Remembering George Wassell — And His Brothers

The 5 Sullivan brothers — all killed in action during World War II — are national heroes.

The Wassell brothers were Westport’s version of the Sullivans.  Three — Harry, Bud and Pete — were killed within 15 months of each other.  George — a B-17 pilot — was the lone survivor.

Few Westporters today remember the Wassell brothers (though Wassell Lane — built for military housing in the Nike site era — is named for them).

With this weekend’s death of George Wassell, at age 85 in Maine, it’s time to look back on the remarkable Wassell family.

Eric Buchroeder — a 1970 Staples graduate, and George’s nephew (his mother was Harry’s widow) — sent along some thoughts:

A B-17, similar to the one flown by George Wassell.

George was the 5th child of Lloyd and Georgene Wassell.  He attended Staples High School, as a member of the Class of 1943.  When his 3 older brothers joined the Army Air Corps in 1942, George had the opportunity to become an aviation cadet and receive his diploma — in exchange for enlisting during his senior year.

A natural airman, he qualified as a 1st pilot in B-17s.  After his 3 brothers were killed, George returned home and — sacrificing a full engineering scholarship to Cornell — went into business with his father.

Together they built the Wassell Organization — specializing in office record-keeping and workflow efficiency — into a multimillion-dollar concern.  It employed many people in Westport for years, before being sold in 1973.

George was a self-taught architect.  He designed his own home on Mayflower Parkway, and subsequent homes in New Hampshire, Florida and Maine.  In the 1950s he also designed and built a sleek 1-piece fiberglass sports car.  He drove it proudly around town for years, before selling it to car aficionado Mike Katz.

He was a fine son to his grieving parents; a loving uncle to his many nieces and nephews, and — after marrying Betty Schuyler in 1945 — a wonderful father of 6 children, grandfather of 18, and great-grandfather of 3.

Eric last saw George at a family reunion in 2008.  He reminisced about the turbulent time in 1942 when he and his brothers were in flight school.  Eric marveled at the fact that at 17, he was gifted enough to be selected to train as a B-17 pilot in command of 10 men.

Modestly, he replied:  “No, it was the opposite.  They realized that by picking us young, we had no bad habits to unlearn, and as children we had no fear.  And they cranked us off an assembly line.  It was easier for us than for older men like my brothers.”

George Wassell will be buried in Willowbrook Cemetery at 11 a.m. Tuesday.  If you can’t be there, maybe you can pause for a moment at 11, remembering George Wassell; his brothers Harry, Bud and Pete — and a special family who, more than 65 years ago, answered the call of duty.  And made Westport proud.

11 responses to “Remembering George Wassell — And His Brothers

  1. Wow.

  2. Innocent Bystander

    A full rich life of one of the unspoken heroes of this town and country. Thanks for reminding us.

  3. Let’s not forget our heros

  4. Chip Stephens

    Our heart goes out to Pete his son and the whole family. I grew up with Pete and Georges kids and always was in awe of all the brothers that were on the WWII memorial slab in front of the old town hall.
    Rest in peace and thank you from all of your fellow Westporters and Americans.

  5. Gerry Kuroghlian

    As a young teacher at Staples I housesat the Wassell’s family home while they were in Florida.In the living room, the handsome portraits of Harry, Bud and Pete were a daily reminder of a generation who had sacrificed so much for our freedoms. I was fortunate to teach
    and befriend many members of the gracious and loving Wassell family who contributed so much to the town of Westport. We need to remember our past. Thanks for the great article Dan.

  6. Dan,

    Mayflower Parkway, where the Wassell’s lived, is on the same ridge as Compo Parkway, where the Pettee kids lived. As I remember, George had built a miniature golf course on the hill leading down from his home toward South Compo Road. That slope was a great winter playground for the locals who knew about it.

