Legislators honor WWII veteran Donald Cassidy in Teaneck

BY MEGAN BURROW Teaneck Suburbanite

TEANECK - Mark Cassidy still recalls clearly his first memory of his older brother Donald. He was five years old, and his brother was finally coming home to Teaneck after spending nearly two years in a German prison camp.

A radio specialist with the 390th Bomber Group in the 570 Squadron of the U.S. Air Corps, Donald Cassidy was 21 years old and flying on his sixth mission when his plane was shot down by a German Messerschmitt in November 1943.

Pictured, from left to right, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, Army Specialist Walton Morris, World War II veteran Donald Cassidy and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle pose with Cassidy's proclamation honoring him for his service as a veteran as well as a German prisoner of war. 

Donald Cassidy, a WWII veteran and German prisoner of war, reads over the proclamation with his son David Cassidy. Assemblyman Gordon Johnson and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle presented Cassidy with a proclamation honoring his service at a ceremony in the Heritage Pointe retirement community on Feb. 13.

Two of the plane's crew members were killed. Cassidy and seven others parachuted to safety, but were captured and spent several days in solitary confinement before being taken to Stalag XVII, a prison camp in Krems, Austria.

Prisoners in the camp made do with little food and struggled to keep warm in the bitter cold. They were allowed to shower just once every six or seven weeks, and several captives were shot as they attempted to escape.

Mark Cassidy pauses as he shares his first memory of his brother Donald, when at the age of five, he went with his family to pick Donald up from the bus stop in Teaneck after he had finished his tour in World War II.

Cassidy spent 17 months in the camp until it was evacuated on April 8, 1945, as the Russians were approaching. Cassidy and the other prisoners were marched to a clearing near the village of Braunau, where they remained until they were liberated by General George Patton's Third Army on May 3, 1945.

"The phone rang, and my parents answered. He was in New York City," Mark said of the day his brother returned home. "He had to take the 167 or 122 bus to Teaneck. We lived very near the bus stop so we got in the car, and as we turned to go down the hill, there he was. I still think of it today, and it's very emotional. We were all just so proud of him."

Donald Cassidy, now 91 and a resident of Heritage Pointe in Teaneck, was presented with a proclamation Feb. 13 by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

Johnson had heard Cassidy's story at a Veteran's Day event at the senior living community, and wanted to honor him for his service, the assemblyman said.

"We want to take the time to recognize him," said Johnson, a former major in the Army Reserve. "Younger people can learn from what the veterans did and what they sacrificed. A young man or young woman left their home, their community, and put on a uniform to go fight someplace they never heard of for our freedom. That's a special person. Thank you for your service; thank you for what you did for this country."

Huttle, whose uncle was killed in World War II, said she was honored to meet Cassidy and present him with the resolution. "It doesn't have to be Veteran's Day to honor our veterans," she said.

Although it has been nearly 70 years since Cassidy returned home from WWII, his other younger brother Paul said the pervasive feeling of fear from that time remains vivid in his memory. "I remember the day they came with the telegram that he was missing. It was awful, and it was quite some time before we found out he had survived."

The person who brought the letter was a neighbor who had been wounded in the war and was working at the post office, Paul said.

He wasn't supposed to exert himself, but he ran all the way from the post office to their home on Taft Road, about a mile away, to give Cassidy's parents the news.

"It was scary while he was over there," said Paul. "The guy next door was a pilot. He was killed. Our neighbor across the street was badly wounded. Everybody felt it in those days."

After posing for pictures with the elected officials, surrounded by friends and family, Donald Cassidy spoke of his appreciation for the recognition.

"It is a great honor," he said.

David, one of his three sons, said Friday that the boys learned of their father's service growing up, but he didn't speak much about his time as a prisoner of war.

"My father doesn't talk too much about it, only when asked," he said. "He's not a man to bring attention to himself, so none of this was his idea, but we're very happy to see him acknowledged."