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Portrait of Michael F. Curtin returns, war medals found

  • Thomas Pease, senior vice commander of the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence, talks about a recently returned portrait of the post's namesake, upper left, and also this separate matching display case housing Curtin's medals and citations that was discovered in the basement during a thorough search for the missing portrait. The portrait, in oil, was painted by James Madden Waldron.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Thomas Pease, senior vice commander of the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence, talks about a recently returned portrait of the post's namesake, upper left, and also this separate matching display case housing Curtin's medals and citations that was discovered in the basement during a thorough search for the missing portrait. The portrait, in oil, was painted by James Madden Waldron.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thomas Pease, senior vice commander of the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence, talks about searching the attic of the building for this portrait of the post's namesake when it was discovered to be missing last May. During an extensive search of the building, a matching display case housing Curtin's medals and citations was discovered in the basement. The oil painting is by James Madden Waldron.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Thomas Pease, senior vice commander of the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence, talks about searching the attic of the building for this portrait of the post's namesake when it was discovered to be missing last May. During an extensive search of the building, a matching display case housing Curtin's medals and citations was discovered in the basement. The oil painting is by James Madden Waldron.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • This case containing citations and medals awarded to Michael F. Curtin is displayed in the lower banquet hall of VFW Post 8006 in Florence next to a recently returned portrait of Curtin. The case was discovered in the basement during a thorough search for the portrait which was reported missing last May.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This case containing citations and medals awarded to Michael F. Curtin is displayed in the lower banquet hall of VFW Post 8006 in Florence next to a recently returned portrait of Curtin. The case was discovered in the basement during a thorough search for the portrait which was reported missing last May.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>

    This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.
    KEVIN GUTTING
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • This is an oil portrait of Florence native Michael F. Curtin by James Madden Waldron that was anonymously returned to VFW Post 8006 after being reported missing last May. It is now displayed in the lower banquet hall of the post.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    This is an oil portrait of Florence native Michael F. Curtin by James Madden Waldron that was anonymously returned to VFW Post 8006 after being reported missing last May. It is now displayed in the lower banquet hall of the post.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • In this April 1962 photo from the Gazette archive, James M. Waldron works on a portrait of a church official. He is the artist who created the portrait of the late Michael F. Curtin which had been missing from the Florence VFW post that carries his name.

    In this April 1962 photo from the Gazette archive, James M. Waldron works on a portrait of a church official. He is the artist who created the portrait of the late Michael F. Curtin which had been missing from the Florence VFW post that carries his name. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thomas Pease, senior vice commander of the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence, talks about a recently returned portrait of the post's namesake, upper left, and also this separate matching display case housing Curtin's medals and citations that was discovered in the basement during a thorough search for the missing portrait. The portrait, in oil, was painted by James Madden Waldron.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Thomas Pease, senior vice commander of the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence, talks about searching the attic of the building for this portrait of the post's namesake when it was discovered to be missing last May. During an extensive search of the building, a matching display case housing Curtin's medals and citations was discovered in the basement. The oil painting is by James Madden Waldron.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • This case containing citations and medals awarded to Michael F. Curtin is displayed in the lower banquet hall of VFW Post 8006 in Florence next to a recently returned portrait of Curtin. The case was discovered in the basement during a thorough search for the portrait which was reported missing last May.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • This is one of three original extracts of citations awarded to Florence native Michael F. Curtin which, along with the original decorations, including a Purple Heart, are displayed in a case at the Michael F. Curtin VFW Post 8006 in Florence. The case was discovered in the basement of the post during the search for a portrait of Curtin that was reported missing last May.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING<br/>
  • This is an oil portrait of Florence native Michael F. Curtin by James Madden Waldron that was anonymously returned to VFW Post 8006 after being reported missing last May. It is now displayed in the lower banquet hall of the post.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • In this April 1962 photo from the Gazette archive, James M. Waldron works on a portrait of a church official. He is the artist who created the portrait of the late Michael F. Curtin which had been missing from the Florence VFW post that carries his name.

The months-long hunt for the oil painting of U.S. Air Force veteran Michael Francis Curtin also led to another discovery that has brought a greater understanding of the Florence man for whom the post was named.

