Missing airman’s remains come home to Antrim family

  • Army Air Force pilot First Lieutenant Burleigh E. Curtis, far left, and his brothers Donald Curtis, center, and Ralph Curtis, right. Courtesy Photo

  • The dog tags, compass and coins Madelyn Curtis’ brother had in his possession when his plane went down over France during WWII have been returned to her.

  • Cherryl Bouche holds up a photo of her uncle First Lieutenant Burleigh E. Curtis and his wife.  Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

  • Army Air Force pilot First Lieutenant Burleigh E. Curtis Courtesy Photo

  • Army Air Force pilot First Lieutenant Burleigh E. Curtis as a high school student.  Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

  • The dog tags, compass and coins Madelyn Curtis’ brother had in his possession when his plane went down over France during WWII have been returned to her. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

  • Army Air Force pilot First Lieutenant Burleigh E. Curtis Courtesy Photo

  • Madelyn Curtis Klose, 94, of Antrim in her home Tuesday evening holds up a picture of her brother Army Air Force pilot First Lieutenant Burleigh E. Curtis, who went missing in WWII. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

  • Madelyn Curtis Klose with her brother First Lieutenant Burleigh E. Curtis in the 1940s. Staff Photo by MEGHAN PIERCE

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/27/2019 8:38:58 PM

An Antrim family is celebrating the return of the remains of Army Air Force pilot First Lieutenant Burleigh E. Curtis, 75 years after his plane went down over France during World War II.

“I always dreamt, those early years, that he would come home,” said his younger sister Madelyn Curtis Klose, 94, of Antrim in her home Tuesday evening.

Klose said, her parents were terribly hurt and “never got over it.”

“My parents were very stalwart people, but it was with them till the end,” she said.

Their grieving may have been made all the harder because he never returned to them. “They didn’t have services for these boys,” who didn’t return.

A week after providing air cover for troops during D-Day, 22-year-old Curtis was reported missing in action flying a mission over the French countryside.

“His plane went down,” Klose said. “He was missing in action for a whole year and then they automatically pronounced him dead, but they didn’t produce any of his remains.”

Klose and her older brother Donald, who is 100 years old, are the only living siblings of the family of three brothers and two sisters.

Her brother Donald lives in California. Klose lives in Antrim with her daughter and son-in-law Cherryl and Charles Boucher, who are co-pastors of the Antrim Baptist Church.

The five siblings were born in Maine, but raised just outside of Boston in Holliston, Massachusetts.

“It was the Depression and my father had to move the family to Massachusetts to get work,” Klose said.

Klose was a 19-year-old college student when her brother went missing.

“He just had his birthday on Sunday,” Klose said. “His 97th birthday.”

Curtis, who joined the U.S. Army Air Forces from Massachusetts, served with the 377th Fighter Bomber Squadron, 362nd Fighter Bomber Group. He married his high school sweetheart before he was stationed in England, but never returned to her. He was the pilot of a P-47 Thunderbolt on a bombing mission against targets in Briouze, France in June 13, 1944, when his plane went down.

Initially, it was believed the plane had been hit by its own bomb, Klose said, which was disheartening. But now the family thinks the bomb came from another plane based on what they have been told from officials.

“A week after D-Day his squadron was sent on a mission to France to a place called Briouze to bomb this bridge that went over railroad tracks,” Charles Boucher said. “His mission was to bomb the bridge. The first two planes dive-bombed to do their thing and he was the third plane and the second plane blasted and the blast blew up and the percussions hit his plane, so he pulled up and went up too far, and his engines failed. His wingman said, ‘Bail out, bail out,’ but he never did. And the plane went straight to the ground.”

Klose said her brother had not responded to his wingman, so he may have already been incapacitated.

He was killed in the crash, but his remains could not be recovered at the time because the crash occurred behind enemy lines.

The following day, however, a French cabinet maker who witnessed the crash went to the field and reportedly buried what remains he could find. Those remains are believed to have been dug up by the Army at a later point and buried in a military cemetery in France.

“Things were very chaotic after WWII,” Klose said.

Curtis’ family said that was only part of his body. The remains recently found have been returned to the family along with his dog tags, Lt.’s bar, British coins and compass.

So now part of Curtis will be buried at the family plot in Maine, where his parents are buried, while he is also likely still buried in a military cemetery in France, which is what his parents had wanted when he didn’t return.

“How good is all that?” his niece said.

The non-profit History Flight took on Curtis’ case in 2017, embarking on an archeological dig of the field in which his plane went down.

“There was enough evidence that he had crashed in this field,” Charles Boucher said.

As a result, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified Curtis’ remains in December. Scientists used anthropological analysis, as well as historical and material evidence to identify the remains.

Her brother was doing what he wanted to be doing when he crashed and sacrificed his life for our way of life, Klose said.

“That’s what he wanted to do. He was doing what he wanted to do,” Klose said. “We believe that God is with us all the way along the journey. … Now it brings closure to us.”

Among the other materials provided to the family about the case is an aerial photo of the field Curtis’s plane had crashed. The picturesque countryside can be described with her uncle’s first name, Cherryl Boucher said. In Old English, the name “Burleigh” means “meadow/field and knotty trees.”

“That’s powerful. That gives me chills,” his niece Cherryl Boucher said.

Currently, 72,742 service members remain unaccounted for from World War II.

“We feel for other families that are still are waiting because we know what it is to walk that journey,” Klose said. “The family isn’t quite complete when someone has been taken by that.”

While the burial is planned to take place in Maine this June, the family plans to hold a Memorial Day service at the Antrim Baptist Church on May 26 at 10:30 a.m. at which Klose will talk about Curtis. “We want to make it a community celebration for the 75 anniversary of D-Day,” Klose said.


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