Silver Star Eugene Curnow
Iwo Jima veteran’s book a page turner
An Angel on His Shoulder
Like the one when he and his cousin Rex (a frequent partner in “crime”), both 15, hopped a freight train in California and rode more than 1,000 miles to see their grandmother in Oregon. “We never had one incident that was distressing,” he said, but he did experience what would be one of several brushes with death, convincing him that there’s “an angel on my shoulder.” The boys had ridden on a long flatcar underneath some logs, where there was space to protect them from the rain, all the way back home from Klamath Falls to Redding. Safely home, they learned that the next day, the logs on that flatcar had fallen as the train rounded a turn, killing two men who were lying under them, just as the boys had.
He loves to tell about the time he and Rex took their high school girlfriends on a wild pickup truck ride down the slope of a steep canyon. I’ll just say it was a funny story and, Gene says, a “foolish prank, but we survived.” (The girls managed to forgive them; in fact, Rex later married his girlfriend, and they’re still together.)
Born in 1925, “Gene” Curnow grew up in various towns in California, including a gold mining claim in the town of Poverty Flat, population 12. When he was 17, he enlisted in the Navy, the branch of service where he said the most money was to be made. Since he had already begun taking pre-med classes in college, the Navy sent him to school to continue his pre-med studies for a year and then to the competitive Hospital Corps School. “There were 3,600 questions we had to learn” before taking the final test, but lights out was at 10 p.m., and he had to keep studying. So, he said, “I sat on the toilet for a long time. It was the only place to study because there the lights stayed on all night!”
He still remembers being irked by missing two of the 3,600 questions—which he says was a case of misspelling the answers. Still, he scored second highest in the class and his pay went up. His pay increased again when he was assigned to the Mare Island Navy Hospital Annex in California as a corpsman and helped transport mental patients by plane to a facility in Texas. Flight time increased his pay yet again. He felt he was on his way up.