Simmons Hanly Conroy client dies of mesothelioma exactly 70 years after surviving Pearl Harbor attack

A hero died last week. Of course, he wouldn’t consider himself a hero. Most never do.

Frank Curre was one of the last surviving veterans of Pearl Harbor. He died Dec. 7, 2011, the 70th Anniversary of the attack. Frank was 88 years-old and died of mesothelioma, a rare but almost always fatal cancer caused by asbestos exposure.

I had the privilege of meeting Frank over a year ago and serving as his family’s lawyer.

As Frank aged, his memory began to fail him. He’d say that he couldn’t remember what he read in the paper that morning. But he always remembered what happened the day of Pearl Harbor.

Anyone who met Frank was touched by his memories. He’d been recounting them for years to family, friends, reporters and school children.  His stories never grew old. Listeners said his words, descriptions of what happened, put you right there on the deck of his ship during the attack.

The morning of Dec. 7, 1941, he was working as a mess cook on the USS Tennessee.  He heard two huge, consecutive blasts. By the time he reached the deck, a bomb had destroyed the USS Arizona.

“That ship come 12-15 foot in the air, broke in two and settled back down,” Frank said this past November in an NPR interview. “If you’d had a bag of popcorn and you’d went out here in the breeze and threw it up in the air – that was bodies that went out all over the harbor.”

Those memories – those nightmares – would never leave him. Everything that happened that day was tattooed on his soul.

I remember receiving a call from Frank’s daughter Linda this past October. He wasn’t going to make it much longer, she said. Much to our surprise, Veteran’s Day came and went, and we began to think, maybe, he was meant to hold on.

"It’s like he held on for today, which is his special day," Linda told the family’s local newspaper on Dec. 7.

It was his special day, and he did his best to make sure it was everyone else’s special day as well. When anyone called him a hero, he pointed to the men and women who died that day. They are the real heroes, he said. He spent 70 years telling their stories and keeping their memories alive.

Technology will now take over for Frank. You can listen to his stories, told in his own words, at NPR’s StoryCorps.

Click here to listen to Frank tell the story of Pearl Harbor.