Vietnam Veteran John Curtin to be honored as a “Hawkeye Hero” this Saturday during Iowa football game

Honored as a Hawkeye Hero ... John and Eileen Curtin of rural Waukon take a moment following the Memorial Day Parade held in Waukon in 2014, when John was named Grand Marshall of the parade. John served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1969 before being wounded three times in Vietnam and earning the Purple Heart. He is now also being honored as a “Hawkeye Hero” this Saturday, November 10 during the Iowa football game at home vs. Northwestern, an honor his family nominated him for. Submitted photo.

Family pride ... The children and grandchildren of John Curtin of rural Waukon coordinated the above photos that were then arranged in a three-section frame and given to him to help announce his honoring as a “Hawkeye Hero” at the Iowa vs. Northwestern football game this Saturday, November 10. Pictured above in the three photos, left to right are John’s son, Brian, and his wife, Michelle, and their kids, Alex and Hudson, of Urbandale; John’s daughter, Kelly Brown, and her husband, Nick, and their children, Caleb, Jace and Nathan, of Lisbon; and John’s son, Brad, and his wife, Olivia, and their children, Payton and Dawson, of North Liberty. Submitted photos.

by Lissa Blake

Since serving in Vietnam 50 years ago, U.S. Army Veteran John Curtin has continued to honor his country and his service in the military by participating in many area events.

However, this Saturday, November 10, Curtin, himself, will be honored for his military service during one of his favorite pastimes, an Iowa Hawkeye football game.

Curtin, of rural Waukon, was nominated by his family this past summer to be a “Hawkeye Hero” for a day. During the Iowa vs. Northwestern Military Appreciation Day football game this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Curtin will be recognized during a media time-out in the first quarter of the game, where a brief piece of his military story will be told and some photos will also be shared on the stadium’s big video screen. Further details of Curtin’s honoring taking place this Saturday appear elsewhere with this story in a colored box.

In surprising him with his recognition, Curtin’s family presented him with a three-photo frame of his children and grandchildren (photos accompanying this story) holding signs that read “You are our hero”. He also received a homemade certificate outlining general details of his upcoming honoring.

Curtin, the son of Bob and Anna Mae (Whalen) Curtin, lives and works on the Century Farm where he grew up in the French Creek area between Waukon and Lansing. It was homesteaded by his mother’s parents in 1864.

A 1966 graduate of St. Patrick High School in Waukon, Curtin was drafted into the U.S. Army and reported to Fort Bliss, TX in February of 1968 for basic training. At Fort Bliss, he remembers running into Waukon’s Ed Blake, who had entered the service about a month ahead of him.

Following basic training, Curtin reported to Fort Polk, LA for infantry training before being transferred to Fort Benning, GA for NCO (non-commissioned officer) training. He left the U.S. for Vietnam December 21, 1968.

Curtin was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry. The 1st Cavalry’s official mission at the time was to intercept enemy supplies and troops as they crossed into South Vietnam from Cambodia using the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Just two months after arriving in Vietnam, Curtin was promoted to the rank of E-5 Staff Sergeant. He entered the field January 4, 1969.

During his time overseas, he served as both Squad Leader and Platoon Sergeant, making frequent patrols into the mountains, the rubber plantations, rice paddies and the jungle. Typically, his unit would stay at a landing zone for three nights and then move on to bush patrol for 15 days. During one interval, they stayed in the field for more than six months, had one stand-down day, and returned to the field.

During his tour of duty, Curtin was wounded three times, twice by shrapnel and the third time by an AK-47 round to his hip. Following the third incident, in October of 1969, he was taken by helicopter to the 45th Surgical Hospital at the Tay Ninh Base Camp. He was there for a week before transferring to a hospital in Japan, where he spent another month. He was subsequently transferred back to the U.S., arriving home Christmas Eve of 1969.

In addition to other awards for  his service, Curtin was recognized with the Purple Heart on three occasions.

After returning home, Curtin worked for three years as a carpenter. He married Eileen Whittle of Harpers Ferry April 27, 1974.

After taking some crop and farm management courses through the G.I. Bill, he started farming full time. He and Eileen raised three children on his family’s homestead, Brian, Kelly (Brown) and Brad, and they now also have seven grandchildren.

Curtin previously was honored as the Grand Marshall of the Memorial Day parade held in Waukon in 2014, and he has received a Quilt of Valor as well. Looking back, he said he is proud he was able to serve his country. “But it still brings back some memories,” he said.

Curtin said although he was committed to his service, there were many hard times due to harsh weather. He remembers sometimes staying awake all night and being in firefights.

He said he is grateful for the “Hawkeye Hero” recognition. “Back then, it wasn’t much of a homecoming, other than your family,” he recalled of his return from the Vietnam War. He also noted that today, whenever he wears his Vietnam Veteran cap, he is frequently thanked for his service.

Curtin is a lifetime member of the VFW and is active in Veterans events. He has spent the last 15 years serving on the local Veterans Funeral Detail and  has carried the American flag for parades and other ceremonies.

And, of course, he’s a huge Iowa Hawkeye fan.

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (12 votes)