At 18, life was going well in 1941 for Cohoes native Raymond LaCasse, an Eagle Scout who had found the girl of his dreams and started a new job at the Celanese Corp.
But that all changed on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese fighter planes bombarded the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, thrusting the country into World War II and testing the mettle of young men like LaCasse who, raised during the Great Depression, not only answered his country’s call to duty but performed his tasks nobly.
LaCasse of Rockville Centre — who went on to fight in the critical Battle of the Bulge, was wounded during the December 1944 clash and received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star — died on July 13, three days shy of his 95th birthday.
Relatives said LaCasse, who grew up in Queens Village, humbly led a life of distinction, first as a decorated soldier in the Army and then as a 44-year employee of Allied Chemical Corp.’s textiles and fibers division and, throughout it all, remained devoted to his Catholic faith.
The Andrew Jackson High School graduate met Florence Fennel at the school and, after his return from battle — a trans-Atlantic journey on the Queen Mary oceanliner — married her in 1945, said his son Greg LaCasse of Rockville Centre.
The couple settled in West Hempstead and raised five children while living there for 55 years. He lived in Rockville Centre for the past 13 years.
His dedication to excellence showed in his work life, too, as LaCasse received an award at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for excellence and superior performance in the textile industry.
The LaCasses were among the first parishioners at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, which relatives said was “the hub of their lives,” with all five children graduating from St. Thomas Grammar School.
The close relationship Raymond LaCasse forged with his fellow worshippers was not unlike the bond he maintained for 65 years with the men of his Acorn Division who trudged through battlefields with him, relatives said.
Raymond and Florence LaCasse were staples at annual reunions of his comrades in arms across the country.
Yet, “Dad was extremely humble about his war heroism,” Greg LaCasse said, adding that his father was nicknamed “Cool Ray” because he was so laid-back about the valor he displayed in battle. He had also earned a medal for expert marksmanship.
“He never really talked about it,” Greg LaCasse said.
LaCasse, an avid sports fan all his life, had a light side, too, with hobbies including golf, hosting parties, gardening and a love for the beach, a passion shared by the whole LaCasse clan as the family secured a cabana at Malibu Beach Club in Point Lookout, where they spent many summers.
“Ray’s generosity of spirit, sense of humor, and sensitivity to those less fortunate are among the most important gifts he shared throughout his active and healthy life,” said his daughter Linda Wheeler, of Solon, Ohio.
Besides his son, Greg, and daughter, Linda, Raymond LaCasse is survived by a daughter, Lisa LaCasse, of Marina del Ray, California, and a son, Neil, of Rockville Centre. He was predeceased by his wife and another son, Mark.
He also leaves seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
LaCasse was buried July 16, on his birthday, at the Cemetery of the Holy Rood in Westbury, with full military honors.