Monday, October 19, 2009

Farewell to an old friend

A couple months back I posted about an article I was working on regarding my grandfather and his good friend, Ed Cassidy. The two were longtime friends, served in World War 2, and later purchased a piece of lakefront property together in Andover, NH. In the mid-1950s they helped each other build a pair of summer cottages on the land that still stand today. I've been going there every summer since I was a kid, just like my mother before me, and now my two daughters are enjoying the quiet peace of the lake, too.

There they are at right--Don Teschek, my grandfather (left), and Cassidy, right, standing on a beach in Leyte during World War 2.

Well, two things have transpired since then:

1). I finished the story and it was accepted for publication at The Andover (NH) Beacon. Part 1 ran last month and part 2 is due out soon.

2). Ed Cassidy, my primary source for the article, passed away today at age 93. He was living in La Mirada, CA, at the time. He will be cremated and his ashes flown out for internment in a cemetery in Andover, NH, alongside his wife, Kay. The Greatest Generation has lost another.

It's a sad day for me, though I'm glad I had the opportunity to sit down with Ed for a couple interviews and get the piece written. As a kid I thought of Ed as the nice old guy who lived in the cottage next door. As I grew older and learned what the War was all about, my respect and admiration for him grew steadily deeper. While he wasn't an infantryman in the thick of combat, his story and the sights he saw were pretty darned amazing. He also taught me more about my grandfather than I ever knew, for which I am eternally grateful.

Anyhow, a couple people expressed interest in reading the article, so I'm including the text of Part 1, below. Part 2 to follow.

I'll miss you, Ed.


ANDOVER — From the firestorm of the Pacific Theater to the quiet shores of Highland Lake, Ed Cassidy and Donald Teschek lived a life of hardship and sacrifice, good friendship, and shared memories. Although Teschek passed away 25 years ago, their unique relationship lives on in a piece of lakefront property that three generations of family continue to cherish as a treasured summer retreat.

A single, tree-shaded driveway serves as the lone access to a pair of cottages that the two men built in 1954-55. Beyond the paired structures, a sloping, grassy hillside leads to a shared beach below.

Somewhere in between is an invisible property line that neither side seems to care too much about. The fact that no one can say exactly where the land is divided is proof of an enduring bond between the two World War 2 veterans, and a unique, good-natured relationship between their families.

“We used to say, if we got mad at each other, they [Cassidys] weren’t going to let us down the driveway, and I said that they weren’t going to use the water,” jokes Eleanor Teschek, 84, Don’s widow. “We have a saying, ‘If you get the Cassidys, you get the Tescheks—we come together.’ It’s just kind of always been that way.”

Work and the call of war
The friendship of Ed and Don began in 1938. Cassidy, a reconciler in the accounts department at Employers' Group Insurance Company in Boston, had been on the job for a year and was asked to provide training for Teschek, a new recruit. The two also became quite friendly with Bob Williams, another Employer’s Group colleague who worked in the same department.

The three hard-working young men poured their energy into their careers and set their sights on making a good living. They took classes three nights in week at Bentley College after work, often getting home after 10 p.m. They paid their tuition and expenses out of their own pocket. But they also managed to find time to hang out and enjoy each other’s company.

“The three of us spent a lot of time together, camping, going to Canada,” says Cassidy. “We were all single then.” Cassidy got married in June 1941, and he and Williams later transferred to another office, but the trio remained good friends.

But their personal and professional lives would soon be interrupted by the drum roll of war. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Eleanor, then a high school senior, was stunned along with the rest of the country.

“We had no TV and I can still remember President Roosevelt and his words over the radio, ‘Today the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor,’ she says. “We were all shocked.”

Not long after in early 1942 Cassidy and Don Teschek were alerted by the draft. The three men knew that it was only a matter of time before they’d be drafted, so in order to avoid a poor assignment they enlisted. On a Saturday morning Cassidy and Williams took the air force pilot written examination and passed. But when they got called in for the physical, Cassidy flunked the eye test (he had 20/30 vision in one eye).

“I told them I worked at night, so they told me to rest up, try again in a couple weeks. I even went to a specialist, but it didn’t help,” Cassidy says.

Cassidy later tried to enlist in civilian pilot training under jurisdiction of the army but was again denied entrance. Shortly thereafter he was drafted into service as an air force quartermaster in the fifth air force, reporting to Fort Dix in New Jersey. His 100-man unit was responsible for feeding and supplying 10,000 troops, so there was no downtime. In fact, in three years in the service Cassidy says he had only 10 days off on a short furlough back to the states.

In April of 1942 Teschek reported to Fort Devens with the 14th Anti-Aircraft Command. Williams meanwhile became a pilot of a B-25 bomber.

In the thick of conflict
In 1943 Cassidy left from San Francisco on a ship to Australia. Teschek’s unit was assigned to New Zealand and he saw action there and on Guadalcanal. After Australia Cassidy went on to New Guinea, following the ladder as U.S. forces fought and regained Japanese-held territory in the Philippines. Though he was serving as a quartermaster behind the lines, combat was swirling all around him.

