As Westport prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, it’s important to personalize all those who gave their lives for our country. Over 75 years ago, 2 local families did far more than their share.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 lived in Westport for many years. George married Betsy Schuyler in 1945. They raised 6 children in Westport.
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. Betsy Schuyler Wassell is now 95, healthy and sharp and living in Maine. She looks forward to hosting her annual Wassell reunion in Kennebunkport next month, greeting offspring from as far as the Netherlands.
Pat Wassell McAleenan lost her husband Peter 18 months ago. At last report she was well, and at 95 living in Estes Park, Colorado.
Betty Wassell Watts died just over a year ago, at 100. Her children were by her side.
The Wassell brothers and their parents are all buried at Willowbrook Cemetery.
(Hat tips: Eric Buchroeder, Jono Walker and Bud Wassell)