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WACO — World War II veteran Frank Curre died Wednesday, exactly 70 years after surviving the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Curre, who served in the Navy, died Wednesday morning after battling mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, for more than a year.
The Waco native was 88 years old.
Curre was a mess cook aboard the USS Tennessee at Pearl Harbor when the naval base was bombarded. Curre later was assigned to the USS Petrof Bay during the war and he participated in attacks at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
"It's like he held on for today, which is his special day," Curre's daughter, Linda Lee, said Wednesday. "He was very much a family man. He taught us family values, patriotism and love for our country."
Lee said Curre was exposed to asbestos as the ships were bombed and set ablaze, spreading the harmful chemical into the air. Lee and her sister, Peggy Hunt, had been Curre's caregivers for the past year.
After leaving the military, Curre worked as a pressman for the Waco Times-Herald, now the Tribune-Herald , for 42 years. He continued to work part time for the paper for another 18 years.
Curre was the president of the local Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He has returned to Pearl Harbor four times with group members, most recently last year for the 69th anniversary of the attack.
"There's a lot of stuff I don't remember much in my old age. But that day? Everything that happened that day is tattooed on your soul," Curre told the Tribune-Herald in a November 2010 interview, a month before the trip. "It never leaves you. You carry it with you the rest of your life."
Robert Carter is commander of the William B. Moody Memorial VFW Post 2034, where Curre was a member. Carter had been visiting Curre in recent days as his health declined. He said Curre was bedridden for about five days and by Monday could only nod or shake his head to acknowledge people.
Carter said he and Curre would visit local schools like Rapoport Academy and talk to students about World War II. Carter said Curre also loved to go to a McDonalds to drink coffee with fellow veterans and a police officer he knew.
"Frank was quite a guy," Carter said. "He loved America, and he loved his uniform, and he couldn't stand for anybody to talk bad about it. He would be the first one to tell you to shut up if you did."
Mary Duty, a history teacher at Tennyson Middle School, said Curre was a frequent guest speaker in her class. The school named their Hall of Honor after Curre last school year, and Duty's class presented him with a plaque.
Two students created posters of Curre to march in the most recent Veterans Day parade. Duty said she will take the artwork to Curre's two daughters to keep.
"He was funny at times, but he would tell very serious stories," Duty said. "He had a gift as a storyteller, he would lean into them and talk to them in a manner that made them want to listen.
"He told kids that every day after Pearl Harbor was like a gift, because he should have died that day, and when he didn't, every day for the next 70 years was from God."
In 2009, Curre was featured in an oral history interview with the city of Waco.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, http://www.wacotrib.com