Post members discovered in the VFW’s basement a framed case containing some of Curtin’s service medals and original military documents, including a Purple Heart awarded posthumously.

Curtin was killed in action on a bombing mission over France on Sept. 16, 1943, at age 24. The post had been organized and chartered in June 1946 and named after him. For as long as anyone can remember, a large portrait of the city native adorned its walls.

“It has tremendous sentimental value to us,” Diana Stallone, the post’s steward, said this week.

Post members had reported the approximately 2-by-3-foot painting missing last Memorial Day. The portrait depicts Curtin in uniform and had been hanging in the post’s lower banquet room. It disappeared after it was put in storage last April during renovation work at the post.

“We couldn’t find it anywhere,” said Tom Pease, senior vice commander of the post. “Obviously, it’s of great significance to the post.”

Post members had valued the painting at about $1,000 and offered a reward for its return. They turned the post upside down looking for it, but by Veterans Day last year, they had given up hope of seeing it again.

Then, out of the blue, it showed up near the front steps of the post in Florence center the day after Christmas, according to Pease, who said he found it while clearing away snow. The portrait and glass were out of the frame, which was in pieces, and covered by a cardboard box, he said.

The oil painting is the work of James M. Waldron, who was a well-known city artist at the time of his death in 1963 at age 49, according to a Gazette article at the time. Waldron, who studied art in Philadelphia and Mexico, was best known for his paintings of religious themes, including the murals in St. Mary’s lower church. Waldron had served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Pacific theater in World War II, when he painted and sketched scenes and portraits of Army life.

Among those who crossed paths with Waldron was Michael F. Curtin, 72, of Hadley, whose father was the late Michael F. Curtin’s cousin.

Curtin said his father told him years ago that he had been named after the World War II veteran and he recalled seeing Waldron at work in the late 1950s at St. Mary’s church where he used to volunteer his time for the parish.

“I’ve only seen it once,” said Curtin, of the portrait of Michael F. Curtin at the post. “I’m glad to hear it’s been returned.”

Curtin’s war

Tech. Sgt. Michael F. Curtin lived at 205 Nonotuck St. and was an exceptional baseball player and good student, according to Gazette archives. He was known as Franny to his friends.

As a member of the 526th Bomb Squadron, 379th Bomb Group, Curtin served as an engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17 bomber, according to U.S. military records. Curtin’s squadron flew 330 combat missions between May 1943 and the summer of 1945, during which time 141 B-17s were lost, most to enemy fighters and anti-aircraft guns, according to the 379th Bomb Group WWII Association.

A month before he died, Curtin’s B-17 had sustained battle damage over Gelsenkirchen, Germany, during a bombing raid of synthetic oil plants and crash landed at Rougham Airfield in Suffolk, England, on Aug. 16, 1943, according to the Eighth Air Force Historical Society.

Curtin and nine of his B-17 crew members went missing on Sept. 16, 1943, during an aerial raid on a ball bearings plant over Nantes, France. His name is among the 5,127 military dead recorded on the Tablets of the Missing, a large stone memorial at Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in Cambridge, England.

Lost box

While rummaging through the post basement, Pease said post members were stunned to discover some of Curtin’s medals. Charles Coleman, the post’s quartermaster, found the medals and accompanying military documents in a framed case in a far corner of a basement room on a high shelf, according to Pease.

“I get goose bumps thinking about it,” Pease said.

Those awards include the Purple Heart, the Air Medal and several Oak Leaf Clusters denoting subsequent Air Medal awards for “exceptionally meritorious achievement” in combat missions and the destruction of enemy airplanes over enemy occupied continental Europe.

“The courage, coolness and skill displayed by this (Michael F. Curtin) upon these occasions reflects great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States,” one military citation for the Oak Leaf Cluster award reads.

The framed display, which includes a smaller image of Curtin in uniform, now hangs side-by-side with his portrait. Pease said the post tried earnestly to discover what happened to the painting, but may never get to the bottom of its eight-month absence. The reward went unpaid. “Bottom line is, all the membership is glad to have it back,” he said.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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