My grandfather, Joseph Kurtz, turns 90 years old July 26.
At 90, Grandpa Joe is still pretty spry and very sharp. He’d dig himself out of a North Dakota blizzard tomorrow if his seven children would let him.
My aunts asked me to interview Grandpa and make a video of him to celebrate his 90 years. I’m glad they did.
Grandpa Joe fearlessly served his country in WWII right out of high school. He never talks about those dark memories, never mentions his Purple Heart. But this time he did.
He told me stories of frozen foxholes and close calls. There was no gentle ease into the reality of war; Grandpa Joe fought only a few days and his company (Company G of the 104
Infantry Division) was hit hard. Twice in two days he volunteered to carry a wounded company commander a mile back to safety…under fire.
“After that, all I said to the good Lord was, ‘If I’ve got to get hit, hit me below the belly button…and darn gonnit if it didn’t happen.”
Grandpa Joe lay wounded in the battlefield for 12 hours, shot in the leg, endlessly repeating the Our Father before the medics were able to get to him. “You said every prayer you knew and your life went before you. The Good Lord was with me all the way. If it wasn’t for Him I wouldn’t be here today.”
After the “million dollar wound” that prevented him from returning to the battlefield, Grandpa Joe was sent back to North Dakota where eventually began a career as an auto mechanic in Bismarck, his job for over 42 years. The day after he retired in 1988, Grandpa attended the 8 a.m. daily Mass at Cathedral. If you go tomorrow, he’ll be there, left side of church, far left end of the pew, about halfway up.
“What do I like about it? It’s not liking. It makes my day. I can handle anything that comes along then.” A tear snuck down his cheek.
Today, much of Grandpa’s energy is consumed by caring for his wife of 68 years, Grandma Dorothy, who is battling Alzheimer’s.
“I’m at Mass because I wanna be, not because I have to be. If I don’t go, the day doesn’t seem right, nothing seems to go right.”
Grandpa started early—he served Mass as an altar boy every morning as a youngster and came to be known for his faithfulness in the service, serving Mass during the war. “Maybe that’s why the good Lord’s been good to me, I dunno.”
When rain and snow would leak into the Cathedral’s tower overlooking Bismarck, Msgr. Garvin asked him to help install glass into its windows. He made the fix, but not before writing his name inside the tower. “If you’re afraid of heights it’s the wrong place to be.”
God has guided Grandpa with His loving hand for 90 years, always keeping him in the right place. Without that guidance, I literally wouldn’t be here.
Raised on “cold milk and puffed wheat,” Grandpa Joe has lived 90 years of simplicity and service, heroism and humility. In 2006, he received a letter informing him that he was supposed to have been awarded the Bronze Star, one of the most highly regarded awards in the US military, among other medals. Not one for drama or exaggeration, he says he doesn’t know why they wanted to give them to him.
“There’s no winners in war because everybody suffers.” I never realized how much Grandpa suffered, or even continues to suffer from those experiences. All I know is that he found a winning formula to make it through life’s trials.
Cling to Christ with all your might.
For more, see the August 2013 Dakota Catholic Action