Longtime West Hempstead resident Raymond LaCasse was just 18 years old when Japanese fighter planes attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The airstrike, which drew the United States into World War II, changed the lives of young men like LaCasse, who was a student at Andrew Jackson High School at the time. He had just started a new job in the textile business at the Celanese Corp.
LaCasse, who served as an infantryman from 1942 to 1944 and was in the Battle of the Bulge, died on July 13, three days shy of his 95th birthday. LaCasse, who fought in Belgium, was seriously wounded, and airlifted to a hospital in Paris, where he spent three months.
“They told him he had the million-dollar war wound when he got his heel torn off by shrapnel,” said his second child, Neil, of East Rockaway. “He didn’t talk much about the war, but he opened up about little things like how cold it was and how hard the ground was.”
LaCasse, who was born in Cohoes, N.Y., in 1924, was the youngest of three children. He grew up in Queens Village during the Great Depression. After he returned from the war in 1945, he married his high school sweetheart, Florence Fennel, and they settled in West Hempstead, where they raised five children. They lived in the town for 55 years, later moving to Rockville Centre.
LaCasse’s children were among the first parishioners at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, and his children said that was where they developed their faith. His son Greg, of Rockville Centre, said many revered his father, a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, for his service to the country. He added that even after his 44-year career with the Allied Chemical Corp.’s textiles and fibers division, his father remained devoted to his Catholic faith.
“Dad was a man of strong faith, family, loyalty and humility,” Greg said. “He shared those things with all of his children.”
Raymond’s youngest child, Lisa La-Casse, said she would always remember her father for putting family and education first. “Education was a big priority for my parents, and he just worked all his life and provided for us and sacrificed a lot so that we could have a better life,” Lisa said, adding that he was a great storyteller, known for his jokes.
Lisa, who lives in Marina del Rey, Calif., said that many of her friends reached out after he died, mentioning how her father helped them throughout their lives. “It was just little things that you never knew that he did,” she said. “He quietly observed situations, and then he inserted himself where he thought he could make a difference.”
Neil’s most memorable moment with his father was during the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Neil worked on the 84th floor of 1 World Trade Center, while his brother, Greg, worked in Tower 2. They were both in the buildings when the planes hit, but managed to leave safely. Neil said he will never forget the moment when he returned home to East Rockaway.
“After I gave my wife a big hug and a big kiss,” Neil recounted, “he just stood there and put his arms around me and he said, ‘Now you know what war is really like.”
Neil said that he would preach his father’s life lessons to keep his legacy alive. “One of the things that I said at his funeral Mass was that if you’re going to do something, just make sure that you do it right,” Neil said. “That’s what he believed in. He made sure that we never took shortcuts, and that we did things the right way. He was one hell of a guy.”
Besides his children Greg, Neil and Lisa, LaCasse is survived by a daughter, Linda Wheeler, of Solon, Ohio; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife and another son, Mark.