Burton Curtis turned 100 years old November 11, 2014 — Veterans Day. A World War II veteran, he says he joined the United States Air Force because his country was in trouble and he needed to do something. What he did was became a glider pilot who carried out dangerous missions during the war. He went on to serve 30 years in the Air Force, retiring as Colonel Burton Curtis.
Colonel Curtis was one of 15 veterans honored for their service today at a ceremony held at Avita of Stroudwater, a memory care facility in Westbrook. Yes, he and the other vets all have some form of dementia, which robs people of their memories. But the memory of their years of service for their country seemed fresh in their minds on this Veterans Day.
Major Michael Steinbuchel, a member of the Army National Guard and representative of the Maine Veteran’s Bureau, presented each vet with a special commendation and a medal. After accepting his, Rodney Drown turned to the audience and told them he spent 20 years in the Coast Guard and did a tour of duty in Viet Nam.
Later, Rodney proudly showed me his medal.
John Zerillo was also happy to show me his medal, which he received for his years of service in the Navy. During World War II John was a high frequency direction finder, tracking enemy submarines. Later, he was a radio operator aboard the USS Charles J. Kimmel. He remembers telling his mother, “I’ve got to go.” He was an only child and knew his going to war made her upset and sad, but she understood. He told me he was grateful he was able to thank her for understanding.
Some of the veterans honored at Avita: (L-R), Donald Swendsen (Army), Raymond “Moe” Montpas (Army), Joe Zerillo (Navy) and Allin Grant (Air Force).
After the presentations, a birthday celebration. Led by Avita’s executive director Courtney Freeman, everyone sang happy birthday to Burton, while he played along on his harmonica.
Burton’s brother taught him how to play the harmonica when he was just a boy. He brought one along with him went he went to war and many decades later still plays. Some memories never fade.