Baseball Field Named After Hometown Hero Lost Aboard Sub

By D. Allan Kerr

Of the generations who have played baseball at Exeter’s Currier Field, it’s unlikely more than a few youngsters ever gave thought to the man for whom the field was named.

According to the family of Paul Chevalier Currier, that would’ve been fine with him.

“He certainly didn’t go looking for glory or anything,” his son John said recently. “He didn’t teach the kids or coach the kids to better himself at all — he did it for the kids.”

Currier was almost as devoted to his hometown as he was to his family. A 1940 graduate of Exeter High School — back when it was an all-boys institution — he later rode a ladder truck as part of the town’s then-volunteer fire department. He was active with the Knights of Columbus and in St. Michael Church, where he did community outreach work as a member of the Holy Name Society.

But in Exeter, his most lasting legacy is likely through the Little League program. A sports enthusiast who played both baseball and basketball in high school, Currier was one of the local league’s first coaches in the early 1950s.

“He was an important part of the league as it was getting off the ground decades ago, and we owe part of our success to people like him,” said Troy Gilbert, president of the Exeter Junior Baseball League.

Currier also loved his country. He served in Italy during World War II as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps. Following his discharge, he eventually returned to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where he had been an apprentice before the war, and worked his way up to ship progressman machinist.

Currier was one of the shipyard workers aboard USS Thresher when the nuclear attack submarine sank during sea trials on April 10, 1963, about 220 miles off the New England coast. All 129 sailors and civilians aboard Thresher (SSN 593) died that day in the worst submarine disaster in history.

On Memorial Day, less than two months later, Exeter’s Little League field was renamed in Currier’s honor. And to this day the annual Paul C. Currier Memorial Trophy goes to the town’s major league champion.

Currier left behind his 36-year-old wife Barbara, five children ranging in age from 13 to 2½, and an imprint on his community that continues to resonate nearly half a century later.

“I miss my father more as an adult than as a kid,” said John, who still lives in Exeter. “He’s my hero and my angel.”

Reminiscence of a Husband and Father

Barbara Currier still lives in Exeter, and all five children live either in town or nearby. They gathered recently in John’s home to reminisce about their husband and father.

They recalled a town much smaller than the Exeter of today, where the whistle of the town’s fire alarm could be heard throughout most neighborhoods. Barbara remembers waking to the sound of the whistle and watching Paul dash off into the night to respond to another emergency. Sometimes she would have to shake him awake.

The children acknowledged it was pretty cool having a father whose life outside the home revolved around submarines, fire trucks and baseball.

John, who was 8 at the time of the Thresher tragedy, remembers going to the fire station with his father and climbing on the ladder truck. The family still has a clipping from the June 19, 1958, Exeter News-Letter, featuring a photo of Paul with the rest of his ladder crew and a bunch of local kids atop the truck. He spent nine years with the department.

The older children recall their dad leading them on submarine tours at the Navy yard, during special events. And they remember many evenings spent playing ball in the back yard.

As with most kids, however, the Curriers’ full appreciation of their father’s legacy occurred later in life. Beverly, only 6 when Paul died, ruefully admits she abused her birthright on occasion as a child.

“I used to tell kids I didn’t like, ‘This is Currier Field and I’m a Currier — you need to get off,'” she said.

Now, as adults, they carry on their father’s memory in more appropriate ways. John’s license plate reads SSN 593 and he keeps an old Thresher ball cap on the rear dash of his car. Beverly has SUB 593 for her plate.

Paul Currier is pictured with his wife, Barbara Currier, who still lives in Exeter. Paul Currier was one of 129 men lost in the USS Thresher disaster. Of her husband, Barbara says, “He just was a great man, I thought. His children meant everything to him.”

Paul Jr., who wasn’t even 3 when his father died, became a coach as well in what is now known as the Exeter Junior Baseball League. He even headed the team his father used to coach — the Tigers.

“That’s why I got into coaching,” he said. “If there’s anything I have in common with him (Paul Sr.) it’s probably sports.”

Likewise, Peter — the oldest child — followed his father’s footsteps to the shipyard, after serving with the Army in Vietnam in the early 1970s. Peter recently retired as a planning manager after more than 37 years at the yard.

He worked with men who had worked with his father, and even went out on a submarine sea trial once but was told not to share his family history for fear of “jinxing” the dive.

And he didn’t share that news with his mother until much later.

“I just wanted to test fate,” he admitted. “I wasn’t worried.”

