ANCRAM—Five Ancram veterans were recognized for their military service and a new historic vestibule exhibit was debuted at the Ancram Town Hall just after Veterans Day last month.
Collage artist and Ancram resident Lynne Perrella created the exhibit and orchestrated the program which included patriotic music by Mark Rust, introductions of each man and the particulars of their service by Town Councilman Hugh Clark, a retired Army officer, and presentations of framed certificates recognizing each man for “selfless service to community and country” bestowed by Town Supervisor Art Bassin, also an Army veteran.
Mrs. Perrella told The Columbia Paper that the exhibit spotlights the service of Ancram residents who served from the Revolutionary War to the post World War I period.
But it included an effort to honor Korean and Cold War era veterans “while they are still able to enjoy the festivities,” she said. Honored posthumously, was Francis “Frank” O. LaCasse, a veteran of World War II, who died in September at the age of 97.
Among the items on exhibit is a photograph of World War I servicemen returning to a hometown celebration in 1919. The crowd is in front of Simons General Store with well-wishers hanging off the balcony. There is also an essay written about the occasion by then Town Historian Elwood Oliver.
Anyone can view the exhibit whenever the Town Hall is open.
According to notes he provided of his presentation, Mr. Clark began by getting the 100 or so in attendance to think about who veterans are.
Concluding that there is no “typical veteran”—no particular age, race, sex or religion, he noted that what they have in common is “they are citizen-soldiers” and “at some period of national need they put those parts of their life on hold to enter the armed forces and defend our country’s values.”
Mr. Clark introduced and talked about each honoree based on interviews he conducted with them.
Army Sergeant Avery “Prope” Dietter left Ancram on September 22, 1950, at the age of 23, and was trained at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, by members of the Tennessee National Guard.
He crossed the US by train to San Francisco, where he boarded a ship bound for Japan, then “he exchanged that American ship for a place on a Japanese ship bound for Pusan, Korea, where he landed on Easter Sunday, 1951, and boarded yet another train to the front.”
Mr. Dietter joined the 17th Infantry Regiment of the Army’s 7th Division, serving in its Heavy Weapons Company directing fire for 81 millimeter mortars.
“He recalls 5,096 rounds being launched in one 5-day period, and a news article from that period cites his company for establishing a new firing record, sending down-range 1,800 mortar rounds in one four-hour period. The article notes that ‘the guns grew so hot during the firing that water from the canteens of the crews was poured on the tubes to cool them. When the water ran out, cold coffee, left from the evening meal, was used’ to cool the mortar tubes,” said Mr. Clark.
While tending a wounded comrade in 1951, Mr. Dietter “noticed his own blood flowing and realized that he too had been sliced by shrapnel.
“Even considering his wounds, all these many years later, when asked what memories he pushes to the back of his mind, he readily answered—’Saying good-bye to my buddies. Knowing I’d never see them again.’” Mr. Dietter returned home in June 1952.
Army Corporal Bob Grayson, 21, reported in early December 1951 to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He subsequently traveled to Seattle, and then made a voyage on the “Marine Adder” to Japan. During his five-days there he toured “a Japanese auto factory that had been converted to rebuilding 2½ ton trucks for the American Army,” said Mr. Clark.
Two days after he arrived in Inchon, Korea, he “was in the front lines with I (Item) Company of the 3d Battalion, 23d Infantry Regiment, of the 2d Infantry Division.
“Because he was a burly guy and the Browning Automatic Rifle was definitely a burly weapon, he became a BAR rifleman.”
As luck would have it, there was a need for “skilled truck drivers who could proficiently drive and move ammo, and fuel, and other supplies were in short supply… and this fellow knew how to drive a truck.” Mr. Grayson “was asked to turn over his BAR, move out of his foxhole, and drive a truck for Headquarters Company,” said Mr. Clark.
Mr. Grayson’s “replacement on the BAR was killed a week later.” He departed Korea in August 1953. “The truce was signed the day after he boarded a ship to the U.S. In San Francisco, his ship was met by fireboats shooting water cannons, a band on the dock, and a steak dinner with—a quart of milk,” Mr. Clark said.
Airman First Class Gerald Roberts, 19, enlisted in the US Air Force in April 1951 attracted by “a long-range notion of the GI Bill.”
He excelled and was “named to the Honor Flight (and thereby scheduled less for KP).”
Perhaps his teenaged appetite had something to do with it but Air Force trainee Roberts gained 20 pounds during basic training. “Where does he place the blame? ‘Breakfast did it.’”
