Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Home A & E Letters Home: A Paratrooper's Story — Q&A with L. Vaughn Curtis

Letters Home: A Paratrooper's Story — Q&A with L. Vaughn Curtis

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Curtis’ book is available in Barnes and Noble, Deseret Book, Seagull Book and Walmart

Last August, a movie captured theater audiences with its gripping story of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team’s dangerous mission in the height of World War II. The story behind Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed is a true story, inspired by a book by L. Vaughn Curtis called Letters Home: A Paratrooper’s Story.

Curtis based the book on the experiences of his own father, Harland “Bud” Curtis, as they were written in 150 preserved letters. When film director Ryan Little came to a reunion of the 517th in 2009, Curtis gave him a copy of the book. Two years later, Little contacted Curtis to ask permission to use parts of the book in a new movie. Curtis is still dumbfounded and thinks it’s surreal and a blessing to see his dad’s story come to life in Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed.

Curtis shared a few thoughts with us about his book, the military and more:

Why is this story important?

“The men of the 517th were the 9-11 team of their day. They were placed in the heaviest combat areas, but they received no recognition. Lots of others are recognized and portrayed in movies like Band of Brothers, but people need to know about those that performed parachute duty for the country.”

Did your own military experience influence your writing?

“When I was young I would go to my dad’s mother, my grandmother, and ask why my dad was so tough. She would read me his letters. I got to know more about my dad as a father and husband and what he did in World War II as a paratrooper through those letters. My military experience helped me understand some of the things that he talks about though. For example, when he talked about KP, I knew that KP meant kitchen police. I knew when he talked about the HQ company he meant headquarters and that DZ meant drop zone. My military knowledge allowed me to explain connections and acronyms in the book. It also helped me understand the more poignant moments and experiences in my father’s letters.”

Most difficult part?

“The hardest part was compiling all of the data to go with the letters. I had to take out some that said things like ‘Hi Mom, things are great’ and make sure the letters I included were meaningful. I also had to check the letters for accuracy in actual history and make sure they fit with the other facts I was connecting.”

Corbin Allred, Jasen Wade (Curtis’ father in the movie), L. Vaughn Curtis, David Nibley. Curtis was an extra in Saints and Soldiers: Airborne Creed.

Favorite part?

“I never would have thought of doing this until I saw the HBO series Band of Brothers with my brother. After we watched it, we thought ‘Is this what Dad went through?’ so we went home and asked him. He told us that it was and started telling us stories. Before, he never talked about his war experiences. A little while later, my brother received an invitation to go to Camp McCullough.  We also wanted to take Dad down to where he went to jump school and trained in Georgia. Because I was retired military personnel, it was easy to arrange all that.

“I just have to tell a short side-story. When we got to Georgia, I told the Sargeant Major my name and said I wanted to take my dad to the mess hall so he could experience military dining again. He said no problem. So after we walked around for a bit we went back to the hall. There were hundreds of paratroopers waiting in line, and I thought ‘I don’t know how long we’ll be here.’ I suggested we just go grab a sandwich from Subway, but my dad said no. My brother was never in the military so it was a fun experience for him, too. After a bit, the paratroopers around started to notice my dad. Once they figured out he was a World War II veteran somebody shouted ‘Make a hole and make it wide.’ Everyone stood on the sides of the sidewalk and they were all standing at attention. It was neat to see that these men hadn’t forgotten what happened in World War II and they recognized my dad as an American war hero. People were asking for time to eat with him and it was wonderful to see that even after 60 years, his service was not forgotten and he was still treated with such great respect.

“Going back to the question, the most excitement I had was connecting to the letters as a boy, forgetting about them, and then having my dad send them to me again in 2003. As I put them together and tied information in, more and more people, especially other veterans or family members of veterans, wanted a copy. Then I gave a copy to the movie director and you know the rest.”

Anything else?

“I would just like all veterans and people who served in the military to know that this book is meant to honor all of them, not just the paratroopers. It remembers and recognizes that big sacrifices that all of them made to defend our country.

Jason Wade, Corbin Allred, L. Vaughn Curtis and David Nibley at a promotional event at Deseret Book

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