Tom Curtis was born in Teague, Texas, in 1932. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program on October 30, 1952, and was awarded his pilot wings and commission in the U.S. Air Force on December 18, 1954. Lt Curtis was next trained as a helicopter pilot, serving at Ellington AFB, Texas, Mather AFB, California, Sembach AB, West Germany, and Enlgand AFB, Louisiana, before being assigned flying air rescue missions in Southeast Asia in 1965. On September 20, 1965, his helicopter was brought down over North Vietnam while on a mission to rescue a downed F-105 pilot and he was taken as a Prisoner of War. After spending 2,702 days in captivity, Col Curtis was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. After hospitalization, he attended Air War College and then was assigned as Director of Operations for the Air Force Helicopter Training School at Hill AFB, Utah. Colonel Curtis retired from the Air Force on September 1, 1977. After retiring from the Air Force, Tom taught Spanish and World Geography in Texas public schools for twelve years.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The Air Force Cross is presented to Thomas Jerry Curtis, Captain, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Senior Pilot of a HH-43B helicopter over North Vietnam on 20 September 1965. On that date Captain Curtis participated in an extremely hazardous attempted recovery of a downed pilot. This mission required a flight of over 80 miles, mostly over hostile controlled territory. Evaluation of the environment in which the downed pilot was located indicated that maximum performance would be demanded from each crew member, if successful recovery was to be effected. Though exposed to intensive hostile ground fire, Captain Curtis, with complete disregard for his own safety, performed with courage and professional precision in a supreme effort to rescue a fallen comrade. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Curtis reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.