The family has been gratified to see they aren’t the only ones who continue to remember their patriarch.

Peter said his father’s picture continues to hang on the wall of his home shop at the shipyard — Shop 31. This past May, Exeter High School — where Paul and each of his children graduated over a 40-year period — selected the senior Currier as one of the veterans honored at its annual Memorial Day remembrance.

But the baseball field bearing his name serves as Paul’s most prominent memorial. A monument stands in a small cluster of bushes and trees beside the field, behind home plate. Dedicated 49 years ago, the stone describes him as a “devoted coach and friend.”

Their father, a humble man, would have scoffed at all the fuss, John said. “He would probably think putting that stone there was a waste of money.”

Every April 10, John leaves a small American flag at the marker. Then — in years past, at least — he would drive to Memorial Bridge to drop seven roses into the Piscataqua River. The first six roses represent each surviving family member; the seventh, he said, is for the remaining 128 men who died that day aboard Thresher.

With the bridge closed this past April, he dropped the roses from a wharf along the Portsmouth waterfront at Prescott Park.

‘Just Like It Was Yesterday’

Barbara Currier met her future husband in 1946 at the wedding of her aunt to his cousin. Teasingly asked by her children if she still remembers the encounter, she replied: “Just like it was yesterday.”

Paul was an air armorer with the 451st Heavy Bombardment Group — the Fightin’ 451st — during World War II, helping to load B-24 bombers in Italy. Barbara, who met him after the war, doesn’t know much about those years.

“He was very closemouthed about it, as most the men were,” she said.

One story that Paul, a devout Catholic, was proud to share was the time he kissed the Pope’s ring during a public service during the war.

“It really was a highlight of his being over in Italy,” Barbara recalled.

His younger sister Claire O’Shea said after Paul returned home from the war she lived with him in Exeter so she could finish high school at Robinson Female Seminary. Their mother died when they were young and their father had moved to Maine with his second wife to start a new business.

Paul, six years her senior, continued to help put Claire through school when she proceeded to commute to the University of New Hampshire from their home.

She recalled how he and their cousin Curley would take her out to the local pub with them on a Saturday night, and invariably they would wind up outside the home of their cousin Genevieve. The two men would then launch into a rousing rendition of the song “Sweet Genevieve” on her front lawn until their cousin finally appeared at the door to let them in for a bite to eat.

“He was a very good person, he had a lot of friends, and he really took care of me from the time that my mother died until I got married,” said Claire, now a resident of Sebago, Maine. “He was really a very special person.”

Paul Currier of Exeter served in Italy during World War II as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps. After he came back to the States, he worked at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard until being lost in the USS Thresher disaster in April 1963.

In winter he worked a second job driving an oil delivery truck during the day, then went in for second shift at the shipyard. The warmer months, of course, were devoted to baseball.

“He was what I like to call an all-around A-1 citizen,” said wife Barbara. “He just was a great man, I thought. His children meant everything to him.”

She and oldest daughter Ellen were shopping for Easter gloves in a local department store when news of a lost submarine came over the radio system. Barbara instantly had a premonition it was her husband’s vessel, and she rushed home to call the Navy yard. Her suspicion was confirmed by a return phone call and then a telegram from the Navy.

While Paul’s loss was devastating, he had instilled in their children a strict but loving discipline. They all worked together to get through the years following the tragedy, especially Peter, the oldest at 13 when the disaster occurred. Other extended family members chipped in as well.

“I couldn’t have made it without my family, without his family, without Peter and without the kids being so good,” Barbara said.

And to the children, Barbara was the rock who sustained them ever afterward.

“She devoted her life to her kids,” Peter said.

“They need taking care of, you just have to do it,” Barbara said. “You have to go on. You don’t want to, really, but for the kids’ sake you have to. If I had to do it over again, I’d probably still do it the same way I did.”

September 20 will mark the 60th anniversary of her wedding to Paul; three days later she will turn 86 years old. Paul would have turned 90 in October.

“It seems like yesterday, which I’m sure is how all older people feel,” she said.

Plans are under way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Thresher tragedy next April with the dedication of a 129-foot memorial flagpole in Kittery and a remembrance ceremony for family members at the shipyard. The memorial flagpole is being funded by private donations. For those left behind, the tributes are fitting for the Cold War casualties of USS Thresher.

“Those guys were all heroes,” John said. “They all died for their country.”

(September 2012)


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