Mr. Bill and Miz Mona

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bill's Dad

Bill Says: Yesterday was our son, John Leroy Casselman's 35th Birthday. It was also the birthday for my father, Frank Leroy Casselman. The old man was just sure, he bragged about it often enough, that I had planned his birthday present to be his first grandson. We named John after his great-grandfather- John Leroy, who usually went by the name Roy. He was a large man, who worked as a blacksmith and at one point, was a champion heavyweight boxer for his navy fleet. Had hands like catcher's mitts. Anyway, we've passed the Leroy middle name down for the first son for quite awhile, I'm not even sure when it began. John Leroy, our son, has passed in down to his first son, Tariq Leroy.

Frank Leroy Casselman, now deceased, was born in Wisconsin. Of mostly German decent, he was the only son, with three older sisters. His life was not one of leisure. This was during the Great Depression and people were starving. My dad and his three sisters were eventually placed in a orphanage so they could survive, while my grandfather looked for work in California. Not liking to be separated from his father, my dad escaped from the orphanage and hitchhiked from Wisconsin to Texas at the age of 8 yrs old and was picked up by the police and returned. But he was stubborn and escaped again at the age of 9 yrs old to ride the rails all the way to California to find his father. He made it, but had some difficulty with a few hobos along the way, and rejoined his father. They stayed together and my dad didn't return to Wisconsin until a few years before his death. Dad wanted me to go on the road when I was 10, thinking I would learn something about life but thankfully, my mom didn't agree.

At 17, my father joined the US Army; his father signed the proper paperwork to allow him to do this. He was 6'5", skinny and had poor teeth. Assigned to tanks, he was part of the occupation force in Japan in 1950. When the North Koreans attacked to begin the Korean War, his unit was one of the first ones sent to Korea and he saw action right off. He had two tanks blown out from under him, he being the only survivor and then a half-track. So he went to the infantry, with two Purple Hearts already. He was assigned to a Forward Observer Team up near the border with North Korea and China and was there when the Chinese came across the river with 880,000 troops, on lots and lots of barges. Dad later told me all he could see was rows and rows of helmets on these barges. He and his men joined the Marines in a massive retreat and they ran south for three days. When it was all over, he had earned a third Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for Valor. He was also severely frostbitten during one night they hid from the Chinese by lying in the freezing water of a rice paddy.

Dad came home and was assigned to Fort Ord, California and here he met my mother, Vivian Lee Coon. She had been married twice already and given birth to Paul Ryan Holmes, Linda Holmes and Larry Coon. Her first husband, Fred Holmes, was a gambler and she left him to save her first two children. Frank Coon, her second husband, adopted the oldest two kids and fathered Larry. He was a greyhound bus driver and two years after Larry was born, he was  killed on the job.

I soon came along and we lived in Southern California. My dad, who never went to college had this uncanny ability with numbers and I mean uncanny. So, he found a job in accounting and worked in this field until his death. He rose up in ranking from general accountant to Exec Vice President and in charge of the company's investments. Through his ability, he was able to assist in the transformation of a half-a million dollar company into a multi-million dollar company and 2nd largest heavy-equipment company in Arizona- Western Machinery. He was also instrumental in assisting the company in being bought out by the employees when the old boss retired. Sadly, a couple years later the company was bought out in a take over and Dad was without a job, plus he had put up a lot of his own money and land in the earlier sale, which was now all lost. Strangely enough, Dad could make money for other people, but he was lousy at making any for himself.

Dad was a workaholic, 12-14 hour days and often 6-days a week. He'd get up at 4 am, go for a quick swim and then make along drive to work. A prior Atheist, he married a Christian woman, Bea, long after his divorce from Grandma Lee. Bea prayed for him and him being an intellectual, he bet he could find fault in the Bible and began reading it to prove it. Upon completion, he gave his life to the Lord and became a hardcore Bible thumper. This became a problem between us, as I was not a Christian and didn't want to hear it. We argued often and sometimes didn't speak to each other for months. But when I came home from my tours in Southeast Asia, we had our first series of man-to-man talks and I found out a lot about my Dad.

My old man got to know a lot of people in Arizona and this included Senator Goldwater, who I was fortunate enough to meet one day and he had remembered my father. Made for a nice memory. Dad became interested in skydiving when I was about 8 yrs old and we would journey out to Elsinore Lake to watch him jump from 2500 feet. On one such day, we watched as he fell and fell...and fell. His chutes, primary and emergency, had opened but did not spread out to catch the air. He was pulling every line he could and years later, told me how his father's spirit had appeared and pointed to the line he needed to pull. Anyway, 75-feet from the ground both chutes opened wide and he made a large crater in the ground with his backside. We didn't know it at the time but he had fractured his spine at several points. They all told him he should jump again so he wouldn't become fearful of skydiving, so he did. He came down perfectly and bounced on his right leg- fracturing it in three or four places. At the hospital they discovered the broken spine. He was in casts for months.

At 9 years old, my dad left California, after the divorce, and moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I began to visit him there for about 2 weeks every summer. It was rough on both of us. But he worked hard to make sure I never went without and our two weeks were always special. We both loved the desert. Then I met Bea and she became a good friend two years before they got married. Her son, Mark, became my best friend and boy, did we get in a lot of trouble together. Mark is hard rock miner in California now. I last saw him at my father's funeral.

My dad constantly fought with physical problems; his back and leg, mostly his heart and I watched him stand tall against these. He had 7 heart attacks, beginning when he was 37 and the 7th one claimed him.

Like in the lives of most kids, my Dad and I disagreed on so many things. He was so happy when I gave my life to the Lord and I was baptized in his boss's hot tub. But through it all, my Dad was my hero- in 2nd place was John Wayne. Dad volunteered to serve his country and gave so much. He helped take care of his sisters later on and always was there for his step-children in anything they needed or often just wanted. He died at 58 yrs old, like his father who made it to 57. Now I am about to turn 58, but I do not have their heart problems and will probably make it to 90 or more. That's a sad picture! A old fat man watching John Wayne movies over and over.

I only hope my children look at me the same way as I remember my old Man. He stood tall and loved the Lord.


  1. That was great, honey! Dad was a unique and wonderful man and I loved him dearly!

  2. Hello from Wisconsin! I am fairly certain we are distantly related. I've been researching my g-g-grandfather, John Alexander Pierce. I'm pretty certain his sister Louisa Caroline married Jacob Casselman, and that's where the connection is. I'm tickled to find out more about your family. If you want to see my huge family tree project online, drop me a line a, and let me know your email. Then I'll send you a link.
    Sherry Pierce Thurner