“We were lucky, in the type of outfit we were in, we were sort of in back of what was going on,” Cassidy recalls.

But sometimes the action drew close. The Japanese frequently attempted to get at the U.S. supply lines and ships in the harbors of the Philippine islands. On New Guinea, Cassidy says that the Japanese bombers would come in every night at 11:30 p.m. for a bombing run. “You could almost set your clock by it,” he says. “That’s what they were after, the harbor and all the ships there.”

During the day, Japanese fighter planes flew in low and fast on strafing runs. “They had a lot of Zeroes, very fast and maneuverable,” Cassidy says. “You might shoot at them, but they were going so fast and so low, the chances of hitting them were rather remote.”

Teschek kept a copy of The Guadalcanal Herald and Examiner that showed that the U.S. was winning the battle in the air. The June 21, 1943 issue recaps a battle for air supremacy over the island in which the Japanese suffered 94 planes destroyed, 17 of which were knocked down by anti-aircraft guns. In comparison only six U.S. planes were lost.

Cassidy recalls seeing a number of heavily damaged U.S. planes limping back to the runway during these hard-fought days in the Pacific. “I’d see fighter planes half shot-up, you wondered how they could fly,” Cassidy recalls. “The planes that we made were not as manueverable as the Japanese planes, but our planes were made to protect the pilot, the Japanese planes were not. So those planes would take a hell of a lot of punishment.”

An unlikely reunion
Cassidy’s next stop was the East Indies where the U.S. forces staged for the invasion of Leyte. When he got to Leyte Cassidy wrote home and asked his wife, Kay, and his family to see if they could find out where Teschek was stationed. “I had an idea he was in the Pacific, but I didn’t know where,” he recalls.

With their aid Cassidy tracked down Teschek’s APO number (a number used by the army for mailing purposes). It was 72, the same as Cassidy’s. “I figured there was a good chance he was in the area somewhere,” Cassidy says.

As it turns, out, Teschek was very close—barely a mile away, in fact. One sunny day Cassidy strode up to Teschek’s tent and tapped him on the shoulder. It was a highly improbable reunion of two friends, who—thousands of miles from home and in the midst of the largest war the world had ever seen—were now standing face-to-face on an island in the midst of the war-torn Pacific ocean.

“It was just a case of walking over to his tent,” Cassidy says. “We went in such diverse directions, and ended up in the Phillipines side by side, how did that happen?”

Being an Air Force quartermaster, if there was any good food around, Cassidy had it. He recalls that his unit used to give the pilots ice cream powder and get the finished product in return. “They [pilots] had the machines to make it, and they’d give us ice cream,” he says.

Cassidy helped set up Teschek with some decent food, which the latter never forgot in the years after the war. “He used to walk over to our area and eat in our mess hall at night,” Cassidy says. “If there was anything good we got it, one way or another, either legitimately or by swapping.”

Cassidy also found out that Bob Williams (pictured, above) was on the nearby island of Luzon. Excited by the news, he wrote his friend a letter urging him to fly on over. “I wrote to him and told him, ‘Don and I are on Leyte, right on an airstrip, so fly down and we’ll get together.’”

But Cassidy’s letter came back with a bitter message: Williams had been killed in action. He had crashed on takeoff with a load of bombs.

Teschek and Cassidy were too busy to dwell on their grief, however. Japanese planes were buzzing the harbor and attacking ships. Cassidy remembers one attack that struck a nearby ammunition dump and hearing the huge roar of an explosion. On another night, just as dusk fell, some Japanese cargo planes came in low over his outfit and paratroopers began to bail out overhead. It was an elite outfit, armed and equipped with the best supplies the Japanese army had, and they were intent on taking a nearby airstrip.

Armed with a carbine, Cassidy spent the night hunched in a foxhole with a friend from New York. The man wore glasses which were knocked off in the scramble, leaving him near blind and helpless.

“I had to nursemaid him through the night,” Cassidy recalls. “He always said I saved his life, but all I did was be a seeing eye dog for him.”

Later that night U.S. infantry moved in and worked for several days to roust out and kill the attacking troops.

The war reaches its conclusion
During Teschek’s tour in Leyte he eventually found time to engage in one of his favorite pastimes—gardening. An article in the Employer’s Group newspaper picked up the story and reported it back home. “He moved them in cans from island to island so they had fresh vegetables,” says Eleanor. “He loved gardening.” It was an activity he would continue in the years after war.

Meanwhile Cassidy went on to Luzon, Okinawa, and then finally to Japan. En route to mainland Japan he stopped on the island of Fukuoka and it was there that got a first-hand look at the zealotry of the Japanese defenders.

In a bombed out aircraft factory where his unit was staged, Cassidy recalled seeing a long pool of water used to test Kamikaze boats. The boats were made out of very thin wood and were intended to be driven by a single soldier or civilian. The noses of the boats were loaded with explosives.

“They were really getting for invasion and they would do anything they could to stop our boats from coming in,” Cassidy says. “That was going to be the name of that game.”

