Under heavy machine gun and mortar fire, Pfc. Curtis L. Nabors and the three platoons of Company C advanced on the hamlet of Hartungshof in southwest Germany near the French border. It was 1:05 p.m. March 3, 1945.
In three weeks, the Army's 63rd Infantry Division would break through the Nazis' Siegfried Line on their way across the Rhine and then the Danube. But Nabors would not march with the others. Cut down that day by fire from a farmhouse bunker, the 24-year-old farm boy from Mississippi would be left behind in a field.
C Company withdrew seven hours after the attack and that night German soldiers buried Nabors and two other Americans in an unmarked grave. His wife and young son were told he was missing. Then they were told he was dead.
Yesterday, 37 years later, Pfc. Nabors was accorded his military honors and his three-volley salute on the gentle green hills of Arlington National Cemetery.
"Today is the end of a long saga," said his son, Curtis L. Nabors Jr., one of 11 relatives who came to Washington for the burial. Nabors was 3 years old when his father was killed and now is an international management consultant who lives in New Jersey. He bears no trace of the Woodlawn, Miss., accent his father had when he went to war, but the jaw is the same, strong and square.
"I always knew he was dead, but I always had that outside hope, that little feeling of uncertainty, that gnawing. But now it is gone, that feeling, and I am proud of him and proud of what his country has done for him today. He's an American. He belongs here."
Curtis L. Nabors Sr. did not have to go to war. A self-taught engineer, Nabors spent the early years of the war as a member of the secret Manhattan District Project, at work on the atomic bomb that would end the war against Japan. "He enlisted because he saw all his friends going to war and coming back wounded, or not coming back at all," his son, now 40, said. "He thought too much of his country not to go."
So on Sept. 9, 1944, Nabors enlisted. Five months later he entered combat, joining the 254th Regiment of the 63rd Infantry at Sarreguemines, France, near the German border. Two weeks later, he was one of 160 men who moved in a diversionary raid against Hartungshof.
His command had hoped the raid would make the defending Germans believe that the town would soon be under a large-scale attack by the entire regiment, 3,500 men, bivouacked just to the south. After the attack, the Army hoped to edge its troops closer to the Siegfried Line, the massive system of fortifications that was Hitler's western barrier to the Allied advance.
The raid was successful, though 27 Americans were wounded and 23 were killed, and the 63rd went on to penetrate the line. They would protect Gen. George Patton's right flank as his tanks crossed the Rhine River, then forge on past Heidelberg and Jeilbrown and Schwab-Gmund to the Danube and then to Landsburg.
Back in Woodlawn, Miss., Juanice Nabors and her young son carried on as best they could. Then, in 1947, a German forwarded them the small Bible that Nabors had carried into battle. Inside was a picture of his infant son.
For years the Nabors tried to contact the German, tried to find traces of their husband and father. Later, Juanice Nabors married an Army officer and in 1953, while his stepfather was stationed in Germany, Curtis Nabors Jr. went back to Hartungshof, looking for clues. He found none, though yesterday he said he probably walked within several hundred yards of his father's grave.
In 1974, a construction crew laying a water pipe on the old battlefield discovered Nabors' dog tag and a St. Christopher's medal given him by a great aunt. It wasn't until six years later that James Craig, a retired American Army major living in Germany, heard of the discovery. He recovered the tag and the talisman, wrote to state officials in Mississippi, and later he contacted Nabors' family.
Young Nabors took the question to the Defense Department and the Army Adjutant General's Memorial Affairs Division took over the search. In November, the backhoe operator who had discovered the dog tag led Army officials to the spot where Nabors and the other two Americans had lain for 37 years. Last spring the soldiers' remains were recovered and later sent to the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu for positive identification. In July the Nabors family was notified that the remains were in fact those of Pfc. Nabors.
One of the other soldiers found in the German grave, Pfc. Joseph Hartley, was buried with military honors in Charleston, S.C., 10 days ago. The family of the third soldier, a native of New Jersey, has asked that his identity be withheld.
"The New Jersey boy's mother never believed he was dead," said Randy Wesson, an Arlington advertising executive who is the historian for the 63rd Division. "She thinks her son will wake up from amnesia some day and come home."