Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Butch's History

Gone But Not Forgotten

CurdSm.jpg September 2000 brought the end of the Twentieth Century's final summer, the arrival of its final autumn and the loss of one of our finest officers and gentlemen. Jim Curd passed away on Sept. 18, 2000 from a form of small cell cancer that he had defeated once before and had quietly battled for going on three years.

A second generation Air Force pilot, Butch, as many of his friends and relatives called him, was a genuine credit to the Academy, to the Air Force, to his country of which he was so proud, and to his friends and family, of which he was even more proud.

Butch was always a dedicated and patriotic individual and he served his country well. His dad had flown for SAC in WWII and Butch did the same over Vietnam. He flew multiple missions during the war years, but the ones I remember best were the Young Tiger refueling missions out of Kadena Air Base where I was stationed with my family. From time to time, I'd come home from “a day at the office” and there would be Butch, TDY from Beale again, playing with my two young sons on the floor, as much a part of the family as anyone could possibly be. Regardless of how many missions he flew or how many “saves” he made, Butch was always a family man above all else, a strong father figure to his boys, and a dependable big brother to the rest of us, always steady, always even-tempered, never panicked.

For about two years at Kadena, whenever he was TDY there, Jim and I used to play handball at the base gym. Afterwards, we'd have to replace our essential bodily fluids at the club. At these times we always talked about our families and responsibilities, our classmates, and American society in general. He had an unusually keen sense of how important families were in the bigger scheme of life, both our nuclear families and our extended families. He had a strong belief about how the good things came to people because they did their duty to their families, and that this in turn was their part of the bigger responsibilities for society. Being an officer and a gentleman was more than just a phrase to Butch. He believed that the officer part was the set of responsibilities we had and that being a gentleman meant that you lived up to those responsibilities, not with a bunch of fanfare and celebration to your credit, but logically and quietly and as a matter of fact.

He was proud of our class, he said once, because the simple timing of our graduation coupled with the war had forced us to stand up and confront our duty. “Yep,” he said, and we stood up to it pretty darn tall.” He used to smile at you when he said something like that, not a broad, toothy, laughing smile, but a sly, knowing, closed lip smile, with his eyes shining at you like he was holding the punch line in, knowing that at any second you're gonna get it and you'll agree with him, and he was right.

Years later, when we had both left our military careers behind us, I'd come home to my Southern California house, first in Huntington Beach, then later in San Diego, and there would be Butch again, TDY from New Jersey, compliments of one airline or the other, playing catch with my kids or planning dinner with my wife, still and always, part of the family, and smiling. He smiled that same knowing smile all his life.

From his days as our cadet squadron commander, through the war years and the years that followed with Eastern and United Airlines, he was always the steady dependable guy that you wanted someone to be who was sitting in the cockpit of your airplane. The crooked smile, the eyes still squinting from the bright sun aloft.., all that was there, but what counted a lot more, that Butch had, was the comfortable, easy-going confidence that let you know that here was a man you could trust, that you could fully depend on. Some guys said he was more mature than the rest of us. Butch would've said, “Nahh.” But I think maybe he was.

There are huge aspects of Butch's life and personality that are totally overlooked in a small tribute like this. For example, he was always joking and was so much fun, at dines he was a running wit machine, with one funny remark after another. And yet when you read about him like this, it sounds all so serious. The serious facts are that he was very proud of Karen and the boys, and his family and friends were very important to him.

When Butch was first diagnosed with cancer in 1997, doctors gave him three to six months to live. As this word spread, classmates called to lend their support. When Butch got on the phone he was always positive, cheerful without exception, and supportive... he was supportive to us, in our concerns, when he was the man with the cancer. As another classmate said, “The doctors obviously didn't know the fiber of the man.” He was right, they didn't, but those of us who did know him knew also that we were blessed and fortunate to have spent the time with him that we did.

In parting, Jim is survived by Karen, his loving wife of 36 years, his two sons, Jim and Tyler, of whom he was very proud, and his large, extended family of friends and classmates who will all miss him, very much. He was truly an officer amid a gentleman.

(Duke Nauton, ‘64, Gone But Not Forgotten, Checkpoints, Spring 2001)
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