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SgtMaj. Michael Curtin, USMCR (Ret.)

Editor's Note:
Below are two stories; the story of finding the Sergeant Major (left column) followed by the hometown news story of his funeral (right column). I found "We Never Leave..." at a time when Corps Stories, Inc needed this one spark. This story is profound in it's capturing of a horrific moment in US history and is wrapped carefully in the blanket of Marine tradition and commitment.
It remains the best journalism I can recall.
Be moved. MB

We Never Leave our Brothers Behind

(Written by Maj. David Anderson, Director, NYC USMC PAO, November 2001)

GROUND ZERO, NEW YORK -- Pain shot through my back in the late night hours of 6 March 2002 from the weight of the stretcher, but Marines always complete the mission. With Sgt. Maj. Michael S. Curtin, 45, USMCR (RET) NYPD, in my left hand and his wife and daughter only feet in front of me, sense of duty led the way as it has for many men better than I for hundreds of years.

As we picked up the Sergeant Major, I thought back to only hours ago when my U.S. Marine Corps Public Affairs Office in Midtown-Manhattan received the call that we stood ready for since September 11. In fact, I received four calls in about three minutes from numerous Emergency Services Unit men -- better known as "E-MEN" throughout the famed New York City Police Department. The messages were all the same, "Dave, get down here - we found the Sergeant Major."

We proceeded down off of a small plateau on the North side of the dig, which probably would have put us in sub-level five (five stories underground) of Tower One. My mind wandered to Sergeant Major's wife Helga, a former Marine, and his three daughters Jennifer, 15; Heather, 14; and Erika, 12. The native of Rocky Point, N.Y. had become a folk hero in the NYPD as he ran his Truck like a platoon - a platoon of Marines. "TRUCK-2" is located on 125th Street in Harlem and upon entering one might think they have entered a company office at Camp Lejeune or a barracks at Camp Schwab as proud men go about their business with Marine Corps haircuts and squared-away uniforms - Sgt. Maj. Curtin had obviously been here.

Leveling out at about sub-level seven in a pool of soupy-mud heading south toward the exit-ramp, I glanced back over my shoulder and saw the Ground Zero flag that I grabbed out of our office on the way downtown. It had been signed by the victim's families months prior and we were able to get it to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit on the USS Bataan who then took it ashore to fly it in the face of terrorism over the Kandahar Airport in Afghanistan. Who gave it to us? E-Men that Curtin knew. Curtin had loved the American Flag, his family had told me, and it was fitting that he lay next to me covered in the flag that he raised in Kuwait City a decade ago. That flag had been waiting for him in a box in the ESU Headquarters that I noticed on occasion marked "THIS FLAG IS FOR SGT. MIKE CURTIN ONLY!!!!!!!!" And of course to make it complete - the Marine Corps colors were also present and were carried by two of his TRUCK-2 E-MEN.

As we started up the bridge, the voice of what had to be a former Marine rang out throughout the 16-acre complex - "present arms!" The exit-ramp was lined with hundreds of proud members of the NYPD, ESU, PAPD, FDNY and Steel Workers with the night lit up by thousands of flashing emergency-vehicle lights. As we pushed forward keeping step with former Marine and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, I thought of the famous story that made the Sergeant Major a Marine Corps folk hero. It was not the story of his rescue efforts at the first Trade Tower's bombing in 1993, but rather the story of him spotting the red stripe of Capt. Randolph L. Guzman's, USMC, dress-blue trousers in the rubble of the Oklahoma City bombing. He located a group of former Marines and then took approximately seven hours to pull him out as he said, "we never leave our brothers behind." He managed to free the "Skipper" who was probably watching this procession waiting to thank Mike one day. They carried him out draped in an American flag with his dress blue trousers sticking out with his shined shoes pointing toward heaven's gates. All was quiet. No talking. No machinery. Only the sound of a million thoughts - much like I could hear at this very moment heading out of the hole.

As we approached the top, I noticed that an ESU Truck was waiting for him - his truck...TRUCK-2. We hoisted the Sergeant Major up high - hands reaching with fingertips out stretched - and I wondered if anyone shared my thoughts at that very moment. It was reminiscent of the out stretched fingers of another famous group of Marines years ago on a small island in the South Pacific. Finally, with one last adjustment needed to secure the stretcher, a body was needed to jump up and climb to the top. Who scrambled to the top of the huge truck? Who else - Helga, his wife. In front of hundreds of tough cops - she made the last adjustment to take care of her husband much like I imagine he did for her for many years. That simple act was breath-taking - an act that the Sergeant Major represented for years - selflessly helping other people and NOT wanting to be recognized for it.

