CROOKSTON -- Three days before Americans honored their war dead on Decoration Day -- the precursor to Memorial Day -- in 1919, Curtis Hendrickson’s parents celebrated his birth.
In the course of four days this month, the World War II veteran will have observed both occasions. A 100th birthday party was held for Hendrickson May 23 at the Golden Link Senior Center in Crookston, and on Monday he will celebrate Memorial Day.
Hendrickson has lived in Crookston for most of his life, including the seven decades since he was honorably discharged from the service. He worked as an usher at the Grand Theater before he enlisted in the service and for a car dealership and as Crookston city clerk after his stint was finished.
Hendrickson enlisted in the service in February 1941 and served until World War II ended in September 1945. He was awarded five battle stars for his service in the Army Air Corps photo technical unit. During his four years in the service he was stationed in northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, central Europe and Normandy.
Besides Hendrickson’s birthday and Memorial Day, late spring also marks the anniversary of another important occasion in the life of the former soldier. Hendrickson, who served in the U.S. Army in a photo intelligence unit, was part of a group of men who arrived on Omaha Beach in France on June 7, 1944, one day after the beach was stormed by Allied forces.
Wounded and dead bodies covered the beach that day when Hendrickson and his fellow soldiers waded in from a small ship, Hendrickson said.
“We went on a landing craft and it kind of bugged out on us so we waded in (to shore). I remember it was a wild place to go,” he said.
“There was still some shooting going on and a lot of bodies,” said Hendrickson’s son Paul, who traveled from Alaska to celebrate his father’s birthday.
His father didn’t talk much about his World War II experiences growing up, but he does recall him telling him about the disturbing things he saw on Omaha Beach and about an apartment in Paris he shared for a short time with members of the photo intelligence unit.
When the younger Hendrickson mentioned the apartment to his father during a recent visit, the elder Hendrickson's eyes sparkled. He smiled as he recalled the adventures he had with his buddies in Paris.
But those weren’t the best memories of the four years Hendrickson served in World War II.
“The best memory was the day they signed the truce,” he said.