the food. The K ration packages included not only food and a hard chocolate bar but also four cigarettes and four sheets of toilet tissue. Curl was discharged after his service with the rank of Radarman Second Class, a Petty Officer Second Class. After retirement, he was Fire Chief for a small fire department. In serving in that role, he went to an emergency where a man was down and his Doberman dog was protecting him. Curl told an officer to shoot the dog so they could help the man. Instead, a fireman used a fire extinguisher to freeze the dog’s nose and drive him away. The man was revived. He turned out to be a mean judge who was angered when information was released about his address. He was concerned that those he convicted would seek him out for retaliation. He told Curl that he would sue him. Later, the judge was killed. The crime was never solved. Curl would only tell the mean judge that the firemen did the best they could. A newsman tried to ease the situation. While visiting him, the judge had his Dobermans and a .45 pistol nearby. It was said that the judge always carried a weapon with him. After leaving the fire department, Curl enjoyed another job in fire safety with a food store. He ultimately retired in 1988.

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