“His background in construction, his drill instructor’s preparation, and maybe even those extra pounds served him well during his assignments—first with the Air Rescue Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base and subsequently with the Far East Air Materiel Command,” said Mr. Clark.
After 10 months in Occupied Japan and witnessing the brutality of World War II adversaries and the gentle goodness of the Japanese people, “he volunteered for Korea, where he performed technical and administrative duties for 6 months before returning to conclude the final 18 months of his enlistment in January 1954.”
Marine Rifleman Ron Van Tassel “was thinking only that ‘Marines looked sharp’ when he voluntarily enlisted in August 1956 at age 18 to join the United States Marine Corps.
His remembers being “scared to death” of his drill instructor (DI). And now—“60 years later—that DI remains vividly entrenched in memory” as Mr. Van Tassel was learning to be a Marine rifleman at Camp LeJeune.
He moved throughout the Mediterranean with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines—a unit that was later nicknamed “The Beirut Battalion.”
Greece, Spain, Gibraltar, and more, “the battalion had been deployed to the Mediterranean since January 1958, was due to rotate back to the States, but then the orders came, the ship made an arc, turned, and headed back to Lebanon. Due to regional unrest, President Eisenhower had directed the Marines and associated paratroopers to protect American nationals and preserve Lebanese independence in the face of communist encroachment. That show of strength remains a vivid part of one rifleman’s memories,” said Mr. Clark.
World War II veteran Army Technician Fifth Grade Francis O. LaCasse, was an accomplished dairy farmer.
“On September 6, 1941, when he was inducted into the Army, and trained at Fort Devens, before moving on to Fort Knox, Kentucky, home of Armor, for training as a Medium Tank Crewman. He qualified as both a tank driver and as an expert gunner, but the key feature of his Armor School training was his assignment to the 751st Tank Battalion.
“In June 1942, the 751st performed a tactical demonstration for Winston Churchill at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Churchill was so impressed that he wanted the battalion in England to help protect Britain from a Nazi invasion. So, in August 1942, the battalion boarded a British ship and sailed by way of Nova Scotia to England, landing in Liverpool. Historical records indicate that mutton, kidney pie, and seasickness were the major memories for most troops on that 11 day voyage across the Atlantic.
“In January 1943, Mr. LaCasse and his buddies in the 751st again boarded ships. After landing in Algeria, they fought through Tunisia as they reinforced Allied Forces during Operation Torch in North Africa. By May 1943, the Allies had driven the Germans north to the Mediterranean, where they then evacuated their armies to Sicily and Italy.
“Outfitted with new M-4 Sherman tanks, in September 1943 the 751st made an amphibious landing near Salerno, south of Naples, and then fought their way northward, while suffering many casualties,” said Mr. Clark.
“It was during that drive northward in September 1943 that Mr. LaCasse ‘displayed conspicuous bravery in administering first aid to a wounded soldier while under heavy enemy shell fire… which killed two soldiers and wounded another…. Still exposed to the enemy fire, Technician Fifth Class LaCasse remained with the wounded man for one hour… until [the soldier was evacuated]…The bravery and concern displayed… for the welfare of a wounded comrade reflect great credit upon himself and the military service.’”
“For ‘gallantry in action,’ [December 21, 1945,] Tech 5 LaCasse was awarded the Silver Star, which is the third highest military combat decoration awarded to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.
“In October 1943, Mr. LaCasse and the 751st were the first to make a river crossing with waterproofed tanks, but by early winter 1943, the Allied advance was stalled. So, the 751st was pulled from the front line to train for a beachhead landing at Anzio, south of Rome. That assault came on January 22, 1944, leading to high casualties during the four months that followed. Some estimate there were more than 60,000 casualties on each side. Finally, in May 1944, the 751st and its supported units broke out from Anzio, pushed north to Rome, and then moved on.
After completing the breakout from Anzio, Mr. LaCasse was pulled out of the 751st, put on a destroyer and returned to Fort Knox, where he helped train armored units for all they might encounter in the Pacific Theater.”
Mr. LaCasse’s son, Steve LaCasse, accepted the town certificate on his father’s behalf.
In talking about the things veterans have in common, Mr. Clark noted: “Regardless of when, where, and how they served, when asked, all would tell you that they missed their families, their loved ones, their friends, their dog. They missed holidays and special days and mom’s cooking. They missed home. When asked, all would tell you that they learned self-discipline; they learned to live on their own. They learned to set objectives, and to meet those objectives. They grew up. And all would tell you that, among their fondest memories of service life, is… coming home.”
Thanks to Hugh Clark for sharing his notes and making this report possible.
To contact Diane Valden email