29. To Make Things Odder Yet, the Passengers of the Airplane Shot Down by This Ace Included His Future Wife
On September 8th, 1943, Italy surrendered, and Curdes’ Italian guards fled. Angered by their ally’s betrayal, the Germans invaded Italy, and Curdes had to evade recapture for eight months, before he finally made it to friendly lines in May, 1944. He was sent back to Indiana on home leave to recuperate, but Curdes sought another combat tour. So he was sent to the Pacific Theater, where he joined the 4th Fighter Squadron, 3rd Air Commando, a P-51 Mustang outfit. On February 7th, 1945, he shot down a Japanese reconnaissance airplane near Taiwan – which made this ace one of only three Americans in WWII to have shot down German, Italian, and Japanese planes. Three days later, Curdes led four P-51s in strafing some Japanese airfields in the Philippines. In the course of that operation, he noticed that an American Douglas C-47 transport was on a landing approach to a Japanese airfield.
Curdes tried to radio a warning to the C-47, but was unsuccessful. He flew in front of it and maneuvered wildly, but its pilot did not understand, and continued on. Curdes figured that the transport’s occupants would be better off if he shot it down, than if they landed and were captured by the brutal Japanese. So he shot out both of its engines. That forced the pilot to abandon the ground landing, and ditch his airplane in the sea nearby. Luckily, nobody perished, and the C-47’s occupants evacuated in a lifeboat. The next day, Curdes was surprised to learn that the C-47’s passengers included a nurse, Svetlana Valeria, whom he had recently gone out with. He was officially credited with the downed C-47, which brought his WWII victory total to ten. A year later, in 1946, he married Svetlana. They stayed together until his death in 1995.