WWII veteran honored by French government

JOHNSTOWN – It was more than 60 years ago Donald Curtis of Johnstown fought through Germany and Normandy, France, as an Army private, first class, during World War II. But his service is still being recognized.

Curtis, 89, was presented Friday with the chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military decoration.

Curtis, who served in World War II from the Omaha Beach landings in Normandy through the end of the war, received a letter from the French General Consulate in New York City in May, announcing he was awarded the chevalier, which recognizes extreme bravery for veterans who served in France.

The ceremony was held at the Lycee Francais School in Manhattan. “It was very wonderful,” he said.

Curtis said he was honored for a solo mission he took to find relief for an entrapped battalion but was humble in giving details.

“I had a mission to do, I did it and it was recognized,” Curtis said.

Curtis said he volunteered to serve when he was 18 and was assigned to the 99th Infantry Battalion – the “Vikings,” who were being trained to be the lead force for an invasion to free Norway from occupation, according to the battalion website. Curtis said he served throughout the war, including landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Curtis said his unit stayed on the front of line until it hit Austria.

Curtis served for three years with the 99th battalion, 10th Mountain Division, as a lead scout for C Company.

Chevalier recipients must have fought in at least one of the three main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence or Northern France, the French consulate website says.

The ceremony was for the French students at the school. Curtis said he’d been interviewed by one of the students who introduced him to the crowd of more than 300 students and family members.

Curtis said he was overwhelmed at the ceremony.

“This was a marvelous presentation for these kids,” said Curtis, who noted many of the students were 13 or 14 years old.

Doug Hill, Curtis’ son-in-law, said the presentation was a huge benefit for the students involved.

“It passes on a living context between the people who came to Europe [to help free France],” Hill said. “Each one has a living contact from several generations ago now.”

This is the second time this decade Curtis has been recognized by a European government. In 2011, Col. Ole Martin Hojem with the Norwegian Army and an attache with The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington presented Curtis with the Norwegian Medal of Merit and a citation signed by King Harald V for his service in the war.