  7. In 1952, I was a 17-year old kid attending Rockville High School in Rockville, CT, when my Dad came home from work one day to announce that he was changing jobs and we would be moving to Westport, CT.
    Dad had been a salesman for the United States Envelope Co. in Rockville for decades and was offered a job by F. L. Wassell at the Wassell Organization in Westport. He became sales manager and Director of their sales school and we made the move.

    When I read of the death of George Wassell, I felt like Jimmy Stewart in “A Wonderful Life”. I wonder what my life would have been if Dad had not been offered that job.

    I came to Westport, enrolled in Staples HS where I met my bride of 52 years. After Military Service, Mary Anne and I married in 1958 and in 1959 I joined the Westport Police Department where I served more than 26 years, retiring in 1985. After retirement I pursued a successful writing career, writing thousands of outdoor articles for many magazines and newspapers. Mary Anne went to work in the Wassell main office for a while after we were married until we started our family.

    Our daughter Lori attended Westport schools, became a nurse and after a stint at Norwalk Hospital, went to work for Surgical Associates where she met and married Dr. Alan Meinke.

    Our son Todd, also graduated Staples attained his Masters in Education and continues to teach at Norwalk High School. Our youngest Grandaughters, Nichole, Becca and Jackie are growing up in Fairfield.

    Our oldest Grandson, Chris Meinke also graduated Staples and CT College.He was a Tri-Captain of the soccer team while attending Staples, went on to Captain his college soccer team and last year was an assistant coach of varsity girl’s soccer at Staples. His brother Will, is a Junior at Staples and of course plays soccer.

    Our oldest Grandaughter, Mary Meinke attends Hamilton College and while in the Westport schools had several starring roles in school plays.

    When I was a student at Rockville High, my ambition was to get a job in one of the many factories there. The Wassell family certainly had an enormous impact on my family.

    George and his family will always be in our thoughts and prayers. – Dick Alley

  8. The Dude Abides

    Jeez man, dig the connection but park the ego at the door. What the hell does your grandkid playing soccer have to do with a true blue hero?

  9. Jeez, Dick I got your point! I enjoyed the story of your family and its connection with Westport— none of which would have happened but for the remarkable Wassell family. Maybe I’m prejudiced because I know you and the years of service the Alley and Dennert families gave to Westport’s Police and Fire Depts. Plus I know Todd, Lori, and Alan too.
    I have never met Eric Buchroeder but his late mother Martha worked as a part time Secretary for me 25 years ago. She had just retired from a major corporation and I was just starting out. She was an amazing, strong, talented and skilled person. My cousin Mary Grant and Martha (nee Meyers I think) were classmates Staples ’37. Mary always said Martha Meyers was the prettiest girl at Staples: “it was a well known fact”. Turned out that Martha had once owned a house on Treadwell Ave. that had been my father’s childhood home.
    I always admired the Wassell family for the sacrifice of those three sons. I never knew that a 4th son, George, was also a WWII combat pilot.
    Thank you Eric Buchroeder for relating this story and to Dan Woog/06880 for publishing it here.

  10. Eric Buchroeder

    Bob Grant,
    I remember when my Mom worked for you. Also I think we have met before. Your former law partner, Mike Laux was a swim coach and counselor of mine at Mahackeno. My mother thought the world of you. She lived her last years with my family here in Cincinnati. She unfortunately became ill with Alzheimer’s. And Dick Alley, I remember when you were a rookie cop and I was six years old on a sleepover at Mahackeno and I wandered off at night and you brought my mother out to camp to find me and I remember riding home in the front seat of your squad car. So all of us old westporters are definitely joined at the hip. My mother was the prettiest girl in westport and fortunately I resemble her. But all of us, my mother included think old Westport begins and ends with Dan Woog who went to Burr Farms School when my mother was secretary there. Dick I never knew about your father. My mother used to tell stories about when the production line for Wassell products was the Wassell’s kitchen table before the war and Harry and Bud were the 1st two sales reps before they went in the Air Force.

  11. Thanks for all the tributes and rememberances of George Wassell and his brothers, and also for the connections to Westport and other family members.

    My condolences to George’s friends and family.