We then headed North on the FDR. The motorcade was long and bright as we approached the 0100 hour. All traffic was stopped and civilians stood outside their halted cars lining the roads with hands over hearts and hats off. Motorcycle cops at every intersection had salutes at the ready. At the morgue, my Gunny and I folded the flag under the watch of many eyes. Suddenly, TRUCK-2 members and other E-MEN stepped forward to aid us. We presented the colors to Helga and then took care of the Sergeant Major.

My ride home was long - covered in mud that I never wanted to wash off. I hoped and prayed that we did the Curtin family proud as well as our nation. I think the Sergeant Major would have been proud. I also thought that although my Marines and I have seen the pile shrink on a daily basis - it is still there. It will always be there. The billions of tears that have fallen on this earth will never be washed away and we cannot forget. The mangled iron, smell and feeling is still lurking in that hole and I feel it everyday - you just cannot see, hear or smell it on the television.

I shed a tear coming out of "the pit" that night as I held my head high. I also felt like there were a band of brothers waiting at the top all dressed in our Corps' uniforms from day's gone bye. Then it really hit home that the bridge was symbolic - it was a long steep trek up seven stories, but Sergeant Major Curtin made it out of that hell-hole led by his wife, carried by the entire Corps, and the rest of his country that he loved so much - REMEMBER THE TOWERS.

 

END

 

(reprinted from USMC.mil, November 20, 2001)

Cops and Marines say goodbye to a hero and a friend

Submitted by: New York City Public Affairs
Story by SSgt. Robert Knoll

While taps played, the flag folding detail holds the curtin for SgtMaj. Michael Curtin, USMCR (Ret.). Curtin, an officer with the Emergency Services Unit in the New York Police Department, was killed during the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on New York City. A memorial service was held in Patchogue, N.Y. Nov. 17 honoring his service to the NYPD and the United States Marine Corps.Photo by: SSgt. Robert Knoll

A firing detail from the Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. stands at attention as the family and friends of SgtMaj. Michael Curtin, USMCR (Ret.) file out of the church after his memorial service. Curtin, an NYPD Emergency Services Unit officer, was killed during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City's World Trade Center.
Photo by:
SSgt. Robert Knoll

 PATCHOGUE, N.Y. (November 20, 2001) -- With warm rays of light illuminating the blue stained glass, a mass of people mourned. They were there to honor a legend. That legend had impacted thousands of lives and helped so many people. He was cop's cop and a Marine's Marine. And on this crisp November morning, it was time to say goodbye to the friend and father who died doing what he loved - helping people.

 Sergeant Major Michael Curtin, USMCR (Ret.), also a sergeant in the New York City Police Department, was honored in a memorial service at Our Lady Mt. Carmel church on Long Island Saturday.

 "There are a number of people in the New York City Police Department who were heroes far before that day. In looking at Michael's history with the NYPD, it was apparent that he was a hero long before Sept. 11. He was a Marine," Bernard Kerik, police commissioner said.

 "He was someone that loved his country, loved his department and most importantly, he loved his girls, all four of them," Kerik added.

 Curtin was not only one of the first responders to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. He was also one of the first to respond to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. In addition, he received a great deal of notoriety for actions when he was deployed as a member of the NYPD Emergency Services Unit to the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing.

 During the rescue and recovery efforts in Oklahoma, Curtin was walking past an area that had been checked previously for casualties. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of some blue material with a red strip on it. He knew exactly what it was, the dress blue trouser leg of a Marine. He had discovered the remains of Capt. Randy Guzman, an officer in charge of the recruiting office at the Oklahoma City Federal Building.

 Because the dangerous location, Curtin and a few others had to request special permission to endanger themselves to recover Guzman's remains. They were granted a four-hour window and were able to recover the body. The part of the whole recovery that caught the Nation's attention was how Guzman was carried out. A U.S. flag was draped over his body and it was ceremoniously saluted as they took it from the site.

 When asked why he risked his own life to recover the remains of another Marine he simply replied, Marines don't leave their own behind.

 He was just as passionate about his work with the NYPD. He was often in dangerous situations risking his own life to save others. He recently saved a man who got trapped in a building that collapsed in Harlem. Later the man who was saved said that he would have died if it weren't for Curtin. "I want to tell his family that police are good people - he is a good person."

 "There are thousands of people in New York City that are still alive because of Mike Curtin, because of who he was, because of what he was, and because of what he was all about," Kerik said. "To his country, to his city, to his family, Mike Curtin was a hero and he one of the best people who ever wore the NYPD uniform."

