Family Sacrifices: Making Meaning Of Memorial Day

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.

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 lived in Westport for many years. 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. 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)

18 responses to “Family Sacrifices: Making Meaning Of Memorial Day

  1. Tom Feeley Sr.

    Thank you for your sacrifice‼️TAPS🇺🇸

  2. Fred Cantor

    I don’t think you need to do a Friday Flashback today. This more than serves that purpose; poignant—and important—local history. And Betsy Wassell was related to Phil Schuyler?

  3. Adam Vengrow

    amazing stories, incredible sacrifices, thanks for sharing

  4. Diane Silfen

    Thank you to both of the families for there sacrifice.

  5. Michael Calise

    An astonishing story for this Memorial Day

  6. Wonderful (and mind boggling) story. Twelve sons??!!! God bless Lucy Cuseo. God bless all of them for their sacrifice. Humbling, to say the least.

  7. Wendy Crowther

    Thank you for reminding us all about the sacrifices made by so many to protect our freedom.

    My dad, William (Bill) Crowther, was a WWII veteran. He would often express disappointment in all of the hype promoting sales and specials on Memorial Day. Though he was an advertising/marketing guy, he disliked the emphasis on commercializing the holiday. He rarely missed a Memorial Day parade. After the last float passed us by, we kids would head off to our beaches and barbecues but Dad would always stay behind to attend the post-parade ceremonies. This was the most meaningful part of the day for him. I know that tears would come to his eyes when Taps was played.

    I’ll fly his American flag on Monday. Thank you, Dad, for your patriotism. Thank you, Cuseos and Wassells, for your sacrifice. And thank you to all our veterans for your service .

  8. Jack Backiel

    Dan, Great story about Westport’s heroes! I knew Bill Cuseo from Old Road. I’ll never forget his license plate, QZO.

  9. Incredible story. So much respect for both the Cuseo and Wassell families. My mother worked at the Wassell Organization during the war and she told me about the loss of those sons. As a child I explored that 3 hole golf course with my friends many times. I currently live 100 yards from the old and still gorgeous Wassell home. “Greatest Generation” for a reason..

  10. Brian Strong

    This really captures the meaning of Memorial Day.
    Thank you Dan.

  11. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Dan, as an adoptee of the Wassell family from birth and one who shared their love my entire life I will always be grateful to you for keeping these memories alive.

    • Arline Gertzoff

      Please help me get this straight.Was your mother Harry Wassell’s widow?Did she have a child in 1946?My late mother talked about one Patricia Wassell Buckroeder sharing a hospital room with her .Thanks
      My family came to Westport in1940.Father owned the cleaner on Wilton Road opposite Famous Artists

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

        Hi Arline,
        Wow!! You have quite a memory!! My mother Martha was indeed Harry Wassell’s widow. Married in ‘42 they had my stepsister Patricia in ‘43. Just to fill in the gaps (don’t forget you asked for it) in your late mother’s story, Martha married my father Bill in ‘48, he adopted Pat (who took the name Buchroeder until she was 21). I was born in ‘52 about the time Bill was discharged from the service (yep, as if six years in WWII weren’t enough he had to go back for Korea – my poor mother!!) Despite all of this we were all happily part of the Wassell family. They looked after Pat with exceptional love and welcomed me fully as another grandson and nephew among many. I never felt otherwise. However, I feel closest to them on Memorial Day. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to express it.

        • Arline Gertzoff

          Thanks Eric Who was Betty Wassell? Another widow who married a Watt .Jeff Watt / a son-use to throw rocks at my father’s storage barn from the ledge of the cemetery down the ledge direct aim on to the Wilton Road.I saw a lot of familiar names in the article I went to school with Joy Wassell George and Betsy ‘s daughter and Joan Walker .Joy Wassell lives in. RI and is married to a minister and sadly Joan Walker died rather young.Joan’s mother was a terrific Staples English teacher.Not sure if there are any WAssel’s still in town.I recognized your name.Except for long term residents most know very little about Westport .I don’t mean the current seen and be seen crowd .My mother’s Memorial Bench sits at the water’s edge at Grace Solomon Park Dad’s first store was Taylor Place corner from 41-46 when they moved to the Wilton Rd .Not sure where you live but I have enjoyed your commentaries

        • Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

          Arline, sounds like you have done a great job of staying up on the family comings and goings. I really can’t add much. To your questions, My cousin Bud and his wife Michele are still local. My stepsister Pat lives in Westport. We really have a number of connection points as you’ve cited. Interesting that your mother worked at the Wassell Organization. Most of us in the family worked there at one time or another and what always impressed me was that Granddad Wassell and Uncle George treated us no differently than any other employee. As a matter of fact, when I was in business school I wrote a paper and cited the Wassell Organization as an unusual company in that it successfully transitioned from a family business to one that developed and supported strong “outsider” talent. I have no doubt that the wisdom of its founding Chairman Lloyd and its President George made it an acquisition target of several large, global companies. I hope I’ve answered your questions but please keep me posted. This has been fun and made it an unusually memorable Memorial Day weekend for me.

  12. Don Freeman

    This is just an incredible story. Thank you so much, Dan, for running it down. Sacrifices like these are why people from that era are known as the Greatest Generation.

    I have a very dim memory — hope someone can help me out here — of a man named Cuseo (I think, but am not sure, that his first name was Joe; this would have been in the late 1940s) who was my schoolbus driver. Wonderful guy, really looked after his passengers. I keep getting pulled back into youthful memories by what appears here. I haven’t lived in Westport since 1951, but I still have fond memories of the place.

    • Thanks, Don — much appreciated. Yes, the Cuseos owned one of Westport’s bus companies (the Masiello family owned the other). There was a Joe Cuseo driving a bus in the late ’60s — he was old enough to have driven you 20 years earlier. I’m sure other readers will chime in too …

  13. George "Bud" Wassell, Jr

    Thank you very much Dan Woog for keeping the memory of my uncles alive, I know you’ve posted their story before and I appreciate the attention you’ve given to their sacrifice as well as to the Cuseo family. Let’s all pause this weekend and remember all the families that have suffered losses in all the wars; may we have peace someday. And let’s include in our thoughts and prayers all those that have lost loved ones during this terrible pandemic. May you be safe and well. -Bud Wassell