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Soldier with Utah ties killed in Afghanistan

SOUTH OGDEN — After watching the horror of events that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, Kurt Curtiss had one thing on his mind: Join the Army.

And because he couldn't enlist that fateful Tuesday, he signed up Wednesday instead.

There was no talking him out of it, said Ruth Serrano, Curtiss' mother.

"He wanted to make a difference," she said. "I think he did."

"He was a hero."

Was.

Staff Sgt. Curtiss was shot and killed Tuesday as his unit attempted to clear a group of insurgents out of a hospital in Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Nathan Banks, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

A group of five possible insurgents were escorted out of the hospital, but one Afghan national refused to leave and began firing at Afghan National Security Forces, Banks said. Curtiss and his unit had arrived to assist local forces.

Serrano gets choked up when she relates that Curtiss, on his third tour to the Middle East, was the first one from his unit to enter the hospital and was hit almost immediately, getting stuck in the crossfire.

A memorial to Curtiss is posted on a wooden electricity pole in front of Serrano's South Ogden home. His picture is tacked to the pole, and yellow ribbons are tied above and below it.

That meager memorial is not enough, though, Serrano said. On Monday, the family will host a candlelight vigil at 8:30 p.m. at their home, 305 37th St. in South Ogden.

"This way I can tell the world that my son died for them and for this country," Serrano said.

Her message seems to be getting out.

On Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert released a statement of condolences to Serrano and to Curtiss' family, saying he and his wife, Jeanette, appreciate Curtiss' service and his making the "ultimate sacrifice."

"We anguish with his family at this time, and recognize the significant sacrifice they, too, have made in the name of freedom," Herbert said. "He is truly one of this country's, and this state's, heroes."

"See, I told you," Serrano said upon hearing the governor's statement. "He's now going to have the recognition he deserves."

He was a wonderful son who loved martial arts and American Indian dancing at pow wows, both pastimes that garnered him various awards, Serrano said. She said he also was a wonderful husband and father to his wife, Liz, and children, Joshua and Cecilia.

Curtiss was the youngest of three siblings and brother to about 30 foster siblings in the Salt Lake area. More than 30 others live outside Utah.

His oldest sister, Lynn Burr, of Phoenix, joked that she and sister Leha weren't impressed with the boy their mother brought home from the hospital and wanted to throw him away. But the tables were turned 17 years later when Lynn went to jail after a food fight between her and her brother got out of hand and neighbors called the police.

Foster sister Liz Hunter, of South Ogden, remembers a time before Curtiss was her foster brother. The two were English classmates at Bryant Middle School in Salt Lake City.

And Hunter had a crush on the cute, dark-haired Curtiss.

"He was my whole reason for going to English class," she says, laughing. "Then he became my brother, so it got icky."

Laughter was something Curtiss knew well, his family said. He was quick with a joke but dedicated to his military service, which at times left little to laugh about on days his unit would sweep mountainous caves.

"It would kill him to see the amount of death over there," Serrano said.

And then, Wednesday, death hit home in the form of two men in uniform at the door.

"I went into shock," Serrano said. "I started screaming."

Serrano said she huddled on the floor as the thing she feared came to pass.

"I'm really thinking the war should stop," she said. "It's killing mothers and fathers and the children. They're killing off our future."

But there's comfort in knowing her son died with honor, Serrano said.

"I just want everybody to see how wonderful he was," she said.

e-mail: jdougherty@desnews.com

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