Saturday, March 02, 2002

Medals long delayed

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The American hero, many believe, is strong and silent.

[photo] Ken Casey embraces Dennis Schwettman (left) and Cornelius Lewis of Ladder Co. 32 in Avondale, after he was honored at the Cheviot VFW for his heroism.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        It would be hard to find one stronger or more silent than Ken Casey of Bridgetown has been, for all of his 78 years.

        An ex-Marine, he married, raised a family, paid his taxes, served his community and spent 30 years in an engine house in Avondale as a Cincinnati firefighter.

        Until recently, no one — not even his family — knew what it was he did 57 years ago Sunday on a tiny piece of volcanic rock in the South Pacific called Iwo Jima, an act of bravery so stunning that, when his friends hear about it today, it takes their breath away.

        “He would never talk about it,” said Jerry Casey, Mr. Casey's youngest son. “I always looked up to my dad, but I had no idea what he did in the war.”

        But Thursday night, at a meeting of VFW Post 2548 in the basement of the Cheviot Fieldhouse, surrounded by friends and family, Ken Casey bowed his head and listened as the official citation that won him a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts was read.

Mr. Casey's new Bronze Star
        It said that on March 3, 1945, on the island of Iwo Jima, Private First Class Ken Casey of Cincinnati, Ohio, leader of his rifle squad, went behind enemy lines by himself and positioned himself in the mouth of a large cave. Inside were 20 Japanese soldiers.

        Using hand grenades and his rifle, he held the Japanese soldiers off single handedly until a Marine demolition squad could come up to blow up the cave. In the process, he suffered a wound from a grenade fragment.

        But it was a part of his life that he seemingly left behind when World War II ended and the young Marine returned to his hometown to become a firefighter.

        All of the years since, his son said, he would talk about his days in the Marines and his leatherneck buddies, but never, ever, about what he did.

        “Every once in a while, I remember he would tear up when he would talk about one of his buddies who died,” Jerry Casey said. “He lost a lot of friends over there.”

        But it was not until about a year ago that Ken Casey walked into a meeting of the Military Order of the Purple Heart at the Amvets Hall in Cheviot and said he wanted to join.

        “He said he never got his actual medals, but he had the paperwork,” said Tim Culbertson, commander of the Purple Heart chapter. “I told him that we had to get that done.”

        So Mr. Culbertson put together the documentation and worked through the office of U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot to get the medals issued.

        Two weeks ago, Mr. Chabot went to Mr. Casey's home and presented the medals to the Marine veteran and his wife, Laverne.

        It was the first the family knew of the details of what Pfc. Casey had done nearly 60 years ago.

        “I'm not a hero,” he insisted Thursday night, as dozens of fellow war veterans and a contingent from his old fire station, Engine Co. 32, stood to honor him.

        “I was just one of the guys.”

        Later, as the VFW members gathered round to shake his hand, pat his back and gaze at the medals displayed on a small wooden table, Mr. Casey talked quietly with a visitor about his days in Company C, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Division.

        “We were all just young men there to do a job,” Mr. Casey said.

        “I never really sought any recognition; it was just something in my past,” he said. “But it is very nice to be remembered.”

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