Tuesday, June 1, 2010

He Served


1941




1944


Happy Father's Day, Dad. Hope all your drives from that Great Tee-box in the Sky are going to the greens.

Respectful pronouncements are forthcoming at the Elkton Record, the Brookings Register (whose obit writer deserves an h/t), the Rapid City Journal, and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader; click this link to Skroch Funeral Chapel. This emerging bio is just barely authorized by a skeptical, smarter, yet slightly more crotchety sister.

CMSgt Lawrence Eldridge Kurtz, USAF (Ret) 90, his devoted wife and friend of 65 years, Harriet, sleeping beside him, gratefully and peacefully joined beloved daughter, Lynn, at 0005, 19 April, 2010. His father, Gustav Adolph, who had arrived in America speaking only German in 1897, and his mother, Iva, daughter of Elkton's co-founder, Ulysses Kretsinger, two sisters and three brothers also preceded him in death.

Born fifth of eight, 29 December, 1919, on a rock-strewn, hilltop farm in Richland Township, Brookings County, his first memory was of an open motorcar trip from Elkton to Chicago and back again with Grandmother and Grandfather over dirt roads.

Milking cows, burning corn cobs for heat, sleeping three to a bed, taking turns at the outhouse with diarrhea, trudging behind a horse-drawn plow for what must have seemed like years, walking (or, if Gus didn't need it that day, two to a horse) a mile and a half uphill both ways to Richland School #48 maybe through blowing and drifting snow at -20, day followed humble day.

For sixteen years his greatest joys were the Christmases when each child was presented with an orange. A favorite story recounted a day in 1935, when, in the worst of the Dirty Thirties, he and brother Kenneth walked across a completely dry basin that had formerly held Lake Benton.

To attend high school in Elkton, Lawrence lived with Grandfather and Grandmother Kretsinger, a stern household at the home in which sister, Leslie and husband, Dave, live today. Although he recalled a mostly unpleasant experience, Lawrence excelled in track, played the kettle drums in band and earned the move to Brookings to attend his final year of high school then graduated from the Aggie course at South Dakota State College. His favorite treat in Brookings? Nick's, of course. Burgers were a nickel.

Since world war came as no surprise to most, enlistment represented an odd deliverance to Lawrence. The Army Air Corps seemed like the logical assignment for a twenty one year-old man with the skill and patience to fix those things that were unfixable. During his deployment in Guam, while strolling on the beach near the base, he espied a young woman walking toward him. It was his sister, Irene, who had joined the nursing corps and was also stationed at Guam, unbeknownst to both.

Fairmont Army Air Field, Nebraska, and its close proximity to the Union Pacific Railroad hub at Columbus brought Sergeant Kurtz (whose friends were now calling Larry) where he met a sultry, sassy, stenographic superstar with whom he would fall inescapably head-over-heels, ass-over-teakettle. Having helped build the aircraft that carried the bombs that led to the end of that war in 1945, he flew in an identical aircraft to take photographs, not only of the results of his B-29s built at the Martin Plant in Omaha, but also circled the signing of the Emperor's surrender on the USS Missouri.

A bright, blue-eyed daughter born a few weeks later accompanied her parents to a post-war Canal Zone, the outpost critical to arming continents for a stewing Cold War. In 1947, Larry, Harriet, and toddler, Leslie were assigned to the Department of the Air Force, newly created to execute that mission.

In 1954, while stationed at Castle Air Force Base near Merced, California, Harriet and Master Sergeant Kurtz (much to the dismay of a pampered eight and a half year-old sister) presented a breathtakingly handsome boy, now taking vaguely artistic liberties with sacred family history.

Reassigned to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, the emerging brain of the Strategic Air Command, Dad and Mom delivered a sweet little brown-eyed girl in 1956. In 1957, Senior Master Sergeant Kurtz was ordered to Torrejon Air Base near Madrid, Spain, the passage on the USS Independence a vivid family memory, and a year later, he was awarded the rank of Chief Master Sergeant, one of 620 elite non-commissioned officers.

Maintaining the B-52s flying the sorties while cradling armed nuclear weapons every day to the margins of the Soviet Union and to forward bases throughout Europe from Franco's Spain as attache' to the Inspector General of the Air Force for three and a half years, Larry still found time to shower his family with a richness of travel experiences. He took us to Expo 58, the Brussels Worlds Fair, to Paris and Lisbon. We saw Pompei and climbed Mt. Vesuvius. We saw Rome, where Pope Pius XII blessed our rosaries just weeks before he died. We saw the watery streets of Venice in gondolas and watched glass being blown. We boarded cable cars and ascended to a castle in Bavaria. In Las Palomas, base-housing families stood along la calle to wave at President Eisenhower, Generalissimo Franco and my dad driving by in a motorcade. Kurtz hob-nobbed with colonels and played golf with generals; his uniform emblazoned with citations, airmen snapped to attention.

But, living out of a flight bag took its toll, so in 1961 he made the decision to fly us home and retire. After a year at Dow Air Force Base, Maine, Larry called it quits after 20 years, nine months. He bought a 9' plywood travel trailer and put a hitch on the '60 Mercedes Benz 220 that he had purchased from the plant in Germany, our drive through Quebec and on to South Dakota now just another delicious memory. He remained "inactive reserve" for another ten years and somewhat later on a night of quiet reflection he quipped, "I'm finally free of the bastards."