By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
A World War II prisoner of war will be the honored guest at an annual Yukon veterans’ celebration this week.
Leonard Curtis, 98, was a U.S. Army sergeant who fought in Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany during the war. Curtis, who joined the Army in September 1940 at age 18, was a POW for six months toward the end of WWII before leaving Germany in July 1945.
Curtis will be the guest of honor at the Yukon Veterans Museum’s seventh anniversary gala on Thursday, Sept. 17 at the Dale Robertson Center, 1200 Lakeshore. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the program will start about 6:45 p.m. Tickets are $25 each in advance and $35 at the door.
U.S. military veterans and museum supporters are encouraged to attend the benefit gala.
“It is our honor to recognize Leonard Curtis for his heroic actions serving our country during World War II,” said Lt. Col. (ret.) Rick Cacini, founder and curator of the Yukon Veterans Museum. “Heroes like him should make all of us proud to be Americans.”
Curtis was a member of the machine gun squadron with the Thunderbirds, 45th Infantry Division from 1940-45. This summer, Curtis also was honored during a “God and Country” ceremony at a Warr Acres’ church where he was escorted by Cacini.
Besides honoring Curtis, Yukon Veterans Museum Gala attendees on Sept. 17 will hear an inspirational speech from a Tinker Air Force Base commander. Col. Paul G. Filcek, the 72nd Air Base Wing commander at Tinker AFB, will address the audience.
“We are so honored to have Col. Filcek as our keynote speaker,” Cacini said. “We’re going to find out a lot about Tinker and the troops over there. Our veterans and military people – whether on duty or retired – get support at Tinker. Tinker is a partner of the VA Medical Center, so they provide medicines for our troops and veterans.”
After Col. Filcek’s speech, he and Cacini will cut the Yukon Veterans Museum’s anniversary cake with their swords.
Col. Filcek leads nearly 3,000 airmen and is responsible for $5.4 billion in resources and a $311 million operating budget. The Tinker commander provides installation support for more than 27,000 personnel.
Filcek commands the 72nd Air Base Wing, which enables many critical missions at Tinker AFB – the largest single-site employer in Oklahoma. His maintenance and programming experience spans six major commands and includes 19 unique aircraft types.
OTHER GALA HIGHLIGHTS
The Sept. 17th vets’ gala will feature dinner catered by Johnny Carinos, which will be served by local Boy Scouts and Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) members.
The Boy Scouts will post the colors followed by an invocation and remarks by Cacini. Fort Reno’s DAR chapter will present honor quilts to distinguished veterans.
Gala attendees will be invited to participate in a silent auction of baked goods, including pies, cakes and cinnamon rolls. Winning bidders will earn prizes.
The gala will include a 50/50 raffle.
Providing background music will be Rick Sondag of the Mystery Dates. Former Yukon Mayor Larry Taylor will perform “Taps” on his trumpet.
Gala organizers are taking COVID-19-inspired precautions to ensure the safety of guests.
“We will be following the protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and the City of Yukon,” said Cacini, a Yukon City Council member. “There will be temperatures checks and if you’re feeling sick, please stay home.”
Thursday’s gala is a major fundraiser for the Yukon Veterans Museum, which occupies a 4,100 square foot space in the Yukon American Legion building at 1010 W Main.
“We must continually maintain all the artifacts and displays to make sure they’re safe and secure inside our museum,” Cacini said. “We want to honor our armed forces each day we open the museum doors and share the history of the sacrifices made for our freedoms.”
The Yukon Veterans Museum features: Battlefield gear, historic photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, flags, uniforms, helmets, weapons, military documents, and much more.
Regular hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Tours are available, by appointment, outside those hours.
Tickets to the Yukon Veterans Museum Gala are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Sponsorships are $500 (red), $300 (white) and $100 (blue).
For more information, call Jerry Icenhower at (405) 514-6794, Eddie “Mac” McFadden at (405) 203-3613 or Cacini at (405) 517-1901.