On Patrol staff
General George W. Casey, Jr., Chief of Staff of the Army, spent an afternoon with children of the fallen to answer questions about his father at a conference hosted by TAPS (the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors). General Casey’s father was killed in action in the Vietnam War. The children asked the general everything from his father’s favorite color and animal to questions ranging from the general’s favorite place to be stationed and policy issues, such as the Army budget. Following is an excerpt of the discussion. As one young participant told the general, “Your dad would be very proud of you.”
Can you tell us any memories that you have of your dad?
General Casey: I have lots of memories of being with my dad. In fact, we were just going through some old pictures. We have pictures of my dad and me at the beach. He was a young fit soldier and I was a chubby little kid. I was sitting on his shoulders.
The other memories I have of my dad are that he was always teaching us how to play sports—football, baseball. He was a hockey player because he was from Boston and they had ice up there. But since he was in the Army, we were always stationed at places like Ft. Benning, Georgia, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, and they didn’t have any ice, so he was always sad because none of his kids could skate.
The last memory I have of my dad, I was 21 and I drove him back to the airport with my mother as he was going to back to Vietnam. I watched him walk up to the ramp to get on the plane until he was out of sight. I looked at my mom and I said, “It must get easier for you to say goodbye because you’ve done it so many times.” And she looked at me, and said, “Nope, it only gets harder.”
As I grew up, I found out that was true. He was a good guy.
What is your best memory of your dad?
General Casey: Playing at the beach. We used to go to this beach in Massachusetts where he was from. We always used to run and play in the sand. Those were some of the happiest times I remember.
Are you still following in your father’s footsteps?
General Casey: I guess I am, because I am still in the Army. I graduated from college and I was going to come in to the Army because I was in ROTC. I was going to stay for two years because that was my obligation. Then I was going to get out and go to law school. But I fell in love with it [the Army], so I stayed. So, I am still following in his footsteps.
How did your dad die?
General Casey: He was riding in a helicopter and the helicopter went into some clouds. It was turning around to come out of the clouds and it flew into a mountain. And my dad, and everyone else on the helicopter, was killed.
Did some people come to your house to tell you that your dad died?
General Casey: My mom was up at the beach in Massachusetts and I was working in Washington because I had just graduated. The helicopter was missing for two days, and my mom called me and said the helicopter was missing.
Then I went to work one morning, two days later, and the Washington Post was there and my Dad’s picture was on the front of it and it said he had been killed. That’s how I found out he actually had been killed. My mom was told by the people who come to your house.
What made you want to stay in the Army?
General Casey: The people. Everywhere I went, I met wonderful people. My mother was around the Army all her life. And every place you go, you meet wonderful people.
How many generals are in the Army?
General Casey: There are about 300 generals who are in the active Army. And about 300 generals in the Guard and Reserves. So total, there are about 600 generals in the Army. You can never have enough generals.
What was your dad’s name?
General Casey: His name was the same as mine. His name was George William Casey. And I am George William Casey, Jr.
What was your dad’s favorite sport?
General Casey: He was a hockey player. In fact, he was the captain of the West Point Hockey Team when he was a senior in college. And he was a pretty good hockey player by all accounts. He was a great athlete. He had pictures from high school football where he had fallen on a fumble in the end zone and scored the winning touchdown against their archrival. He was being carried off the field on his team’s shoulders.
Do you have any bad memories of your dad?
General Casey: I don’t have any regretful memories at all. Only happy ones.
What was the last thing you did with your dad before he died?
General Casey: I drove him to the airport. We lived in Arlington [Virginia] and I drove him up to Baltimore-Washington International Airport with my mother. I did that because I wanted to tell him I was getting married. And I did. We had a very nice drive and talk. And then I watched him get on the plane.
If you could see your dad again, what would you say?
General Casey: That’s a tough question. I would probably say, “I really miss you.”
Major General George W. Casey
Major General George W. Casey was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 9, 1922. A 1945 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he later attended the National War College in Washington, D.C., before becoming a Rifle Company Commander with the 31st Infantry Regiment during the Korean War.
In 1966, he became a fellow at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He earned numerous awards during his distinguished career including the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Casey lead the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile) during the Vietnam War. He was en route to visit wounded soldiers when his helicopter crashed on July 7, 1970.