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Lieutenant Colonel Gaston Norvell Connell Jr., of Phoenix, Arizona, passed peacefully from this earth on May 22, 2016. Our dedicated father, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, died as he spent much of his life, surrounded by extensive adoring family. He joins his beloved wife, Jean, the love of his life, who passed away many years ago.

Gaston's life encompassed the span of the 20th, and into the early 21st century. He was born just after World War I, on April 18, 1919, in Charleston, West Virginia. His idyllic childhood was spent helping his parents run Highgale Dairy farm and roaming the hills and woods of the West Virginia countryside with his dog. As a child, he loved the outdoors, and listening to radio shows such as the Lone Ranger.

Gaston loved anything with an engine. He first drove the family milk truck at the age of 8, later helping make milk deliveries along the country roads. He got his first West Virginia driver's license at age 15 and it was "good for life." In teen years, he was a fun-loving and mischievous young man, popular in school, especially with the girls.

He and a friend flew an Aeronca Champ, a canvas and wood plane around the Charleston area, and even flew under the Kanawha River Bridge.

As Gaston grew older, he developed an avid interest in world events, which he followed closely as the world grew closer to war. His interest in the daily news started in these years, and lasted throughout his life. Gaston had the insight early on to know the world would be drawn into conflict, and he joined his high school ROTC to begin his military training. Upon graduation from high school, Gaston matriculated at Marshall College in Huntington, West Virginia, where he studied Economics. He continued his military training there.

On December 7, 1941, Gaston and his family woke up to the news that the United States had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. He and his parents sat riveted to the radio as the horror unfolded. The following day, Gaston enlisted in the United States Army.

Gaston reported for duty at Fort Benning Georgia in January 1942 where he completed officer training. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, and after three more months of training he was sent to Ft. Huachuca in Arizona as a training officer for new recruits. Gaston remained at Huachuca for a year, during which time he met Jean Frances Townley, a co-ed at the University of Arizona. She became the love of his life.

As WWII evolved, Gaston wanted to be part of the action. He had had enough of training others. So he volunteered for jump school at Fort Benning, The Airborne were the elite of the army in those days. Only 40% of volunteers in jump school completed training, including Gaston. Ironically, he became a training officer at Benning after qualifying in parachute infantry.

Gaston and Jean were married at Fort Benning Georgia on November 6, 1943. And in January 1944 he went overseas as a member of the 509th parachute infantry, the first parachute infantry division in US Army history. He first served in North Africa, then to Naples, Rome, and then landed on the beaches of Southern France. Gaston was a First Lieutenant and led his squad on patrols to draw fire from the German forces!

As the war progressed, Gaston was involved in combat in France. His unit was stationed outside of Paris when the Battle of the Bulge broke out December 1944. His unit was convoyed to Belgium where he saw sustained combat until late January 1945.

In early February 1945, Dad's unit, the 509th Parachute Infantry was disbanded. Out of 750 men there were 53 remaining including 7 officers. Gaston was then transferred to the 101st Airborne. The 101st Airborne fought their way into Germany and at the end of the war, Gaston was stationed in Austria at Berchtesgaden where Hitler has his mountain hideout. His unit received a Presidential Citation and were designated as General Eisenhower's honor guard.


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