Okinawa was another memorable experience for Cassidy. The invasion of the island was in full swing, and as his ship approached the island he awoke to the sound of attacking Japanese planes and antiaircraft guns pounding away at them. U.S. planes were dropping bombs on the island and ships fired their big deck guns on the dug-in Japanese soldiers ceaselessly.

“The Japanese had orders not to surrender and they didn’t. That was one of our worst invasions—we lost a lot of men,” Cassidy recalls. “That’s why the veterans look at dropping the atom bomb as saving thousands and thousands of Americans that would have been killed in an invasion of Japan.”

After the atomic bombs were dropped and Japan finally called for an end to the war, surrendering Japanese officials passed through Okinawa where Cassidy was still stationed on August 20, 1945. “That was a special night I won’t forget,” he says.

Cassidy also served briefly on mainland Japan. On the way to Tokyo he passed through the wreckage of Hiroshima, site of the first atomic bomb blast. “If you looked out, everything was flat, there was no recognizable structure,” he recalls.

In December of 1945 Cassidy left Japan to come back home, arriving home in early January. Teschek had beaten him home by a few months. Of his 40 months of service time, Teschek spent 33 in the southwest pacific. For his service in New Caledonia, New Zealand, Guadalcanal, the Northern Solomons, and the Philippines, he earned four bronze combat stars, the Good Conduct Medal, and the Philippine Liberation ribbon.

Part two includes life back on the homefront and building the cottages.


Rusty said...

I've been a WW2 history buff since I was a kid (I had an one uncle in Europe and another uncle in the Pacific). This is an excellent piece of oral history. Thanks!

nephite blood spartan heart said...

Great piece Brian. I don't have words for my appreciation of our vets.

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks David and Rusty. It's sad to see this generation going, and no exaggeration to say that the World War II veterans saved the world.

Chad Thorson said...

This article definitely puts the mundane things of our generation into perspective. My grandfather served in the navy and I have an uncle who was in tank division in north Africa. Neither one of them really talked much about their experience. It's great that you were able to get your grandfather and his friend Cassidy's experience related to you. It's a great piece.

Janis Jaquith said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Brian. I, too, have fond childhood memories of the lake and Uncle Eddie's cottage. (My mother is Edie Jaquith, Ed's little sister.) In the '80s, I went back there for a visit, with my 3 kids. Eddie took my son Jack out in a rowboat, and I think that was the first time Jack ever caught a fish. So many memories.

Jackson Landers said...

The story I heard from my grandmother (Eddie's sister) a few months ago was that Bob Williams never really wanted to be a pilot - he just went and signed up because Eddie was signing up and they were going in together. And then of course Eddie didn't pass the eye test and Bob was stuck being a pilot on his own. He hated it. When Bob came back on furlough or wrote letters back home he used to tell my grandmother and her family, only half-kidding, "Damn that Eddie Cassidy for getting me into this." Not that it was really Eddie's fault or anything.

I sure that lake house stays in the family.

Barad the Gnome said...

Nicely done Brian.


alan cassidy said...

WOW Brian, what can I say. Dad would have liked your little story.
Seeing it in print like that really brings it home. I'm glad he was able to share a different perspective of your grandaddy Don with you, he was good dude! We are very lucky to have had Dad around for 93 years. He was a good dude too and will be missed. And... your a good dude also! On behalf of the Cassidy family, Thank you. See you at the lake.

Pat Stone said...

Ed was my uncle - my mother, Margaret, was his older sister. I have so many fond memories of the cottage at the lake with Uncle Ed, Aunt Kay, and Ellie (your grandmother). I don't remember your grandfather, but Uncle Ed often spoke of him. Your story is wonderful - I look forward to the next installment.

Pat Stone

Brian Murphy said...

Hi all, thanks for your kind comments about the article. I've heard from some folks that I've never met (Pat, Jack, Janis), and who obviously knew Ed quite well, which was very unexpected.

Ed and Don's story strays a little outside what I usually blog about here, but I wanted to share their story with a wider audience. I'm glad it found you all.

Alan: Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you're doing as well as you can. I'm very sorry for the loss of your father. He was a great man. I'll see you soon.

Greg Bourdon said...


What a great article. I've been able to share this with a lot of people. I'ts awesome that you were able to put this together. It's great to have this account of history and how it all began up at the lake and how all of our families have grown together over the years. Ed and our grandfather were good buds, i'm so nice to read this piece about them.

Brian Murphy said...

Hi Greg, thanks for the nice words. I had meant to write this a couple years ago but never got around to it. I'm glad I got it written--and that Ed got to read it--before he passed away. It was a story that needed to be told.

Plus, I got to post a picture of you in a diaper :).

Eleanor Teschek said...

Wow, Brian, what a fitting tribute to Ed. "You do me proud!"

I shall miss him dearly as I do Kay. They were always there for me when I needed them most, as were their boys and their grandchildren. I never felt alone at the cottage knowing that a Cassidy was always nearby to bail me out with cottage problems, of which I have had many over the years since Don died.

Love, Grammy Teschek