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.
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.