 Curtin's service to the city never went unnoticed. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said that Curtin's service to the city made him proud. "When I come to a memorial service like this, it gives me great strength and inspiration ... and it makes me feel very, very proud that we have people that defend America and defend New York and it shows strength and bravery."

 The mayor said that what Curtin and his fellow officers of the NYPD, New York City Fire Department and the Port Authority of New York did inspired an entire nation in its fight against terrorism. "(Americans are) exuding patriotism very honestly in a way that we've never seen before, and the reason they're doing it is because they understand something that Michael and those who were involved in this rescue effort understood. They understand that we're being attacked because we're Americans."

 Listening to the mayor's words in the front row were "the Curtin girls." They knew what their father did and what he was all about. "You can't take your daddy away from you, it can't be done. It's not possible. You have something that lots of children don't have; you have the absolute sure knowledge that your dad was a great man, an American patriot, and we thank you very much," Giuliani said.

 The front of the church was adorned with tributes to Curtin's service in the Marine Corps and the NYPD. A huge sergeant major chevron made of flowers stood next to an Emergency Services Unit insignia also made of flowers. Additionally, his Marine Corps dress blues and his ESU uniform were both displayed side-by-side directly in front of the podium. His service to the country and the city was well represented.

Rev. Robert Romano, one of NYPD's chaplains and a good friend of Curtin, took a few moments to outline his life while comparing it to the Marine Corps' recruiting slogan, "The Few, The Proud, The Marines."

 "There were few supervisors like Mike Curtin in the police department. He was the type of guy that got involved. He was a hands on kind of guy. He was the kind of guy that wanted to make sure that everything was done the right way, and it wasn't always the Curtin way, but it usually turned out that way," he said.

 "He was proud. Proud of his wife Helga. He talked about you a lot," Romano told her. "He couldn't play any tricks on you because you were a Marine also." As those in attendance chuckled, Romano explained that Curtin was proud of his girls, the police department and the ESU, especially Truck 2. "Truck 2 was his life."

 "He was a Marine. Sergeant major was in his blood," Romano added. Last year at the NYPD-USMC Association Birthday Celebration at 1 Police Plaza, Curtin was honored with an award of his actions in Oklahoma City. Hearing the story last year impacted Romano in big way. "It brought tears to my eyes (hearing about) when Mike was in Oklahoma City. How he had a quest to find those Marines who were left behind, and like a good Marine he knew that he had to bring them home."

As heroic and brave as Curtin was, he was also a modest person, Romano said. "He would probably say to all of us today, stop all of this, it's not necessary. This is not me. There was a job to be done and I did it, I did it the best way I could."

 Never forgotten in any of the remarks about Curtin's life were his wife and children. They were held in the highest regards for their courage and sacrifice. With her strong Long Island accent, she described her amazement about their relationship. "Twenty-two years ago, if someone would have said that Mike and I would be together, I'd say, 'Your crazy.' After all, I was just a PFC in the Marine Corps and Mike was this drill instructor, who knew?" And later, she said that if someone would have said that anything could keep them apart, she would have said, "That's impossible."

 She described her husband as the perfect person for her, a rough and tough Marine with a very soft and cuddly side for his girls. "I could stand here for days and tell you about Mike and the things he loved, like watching our girls play soccer and basketball and going to track meets. Or the pride he took working around the house putting on a new roof, after ripping it off, and his pursuit of brewing that perfect batch of Australian Blonde beer that we've never tasted - Mike so loved life and the pleasures it brought him."

At the conclusion of the remarks, the family and guests filed out of the church to where hundreds of police officers and Marines stood at attention. The family members, dressed in dark clothing stood closely together giving each other support with Helga and her daughters in front.

Slowly, a flag detail from the Marine Barracks in Washington D.C. unfolded a 5' by 9' flag until it was pulled tightly among the six Marines. Cracking the still air was the sound of 21 rifle shots with two trumpeters playing taps. At the conclusion of taps, the flag bearers carefully folded the flag into a tight, blue triangle for presentation to Helga. The Marine Corps presented it to the NYPD who presented it to Helga.

 Concluding the service was a pass and review of the NYPD Emerald Society Pipes and Drums playing the Marines' Hymn before the Emergency Service's Hummer escorted the Curtin family to the reception hall.

 "What happened on September 11th is something that will be with me for every day of my life yet we know somehow we'll pass through it. Time goes on. But it reminds us of the sole appreciation that we've always had for our family, our friends our community and our country. He will be missed forever," Helga said.

 

END