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Reflections on WW II POW captured in October 1944


George Junior Cureton was happy to have his photo made with his great
granddaughter, Caroline Hurlbut of Parrottsville. She is Nancy Bailey's
daughter; Nancy being one of George's wife, Judy's children.
Published: 10:02 PM, 10/05/2012

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

October leads off the last quarter of the year and conditions are already looking favorable for a colorful palate for our hometown, showing its downtown business decorations for harvest festivals every weekend in a community near you.

While considering the orange and yellow landscape and before a more somber trip back in time, let's say "goodbye" to friends we made at the Newport farmers market. I did bump into vegetable and flower vendor David Shannon, who was at the local market and is now selling mums and fall pumpkins at his leased business in Reidtown at the idle Classic Plantings location because owner Michael Price is still recovering from illness. Shannon's Gardens' ads ran in the Plain Talk last week for his grand opening. He told me that just after I visited in August, his father, Fred, died from complications of heart surgery in Knoxville. I believe he was 68 and was buried near his home in Columbia, SC.

At the farmer's market, the last booth I visited was operated by two women who had lots of pottery and tattoos. They were friendly and support the farmers market. Tiffany Beason is the market manager, and the potter with her was Tiffani Jenkins. Ms. Beason explained that earlier in the summer there had been more vendors, seven or eight usually who are there from 8 a.m. until about noon. Activity is expected to increase during fall. Set up for vendors is free. Ms. Jenkins said she has been working as a potter for about five years and seems to have gotten the knack of it judging by her fine work. Tiffani is self-taught and a native of North Dakota but grew up in New Jersey. She ended up in Cocke County because a friend told her long ago, "My Dad lives in Cocke County." That was good enough for her to make the move.


POW Cureton tells his story


You recall that the Plain Talk published a story about another prisoner of war (POW) who had been unknown to local folks. Thanks to Smoky Mountain Home Health & Hospice, George J. Cureton was honored at his home on POW Day in September. It was exciting to be there to photograph the event and so I wanted to share a few more details about this man. George was born April 15, 1925 and at age 17 enlisted in the Army. He is the son of Sam Cureton, who was married to the former Etta Holt. George's first wife was Wilma (Mathis) Cureton and they had two children: Joy Cureton and Charlene Price.

For more than 34 years, George has been married to the former Judy Hazelwood Barnett and so together they have other children: Georgia Grooms, Jason Cureton, Becky Bailey, Melissa Clevenger, and Nancy Bailey.

This November 27 it will have been 67 years since George was discharged from the Army infantry carrying home little but his life, and much later receiving a Purple Heart and various combat and good conduct medals. He had been captured during fighting in October 1944 near Arno, Italy. George was in a company battling Germans who surrounded the Americans and captured them. He was placed on a train and shipped to a prison camp near Munich, Germany. Conditions were harsh but he was not tortured. This was from Oct. 17 until April 30, 1945,

A mid-week drive took me on a re-visit of this World War II combat veteran. It seemed well worth the time and your interest to know more about George Junior Cureton. As I walked up to the rental mobile home where he had been living, again he was seated on the front porch. He breathes with oxygen yet his handshake is firm. His eyes are clear and tear up when he calls some of the terrible events he witnessed during his service from 1942 to early 1945.

As an infantryman, he was wounded when an exploding artillery shell casing sent a piece of steel into his right shoulder. He was patched up and kept on fighting in Italy. Before he saw fighting, he was shipped out of Norfolk with hundreds of other troops as a teenager. Remember, this was about 70 years ago hence his memory has faded considerably. It took him a few minutes to recall they eventually made it to North Africa where they prepared for the allied invasion of Italy. Once there he spent about five or six months in combat with a company of about 50 men. As I previously mentioned, a group of about 15 Americans were surrounded by Germans and were forced to surrender. This was near Arno, Italy. It was early fall, October, when the men were placed on a train for Germany where the weather was much colder. George was marched to a small prisoner of war camp outside of Munich.

One thing he does recall was the lack of food. They had some sort of cereal for breakfast and a bowl of rutabaga (turnip) soup. Drink was black coffee, no sugar, no cream. "I liked to starve," he said. At the time he weighed about 185 but lost considerable weight over the next six months. He did get to work, or should I say, the Germans forced him to work. The men were marched out to the city where American bombers had destroyed many blocks of buildings. The prisoners cleaned the debris and bodies out of the streets. It reminded me of reading Kurt Vonnegut's book Slaughterhouse Five based his experiences as a POW. Vonnegut was captured in Dec. 1944, two months after George. Vonnegut also was forced to clear debris and burned bodies from Dresden. You can understand why George said he dreamed about this nightmare landscape for most of his life.

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