WWII soldier's helmet returns home after more than six decades overseas
By Krista Smith /
Courtesy of The Orange Leader
8 January 2006
After nearly 63 years of wondering and negotiation, Carol Cady received the helmet her father, a casualty of World War II, wore during combat and at the time of his death.
At a ceremony held Saturday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2775 in Orange, Cady and her family were presented the helmet worn by Private First Class Curtis C. Morris, a paratrooper in the Easy Company, 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
In addition to receiving the helmet, Cady was also presented with a Bible from the post and a booklet, complete with pictures, compiled by a Holland farmer about the day of her father's death.
“It's amazing to me after all of this time that something like this could happen,” Cady said. “I knew nothing about how he died. I just knew that he had been killed. That's why this booklet means so much.”
Lieutenant General Ed Soyster, special assistant to the secretary of the Army, flew from Washington, D.C., to present the booklet and the helmet to Morris' family. Soyster has spent the last two years traveling the world supporting and conducting commemoration events for World War II.
Soyster began the presentation by describing the day that Private First Class Morris died, the beginning of Operation Market Garden in Holland on Sept. 17, 1944.
“We needed to seize a series of bridges so our forces could begin the liberation of Europe after the breakout from Normandy,” Soyster said. “On 17 September 1944, the 82nd Airborne Division jumped into Holland. Their objective was to seize the Maas bridge.”
Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on September 18, 1917, Morris enlisted on October 14, 1940. He underwent extensive training to become a paratrooper, and he saw his first combat in July 1943 when he jumped in the Sicily campaign.
Morris was injured later in Salerno by mortar grenades and was awarded the Purple Heart for the wounds he received there. After recovering, Morris rejoined his unit and took part in the battle of Anzio. He was serving as the runner for Easy Company Commander Captain Walter Van Poyck, at the time of his jump at the start of Operation Market Garden.
The jump was to be Morris' last.
“After his prior combat actions, Curtis Morris once again stood in the door of a C-47 flying over the village of Velp in Holland,” Soyster said. “On this day, his parachute malfunctioned, and before his reserve chute could fully deploy, he plummeted through a plum tree on the farmyard of farmer Jan Van Den Hoogen.”
After his fall, Morris was carried into Van Den Hoogen's barn by U.S. soldiers. When the soldiers checked the pocket of his uniform, they discovered the photograph of Morris' baby daughter, Carol, and a Rosary.
“When the soldiers discovered Morris was Catholic, they sent for the priest of a nearby Jesuit monastery, Father Hanssen, to baptize Private Morris and give him the Last Sacraments. Approximately two hours later, he died on the day before his 27th birthday.”
Morris' body was placed on a bier in the Jesuit monastery. The next day, five U.S. soldiers recovered his body as the abbot and rector prayed the Lord's Prayer and a Hail Mary as the seminarists formed a lane at the gate through which Morris was carried.
Morris was buried on September 21, 1944, in a temporary U.S. military cemetery “Molenhoek” near Nijmegen. He reached his final resting place on February 9, 1949, as he was reburied in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
However, Morris' story does not end there.
“A few days after the jump, the farmer, Jan Van Den Hoggen, found the helmet liner worn by Private Morris,” Soyster said. “He kept it for 60 years as a memory of the day that they were liberated. He turned it over to the U.S. Embassy a few years ago, and we have in turn turned it over to you.”
The process of returning the helmet to Cady and her family was not as easy as Soyster described.
“This has been such a long process,” Cady said. “After Van Den Hoggen gave the helmet to the U.S. Embassy, they still had to identify the soldier and find his surviving family. The serial number in the helmet was sent to the Pentagon, and even though there was a fire that destroyed many of these records, they were able to identify the soldier as my father.”'
Although Morris was identified as the owner of the helmet, the extensive search for his family had yet to begin.
“After they identified him, they put articles in the VFW and military magazines trying to find us,” Cady said. “They finally contacted a cousin on my father's side in Lake Charles, who in turn got a hold of us.”
Having made contact with the government, Cady embarked on a year-long journey to finally see her father's helmet home.
“A Holland man and I have been communicating for over a year,” Cady said. “He was afraid to mail the helmet because so many people collect that type of memorabilia and he didn't want it to get stolen. Finally, a military attaché brought the helmet back to the Pentagon.”
Soyster brought the helmet to Orange for Saturday's presentation.
Cady, three of her five children, and several of her 12 grandchildren were present at the ceremony. One of Cady's sons continues the military tradition of her family, as he is currently serving in Iraq on his second tour of duty.
MORRIS, CURTIS C
- PFC U S AGF
- DATE OF BIRTH: 09/18/1917
- BURIED AT: SECTION 12 SITE 8055
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard