Westport’s Amazing World War II Families

It may be an American record.

During World War II, 8 of the 12 Cuseo sons left Westport, to enlist in the armed forces.

Fortunately, only one — James — was killed.

The Cuseo family in 1935 or ’36. Daughter Mildred is missing.  Father James and mother Lucy are in the middle.. (Photo courtesy of Woody Klein’s book “Westport, Connecticut.”)

But when the Cuseos’ mother, Lucy, died in 1943, her daughter said it was due to her “broken heart.”

Lucy was buried here with military honors. American Legion members served as pallbearers.

The Cuseos’ contributions to World War II were astonishing. But in terms of sacrifice, none made more than the Wassell family.

Four sons enlisted. All were pilots. Three were killed in action — all within 15 months of each other.

Charles P. “Pete” Wassell

Before the war, Harry — the oldest — helped design fighter planes in Stratford. He, his brother Bud and other Westport men started the Westport Defense Unit, to teach marksmanship.

He enlisted in the Army Air Force after Pearl Harbor. A 2nd lieutenant, he died in Iceland in 1943 while ferrying aircraft to the European Theater.

Frank L. “Bud” Wassell Jr.

Like Harry, Bud left college because of the Depression. The 2 sons worked with their father, Lloyd, in starting the Wassell Organization on Sylvan Road. A very successful businessman, he had worked as personal assistant to George Westinghouse, founder of Westinghouse Electric.

The company invented and sold production control equipment, becoming instrumental in expediting the efficiency of defense contractors. A 1st lieutenant flight commander, Bud was killed in 1943 in a midair collision, while a flight instructor in Florida.

Harry B. Wassell

Pete — a 1940 Staples High School graduate — left Middlebury College to train as a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol. He transferred to the Army Air Force, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant navigator.

He served in the China/ Burma/India Theater, and died in 1944 after his B-24 aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire while attacking a Japanese cruiser.

The 4th son — George — was a member of Staples’ Class of 1943. But he left high school in 1942, to enlist as an aviation cadet. Appointed a B-17 aircraft commander at the age of 18, he was recalled from overseas duty when his 3rd brother Pete was killed. He served as a B-17 pilot instructor through the war’s end.

George Wassell with his parents, Lloyd and Georgene, by the Westport train station on Railroad Place in 1943 or ’44.

George turned down a full engineering scholarship to Cornell in order to join his father in the Wassell Organization.

Pete left behind a child, born 2 months after his death. Harry had a daughter, Patty, who still lives in Westport. George married Betsy Schuyler in 1945. They raised 6 children in Westport.

George and Betsy Wassell at Longshore, not long after the war.

When Lloyd moved his family to Westport before the war, he and his wife Georgene bought several acres of land on Mayflower Parkway. He built a large house (by 1930s standards), and planned to give building lots to his 6 kids: the 4 boys, and daughters Pat and Betty.

World War II sabotaged all that. But George and Pat did build homes there after the war. George added a pool, 3-hole golf course and tree house. The property became a great attraction for lots of cousins, and tons of neighborhood kids.

Longtime Westporter Jono Walker — George’s nephew — remembers those times fondly.

“The Wassells never dwelled on their tragic history,” he says. “At least none of us kids ever felt it. The house was constantly filled with great joy and life.”

As for George and Betsy: They moved to New Hampshire in 1974. He died in 2010, age 85. She is now 89, and lives in Maine.

The Wassell brothers’ 2 sisters are still alive. Betty is 98, in Florida, and Pat is 89, in Colorado.

The brothers and their parents are all buried at Willowbrook Cemetery.

(Hat tips: Eric Buchroeder, Jono Walker and Bud Wassell)

42 responses to “Westport’s Amazing World War II Families

  1. Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

    From 1st grade on… being picked up by Mr Cuseo every morning on Long Lots Road / Sprucewood Lane. He always had a smile.
    Was the Wassell family involved with the small post-war housing known as Wassell lane?
    Love Westport’s 20th Century history.

    • Eric Buchroeder SHS '70

      Bruce, Wassell Lane was government housing for the two Westport Nike sites and was named after the 4 brothers. I remember being at the dedication.

  2. Adam Vengrow

    Amazing stories, westport is rich in military history, it’s what makes Memorial Day and the parade very special for many people.

  3. Lucy Cuseo was my great aunt, my grandmother’s sister. There were actually 12 sons and 1 daughter. Thank you for sharing some Westport military history.

  4. Jack Backiel

    I knew William (Bill) Cuseo and his wife. They lived on Old Rd. I went to school with their son, Bill. I think I went to Mr. Cuseo’s Wake held on Imperial Ave and the Post Rd. I’ll never forget his license plate QZO. I also knew Albert Cuseo and his son. The Cuseo family are definitely a part of Westport’s history!

    • Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

      Funny the things we remember… I also remember his plate.

  5. Jack Whittle

    Amazing sacrifices – wonderful story, wonderfully told. Love the pictures; that photo of George and Betty Wassell at Longshore looks like it is straight out of a Hollywood movie – great looking people.

    Staples ’44 also lost Sebby Lauterbach (you mentioned him in a 2013 Woog’s World article), among others.

  6. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    Wonderful life stories of great people and their contributions and sacrifices. Harry Wassell would have been working at Chance Vought in Stratford. Chance Vought built the f4u-4 Corsair with Pratt and Whitney engines ( East Hartford) that changed air warfare. Connecticut has a wonderful history of contributions to the war effort, personal and corporate.

    • Jack Backiel

      WICC stands for “Industrial Capital of Connecticut! I fitting name back in 1926, when Bridgeport was the arsenal of Democracy during WW1

    • Eric Buchroeder SHS '70

      Mary, you are correct on both counts. Harry also brought home prewar stories from work (to his widow, my mother, Martha) of Igor Sikorsky testing the 1st practical helicopter by hovering in place (with his feet dangling out of the cockpit), at what became today’s Stratford Airport.

      The Corsair saved many Marine lives in WWII and the helicopter in various forms has saved countless more lives right up to the present.

      • Jack Backiel

        My mother worked for Sikorsky, as a draftperson. She was the only female doing that job, and Sikorsky had her sit near his office door to make sure no one bothered her. At that time, he basically only hired those of Russian decent.

      • Mary Cookman Schmerker

        My dad worked for First Chance Vought, then Vought Sikorsky and then Sikorsky from 1938 or 39 until his retirement. At the moment I don’t remember the year but probably 1980 something. He knew Igor Sirkorsky and had many tales to tell us. My step Mom, still living also worked for Sikorsky from the WWII years until she retired. She was secretary to Nelson Downs later and also knew Mr. Sikorsky, attended his funeral and had lots of stories to share.

  7. Bill Coley

    Thanks for that article, Dan. We owe those families (and many others) more than we could ever repay. They truly were the “Greatest Generation”. Hopefully, no future generation will be called on like that again.

  8. Elaine Marino

    The look on Mrs. Wassell’s face, as she stands with George and Mr. Wassell at the train station, speaks volumes. Had she lost any of her sons by the time that photo was taken? Her sad expression makes me think so.

    Thank for you sharing these touching stories, Dan.

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

      Not knowing exactly when that picture was taken, I’ll say that Bud and Harry had been killed because both died in 1943 when George was in flight school. Pete was not killed until May, 1944 and by then George would have been a commissioned officer and B-17 commander whereas in this picture his cap insignia is that of an aviation cadet. My mother was Harry’s widow and I come from her later marriage. However, almost from birth I was “adopted” by the Wassell family as one of their own in every sense but blood. That’s the kind of people “Nanny and Granddad” were and their family proudly reflected that. The Wassells were, and are, wonderful, loving people as my “cousin” Jono Walker remembers so clearly.

  9. mary cookman schmerker

    As I read this at the end of the day I am smiling and sad. Westport of old and its citizens were remarkable. What a wonderful heritage I was given just by place of birth. Another family that sacrificed: Jimmy DeMaria, the barber. A wonderful man and his family. Their son, I do not know his name, was in the air force. If I remember correctly, his son and plane were lost over the Pacific. What I do remember correctly is the date: November 3, 1943. It happened to also be the date of my brother’s birth. Mrs. DeMaria used to say: Corky, my brother, was a gift back from the Lord, since he was born the day their son’s plane disappeared. Wonderful people with a deep faith and a desire to give back. They always treated Corky like he was special even though his birth coincided with a tragedy in their lives.

    • Eric Buchroeder SHS '70

      His name was Charles DeMaria. We knew his family at church. I always got my hair cut at Sarno’s but never walked by DeMaria’s without a smile and a “hi” from Jimmy.

    • i got my very first haircut from Jimmy DeMaria at age six, and many after that until 1955, when i moved to NYC. when i was 10 or so, i was having my hair
      cut, and Jimmy asked me if i had ever been to Playland, and i told him i had not and i didn’t know what Playland was. when my father came to pick me up, Jimmy asked him if would be OK to take me to Playland the following Sunday. arrangements were made, and i went to my first amusement park
      with Jimmy, and we had a wonderful day. over the next few years, Mr. DeMaria took me and sometimes my brother to ball games, amusement parks, and on some hikes up to Devil’s Den. i never really understood why
      until yesterday, when i read Mary’s comment. now i realize it had a lot to do
      with that boy he and his wife had lost that November day five years earlier.
      Jimmy had never said a word about it. He was a very special person.

      when my father was fortunate enough to come back to Westport after that awful War, he sat down with my brother and me, and after giving us each a Hershey bar he had pilfered from the PX on his last day in the Navy, he said: “Boys, there will NEVER BE ANOTHER WAR !!”
      Hey Dad, NOT !

  10. So grateful for the very touching history and the lives given for all of us.

  11. Laurie Menzl

    I went to school with Tommy Cuseo- does anyone know what happened to him? Also, my mother was from Southport & her brother, Bob Kosma, survived the Bataan Death March & the bombing of Nagasaki. Yes, that generation gave so much.

  12. Jane Burton

    A lovely article and a family I am very attached to. Dan Woog has presented some incorrect information. Wrong names beneath photos of ‘Pete’ Wassell and Harry Wassell need to be switched to the right photograph. Pete and Bud were ‘nick names’ for these two sons…not legal names. Harry B. Wassell was the eldest and left a daughter Patty of Westport behind. Frank Lloyd Wassell Jr. (Bud) was not married. The third son, Charles Parkin Wassell (Pete) had one heir born two months after his death – Peter Lloyd Wassell ( my husband). George, the youngest son now deceased has two sisters who are still alive – Betty @98 yrs.in Florida and Pat @89 yrs. in Colorado.

    Mr Woog should research information before putting it on the web. There was a very nice article in the Westport News about 10-12 years ago on this family tragedy.

    • Jane, I got my information from Bud Wassell, and Eric Buchroeder and Jono Walker — both relatives of the Wassells. They provided all the details and photo captions. None have said that I reported anything incorrectly.

    • Jack Backiel

      Mr. Woog does his best to get the facts correct! On occasion, just like you ,Jane, mistakes are made. When mistakes are pointed out, they’re corrected. I’m sure all facts will be corrected.

      • Jane Burton

        Dan and Jack,
        I confirmed all my information with Aunt Pat in CO via the phone before posting the corrections. The names ARE incorrect below the top and bottom photos and my husband is the only heir of his father’s. Am sure Jono, Bud and Eric will agree and just overlooked the errors. However, there are those who feel the corrections need to be made and the legal names should be listed. Thank you for your kind consideration.

        • Jack Backiel

          Maybe Dan Woog should be sent to a labor camp in North Korea for his indecrections!

        • The photo changes have been made, as well as the info on Pete’s one son. I added the info on their sisters whereabouts today. The info on Patty was in the story. Thanks for letting us know this info!

    • Eric Buchroeder SHS '70

      Dear Jane,
      It is so good to hear from you, regardless of circumstances. Email and cut/paste can often wreak unintended havoc on accurate transposition of names, dates and facts, particularly between Cincinnati and Westport.

      In any case, seeing as it has brought us all as scattered family members back in touch with each other (particularly the Vermont contingent) after many years I am grateful for this gift that brought you forward.

      Please give my love to Peter, Trevor and Parkin, also to Aunt Pat in Colorado when you next speak to her. I hope we will be in touch again soon. It has been way too long and (unlike our memories) we won’t last forever (or at least I won’t).
      Love always,

      • Mary Cookman Schmerker

        I love following the stories of old and new Westport, the sharing of memories and the reconnection that are made on Dan’s Blog. But Eric, while you are correct that we won’t be around forever, I’m Staples ’58. You will be around to share for a good many more years.

        • Jack Backiel

          Staples 1958 was the class of Christopher Lloyd. Did you know him?

          • Mary Cookman Schmerker

            Wow that name is familiar. I’m currently on a short vacation. I’ll check my year book when we get home and get back to you. His picture will probably spark memories.

            • Jack Backiel

              Christopher Lloyd played Jim on Taxi and was in Back to the Future.

              • Jack Backiel

                While you’re checking your 1958 yearbook, there was an Italian exchange student from Naples, Italy in 1958. I visited him at his home in Naples in 1964. His first name was Fabrizio, but I can’t think of his last name now. There was also a Mary Sargeant in that class. Let me know if you know Lloyd, Mary, or the exchange student!

                • Mary Cookman Schmerker

                  Almost as soon as I hit post I realized why the name was so familiar. But I never realized until I checked that he was “that” Christopher Lloyd. I had a picture in my mind from the year book that was accurate. So, if this makes sense, I remembered with out realizing who he is. He transferred in Junior year and I had made a note in the year book that he transferred out before graduation. His write up says: “to follow in Lawrence Olivier steps.”
                  So I remembered but never made the connection. ’58’s foreign exchange student was Per Haarr from Norway. I couldn’t find Mary Sargent or a Fabrizio. (first name) . But now you have me hooked so I’ll check the 1957 year book. It’s the only other one I have. You never know……. I’m still chuckling at my self for thinking, the name was familiar with out making the full connection. Staples has a remarkable history of graduates who make their mark……….

                  • Jack Backiel

                    I just remembered another Cuseo that I was friends with- Park Cuseo. ( He might have spelled it Parc.) Last I heard he was out in California!

        • Eric Buchroeder SHS '70

          Probably why I don’t recall you, Mary (having occasionally attended Staples in the class of 1970). I’ve done a lot of research on Sikorsky-Chance Vought. I have a great book called “Whistling Death” (which is what the Japanese called the Corsair) written by C-V’s test pilot, Boone Guyton. He tells a story of crash landing a Corsair prototype on a Stratford golf course and being hospitalized in Bridgeport Hospital also of collaborating with Charles Lindbergh on techniques to extend its range in combat. Lindbergh was living in Westport when he was doing consulting work for C-V on the Corsair project. Amazing that Harry B. Wassell, II helped design it as it is universally regarded as the finest close air support fighter-bomber of WWII and one of the top three piston engined fighters of all time. Harry’s daughter and her family can be very proud of that.

          • Mary Cookman Schmerker

            I’ll look for the book. My Dad was proud of the contribution that the Corsair made in the war effort. He was equally pleased with the helicopter and the way it made changes, especially in bringing in the wounded during the Korean War. My Dad was a Service Representative for Sikorsky during the Korean War. He served closely to General Mark Clark.

        • Nancy Hunter

          Goodness, to think that many who read “06880” were born in ’58 when you graduated! Your stories and recollections, and those from your peers, are the most valuable. Many thanks to all.

  13. Bruce Cuseo SHS '73

    Thank you for the great stories and memories about my family and the others! My dad was George. He was in the Navy and landed at one of the beaches in France on D-Day. Before the war, he worked at Chance Vought and worked on the Corsair. He said his thrill there was when Lindbergh landed his plane at the airport and he got to carry his luggage and talk with him. After the war, my dad was an aircraft mechanic in San Francisco, where he met my mom, Kathryn. After a few years, they moved back to Westport and he worked as an aircraft mechanic in Bridgeport for a few years. Following that, he worked at the Westport Fire Department for 27 years and retired as the Fire Inspector. Among some of my mom’s jobs after the war, she worked for George Wassel on Riverside Avenue and for my Uncle Joe, driving a school bus. She is one of the last three surviving Cuseo wives today. She lives in Florida and is turning 92 this year and she plays 18 holes of golf each week.
    My Uncle Frank was served in the Air Force as a pilot in the Pacific in WWII and also in the Korean War. Mike served in the Navy in the Pacific. Some of the other brothers served in Europe. After the liberation of Europe, the BBC American_Eagle Program did a broadcast in London reuniting Nick and George, which was recorded by someone in Westport.
    A side note; I grew up on Vani Court in Westport, which was named after Michael Vani, one of the first Westport casualties of WWII.
    Everyone else did a little correcting of your story, now it’s my turn. The photograph was taking in the 1935-1936 time frame (I have this one and it’s dated that way.) Also, the family is from the Westport-Fairfield border, not Saugatuck, where they had their farm on Sturges Highway. (With 13, you didn’t have to hire any outside help.)
    Well, here’s what you been waiting for; the identity of the people in the photo.
    From left to right in the back row: Nicholas (Nick), Francis (Frank), Anthony (Tony), William (Bill), Joseph (Joe), and Michael (Mike). Middle row: Angelo, James, the father, Lucy, the mother, and Albert (Al). Front row: Charles (Chuck), Robert (Bobby), James (Jimmy) and George.
    Here are some responses to the responses. For Bruce, who had Mr. Cuseo as a bus driver, it could have been one of four, Joe Sr., Joe Jr., his son, Albert or Angelo. For Jack, Bill, William’s son, is living now in Hawaii. Also, back in the 60’s, the vanity plate in CT only allowed four characters and the children of the Cuseos were adding the first initial to their license plate before the QZO when they got a car. (For those who are not familiar with the Cuseo name, it pronounced by saying the letters Q-Z-O.) Also, if you are talking about Albert’s son, Peter, he is still in Westport. For Laurie, Tommy is still in Connecticut, in Norwalk.
    For me, I live in Clinton, CT with my wife Beverly. Clinton to Old Saybrook reminds me of the Westport area of old, especially along the Post Road. It is not built up, like the Westport of the past and there is great seafood here along the shoreline. It has a state beach, Hammonasset, which is my new Sherwood Island. I invite people to take a trip around here and feel the past.

    • Great info — thanks, Bruce. The Cuseo family is remarkable. I’ll make those corrections right now. I know a lot of people appreciate hearing all this info!

    • Jack Backiel

      I remember Peter Cuseo, now that you mentioned him. Wasn’t Peter Cuseo Albert Cuseo’s younger brother? I’ll take a guess that Peter is maybe 67 years old? I think Albert was my cousin Mike’s age, so he would have been born around 1944. How’s my memory? (I used to bump into Pete at the barbershop on South Maple Avenue and the Post Rd.)