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:
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.