Bill Curtis honored to have served his country, family

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 3, 2005

This week The Luverne Journal spotlights Crenshaw County resident Bill Curtis who is 86-years-old.

By Ann Grier

William (Bill) Curtis said it was never an option not to serve your country or help your folks back when he was born in 1919. At 86-years old he proudly relates close calls and tough times as his duty to his folks and his country. Curtis, who's a middle child of four brothers and two sisters, is the last living member of his family.

"I grew up in the Shady Grove Community, below Troy," Curtis said. "Daddy owned a grocery store and the building is still standing just below the Mossy Grove Restaurant."

Curtis said when he was 14, their house caught on fire at 4 a.m. from sparks in the stove flue when his daddy started a fire to cook breakfast.

"We all got out," Curtis said. "I didn't have any clothes to put on so my Aunt Clara Mae Curtis went to Troy and bought me a new pair of overalls."

Curtis said the family moved into the back of the store and he and his brothers slept out back in a tent. He said it was during the Depression and everybody wanted to get groceries on credit.

"Daddy was so goodhearted he lost the store and the farm trying to help people," Curtis said. "He was one of the first people in Pike County to own a car and a radio. People would gather out in our yard on Saturday night to listen to the Grand Old Opry."

Curtis said after they lost the store, his daddy went to work for the W.P.A., and they bought a house in Troy across from where the Kentucky Fried Chicken is now. He said the house was later moved to Orion St. and his niece lives there now.

"When I was sixteen the water in our well got low," said Curtis. "Daddy let me down on a pulley to clean it out. I got it from ankle deep to waist deep, but they couldn't pull me out, I kept slipping back. I could hear them up there praying and Daddy saying, 'this is the stupidest thing I ever done in my life, putting Bill in this well.' but they finally got me out."

Curtis said when he finished high school he joined a government program called C.C. Camp, to learn forestry.

"I went out to California and fought some big forest fires," Curtis said. " I had a chance to take a job driving the Doctors and supplies back and forth to the camp, so I took that. They paid me eight dollars a month and I sent Mama $21 that year. It was enough for one house payment. My brother bought me my first car when I came home. It was a four-door sedan with 100,000 miles on it. He told me he did it because I had, 'helped keep the wolves from the door,' by sending Mama money for a house payment."

Curtis said after that he got a job with a bus line called, Florida- Alabama Motor Lines, that later became Trailways. He said when he met his wife, Grace McCall Curtis, he asked her to marry him on their second date.

"We married six months later," Curtis said, "and I was drafted into World War II 10 days after we married. Daddy had died when he was 56 and we had a little rented house next to Mama. I left Grace there and she went to Mama's every night to sleep because she was scared."

Curtis said he didn't get to come home until he was injured in a T.N.T. explosion in Hawaii.

"My little boy was six months old," said Curtis, "and he came right to me like he knew me!"

Curtis said when he was stationed in Hawaii, in the 391st 98 Division, he stood watch on a mountain, manning a search light with a small New Testament in his pocket. He say's he's kept that same New Testament through the years and still has it today. Reflecting, Curtis say's the United States is going to see a lot worse than Pearl Harbor if they don't turn back to the Lord.

"Young people need to learn from older folks," Curtis said. "The moral character of our country is not what it use to be! Grace and I had six children and we brought them up in church."

Clarice Rich, Curtis's daughter, remembers their family taking up a whole church pew at First Baptist Church in Luverne.

"Mama would be up sometimes until 2 a.m., polishing shoes and ironing clothes to get all six of us ready for church," Rich said. "It was ok if you fell asleep in church, but you better not talk or Daddy would take you out!"

Curtis, who's widowed, volunteered at the nursing home for several years, and always said he'd never be put in a nursing home.

"I thank God for it now," said Curtis. "It's a great place to be, and I'll tell anybody that."

Curtis was born Feb. 19, 1919, and has been a member of First Baptist Church in Luverne since 1953. He is a resident of the Luverne Health and Rehab.