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Friday, June 21, 2019

World War II pilot’s remains found after 75 years: Memorial services to be held in Windham on Tuesday

Burleigh Curtis
By Lorraine Glowczak

Pearl Grant, a resident of Windham for the past 93 years feels some closure now that her cousin, Burleigh Curtis, can be laid to rest in Windham, next to his parents – 75 years after his death.

According to a DPAA (Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency) Public Affairs press release, “Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Burleigh E. Curtis, killed during World War II, was accounted for on December 13, 2018.”

The press release continued by stating that Curtis, a member of the 377th Fighter Squadron, 362nd Fighter Group, piloted a P-47D aircraft on June 13, 1944. On that date, he was assigned to a dive-bomb attack near Briouze, France but, unfortunately, he crashed in a nearby field of the target. 
“Witness reported that he was not seen bailing out of the aircraft prior to the crash,” the press release stated.

“The last time I saw Burleigh was when he graduated from high school in 1939,” Grant said, who spent summers with her cousin and other family members on the family farm on Highland Cliff Road in Windham. “We all had fun. We played games, joked, laughed – a completely pleasurable experience on the farm as a family,” Grant said.

rita.theriault@raymondmaine.orgCurtis was born in Freeport, ME and lived there until the Great Depression required his family to move to Massachusetts where his father obtained a job – which was a stroke of “luck” during the hard and difficult times of the late 1920s and early 1930s. “But Burleigh along with his parents, two sisters and two brothers would always come back to Windham on summer vacations to spend time with us on our grandparents’ farm,” recalled Grant. “I don’t have any specific memories – for me it
was just a time with family, and it was something I always looked forward to.”

Grant and Curtis’s grandparents were Fred and Lida Cobb. Curtis’s sister, 94-year-old Madelyn Curtis Klose of Antrim, MA recalls her own memories of life with her brother on their grandparents’ Highland Cliff Farm:

“My grandparents had a total of 13 grandchildren, but there were ten of us who would spend the summers together on the farm in Windham,” Klose began. “One memory I have is the times when our grandfather came home from work at night, he would take all of us to the lower potato field and let us pick the very tiny fresh potatoes to eat raw. They were almost like eating peanuts.” 

Klose continued fondly, “We would play in the barn, sliding in the hay, making a mess of my
Pearl Grant of Windham holds a collage of photographs
 of her grandparent's farm  on Highland Cliff Road
where she spent summers with Burleigh
and her other cousins
grandparents' barn. We would pick bushels of blueberries on their farm and sell them. They would let us keep some of the money and all of us cousins would go shopping in Portland and buy our clothes for the school year. I remember once playing football with Burleigh. He grabbed the ball and ran into my stomach and knocked the wind of me - he wasn't rough or violent - just playing football.  I remember eating around the supper table together every night...and Burleigh sat right next to me....and he loved his mashed potatoes.”

A specific memory Klose shared about her brother is that Burleigh was rather quiet, gentle, thoughtful, she said. “He was just a nice boy. He was popular at school...voted as vice-president of his class all through his high school years.”

In an interview with the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript of Peterborough, NH, Klose stated that Curtis married his high school sweetheart before he was stationed in England, but never returned to her. Initially, it was believed the plane Curtis was piloting had been hit by its own bomb, but the family believes the bomb came from another plane based upon what they have been told from officials. Klose is also stated as saying in that article, “[Curtis] was missing in action for a whole year and then they automatically pronounced him dead, but they didn’t produce any of his remains.”

That is, until the non-profit History Flight took on Curtis’s case in 2017. As stated in the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, the History Flight “embarked on an archaeological dig of which his plane went down.”

https://www.orangecircuitfitness.com/The story in the above-mentioned article detailed that once Curtis’ plane crashed behind enemy lines,
a French cabinet maker who witnessed the accident went to the field and reportedly buried what remains he could find. Those remains are believed to have been dug up by the Army at a later point and buried in a military cemetery in France. Scientists used anthropological analysis as well as historical and material evidence to successfully identify Curtis’ remains.

Klose and her 100-year-old brother, Donald, who lives in California, are the only remaining siblings of Curtis – and now the family can finally lay their brother to rest.

Curtis’ name is recorded on the Tablets of the Missing at the Brittany American Cemetery, an American Battle Monuments Commission site in Montijoie Saint Martine, France, along with the others missing from WWII. A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.

“The family has heard from several people in France, thanking us for Burleigh’s sacrifice,” stated Grant. “In fact, one person from France plans to be at the memorial.”

Everyone is invited to a memorial service that will be held at Highland Cliff Advent Christian Church, 96 Highland Cliff Road in Windham at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25. Interment at Chase Cemetery, next to the church. The community is invited to attend the memorial service to honor a great local hero.


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