An orphan who had grown up in a foster home in upstate New York, Francis Currey enlisted in the Army in the summer of 1943, one week after he graduated from high school. Though he completed the Officer Candidate School course, his superior officers decided he was "too immature" to receive a commission.
After another eight months of training with the 75th Infantry Division, Currey headed for England in the spring of 1944 as an infantry replacement. As a result of the public furor over the deaths of the five Sullivan brothers aboard a U.S. Navy combat ship, President Roosevelt had issued an executive order preventing American servicemen from going abroad until they were nineteen. Currey had to wait until his birthday at the end of June to ship out. He eventually landed at Omaha Beach, but it wasn't until several weeks after D-Day. He joined the 120th Infantry in the Netherlands in September 1944.
In the winter of 1944, Private First Class Currey's infantry squad was fighting the Germans in the Belgian town of Malmédy to help contain the German counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge. Before dawn on December 21, Currey's unit was defending a strong point when a sudden German armored advance overran American antitank guns and caused a general withdrawal. Currey and five other soldiers—the oldest was twenty-one—were cut off and surrounded by several German tanks and a large number of infantrymen. They began a daylong effort to survive.
The six GIs withdrew into an abandoned factory, where they found a bazooka left behind by American troops. Currey knew how to operate one, thanks to his time in Officer Candidate School, but this one had no ammunition. From the window of the factory, he saw that an abandoned half-track across the street contained rockets. Under intense enemy fire, he ran to the half-track, loaded the bazooka, and fired at the nearest tank. By what he would later call a miracle, the rocket hit the exact spot where the turret joined the chassis and disabled the vehicle.
Moving to another position, Currey saw three Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house and shot all of them with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He then picked up the bazooka again and advanced, alone, to within fifty yards of the house. He fired a shot that collapsed one of its walls, scattering the remaining German soldiers inside. From this forward position, he saw five more GIs who had been cut off during the American withdrawal and were now under fire from three nearby German tanks. With antitank grenades he'd collected from the half-track, he forced the crews to abandon the tanks. Next, finding a machine gun whose crew had been killed, he opened fire on the retreating Germans, allowing the five trapped Americans to escape.
At nightfall, as Currey and his squad, including two seriously wounded men, tried to find their way backto the American lines, they came across an abandoned Army jeep fitted out with stretcher mounts. They loaded the wounded onto it, and Currey, perched on the jeep's spare wheel with a Browning in his hand, rode shotgun back to the American lines.
Six months later, after the war in Europe had officially ended, Currey wasn't surprised when he learned he had been awarded the Medal of Honor—the news had been leaked to a newspaper in his hometown, and a friend had already sent him the clipping. Major General Leland Hobbs made the presentation on July 27, 1945, at a division parade in France.