On The Shoulders Of Giants With Andrew Curtis.
Andrew Curtis | February 6, 2023
This time of year as duck season ends and there is a bitter cold rain upon me, I think of my grandfather. I like to brag sometimes about cold weather that I have endured in my hunting quests, but I admit that I have never really experienced bone-chilling cold for any length of time. And if I do go out in the cold rain, I have ponchos and hand warmers and anything else I can carry to keep me comfortable. I have never really roughed-it, but I know people who have, so that we can live comfortably.
I think about the guys who did not have a choice in being out in unbearably cold conditions, like my grandfather in WWII as he fought in foxholes in subfreezing weather during the Battle of the Bulge and then crossing the icy Sauer River into the teeth of the main German defensive line. My grandfather, Captain Douglas W. Curtis, was commanding officer of E Company, 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Division under General Patton’s famous 3rd Army. After being wounded twice, earning two Purple Hearts, one Silver Star and two Bronze Stars since landing in Normandy, France, Captain Curtis with his company was chosen to lead the whole division across the Sauer River in early February 1945.
The mission began with disastrous results; the Germans were ready. Only two of 12 boats made it across the river at first. The eight unfortunate soldiers who survived the initial crossing attempt were pinned down on the opposite bank under murderous machine gun fire for 22 hours in the freezing weather. No help could make it across for nearly a day.
A staff sergeant who witnessed the scene wrote, “I remember the men who time and again, their boat shot from under them, swam back and climbed in another one. I remember a lot of […] fine things about that operation, but most of all I remember the reactions of the men. The worse it got, the more the Germans resisted, the more determined our men grew. No one said, ‘Will we do it?’ They seemed to know […] well we would.”
Remember, this was February in Germany. The weather conditions were atrocious.
Ultimately, my grandfather and his men succeeded in breaking through the German’s formidable Siegfried Line which was pivotal in the battle’s outcome. After 11 hard days of continuous fighting on the front lines, my grandfather wrote my grandmother, “Darling, I just got through taking my company through one of the most difficult operations. It was a hell—the worst I’ve experienced yet. However, it was successful. The boys did a superb job. We were commended by the Commanding General (Patton) on down. The sad part, of course, is that there were many old faces that don’t seem to be around anymore. I think I aged ten years on the deal…”
One of those “old faces” was my grandfather’s amazing 1st Lieutenant, Harry B. Colburn, who died while saving two of his men, posthumously earning the Army’s second highest combat decoration, the Distinguished Service Cross. General Patton even wrote to his 5th Division, “To my mind history does not record incidents of greater valor than your assault crossing of the Sauer and the Rhine.”
If I continue to write, this article will become a novel. I just wanted to briefly highlight some of what my grandfather and his men fought through so that we can live in a free land to hunt and fish and complain about how cold our hands are on those late January duck hunts. I write this to a group of outdoorsmen, most of whom I know will appreciate the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedom. I literally think about those soldiers every time I hunt, and I never leave home without saluting my American flag in the back yard. Then, before I head off to the woods, I peer down to see all the shoulders I’m standing on… the shoulders of great American giants.
God bless America.
Captain Curtis’s complete WWII story is recorded in the book, Call of Courage, available on Amazon.
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