Thomas E. Casey / Provided photo
Thomas E. Casey’s medal, inscribed to him and presented by the city of Rochester to thousands of World War I veterans. / SHAWN DOWD/ /staff photographer
The family of Army Pvt. Thomas E. Casey gave him up for dead after World War I. His older brother Michael returned from the battlefields, but Tom did not.
“There was no real communication from the Army,” says John Batzold of Webster, Tom Casey’s great-nephew. More than a year later, Tom just “showed up out of the blue,” Batzold says. Turns out he’d been exposed to mustard gas and was hospitalized until he was able to return. Mustard gas attacks, while sometimes lethal, also can leave victims with red itchy sores, blurred vision and serious respiratory problems for life.
Thomas E. Casey came home permanently disabled; he lived the rest of his life — nearly 40 years — on a small Army pension.
It didn’t take long for the relatives of Thomas E. Casey to find me after my March 22 column referring to a medal inscribed to him and presented by the city of Rochester to thousands of World War I veterans, thanking them for their valiant service in defense of “democracy, liberty and justice.”
Carol and Gene LaCapruccia of Irondequoit found the medal in their home but had no idea how they acquired it. They hoped to return it to Casey’s family. By mid-morning, I had received several calls and emails, most false alarms. But Fran Grillo of Irondequoit knew the names of Thomas’ nine siblings — who I deliberately did not identify in the column. It was clear that Thomas E. Casey was indeed her great-uncle.
I could tell from my cursory research that Casey never married and had no children; that he lived on South Clinton Avenue, Garson Avenue and then Parsells Avenue.
“The Caseys came from Halstead, Pa.,” Batzold says. “They had a self-sufficient farm, raising cattle, chickens and turkeys, and growing their own vegetables.”
With 10 children as farmhands, Michael and Mary Kane Casey literally lived off the land. But the oldest boy, James Patrick Casey, decided he’d had enough of farm life and took a job with one of the railroads, Batzold says, working out of Rochester, but traveling as necessary. The other boys followed, including Tom, who worked as a brakeman as far away as Sioux City, Iowa.
“Tom’s older brother Dan bought a house on Parsells,” Batzold says, and the brothers lived together. When they were all established, they moved their parents up from Pennsylvania, he says.
After the war, Grillo says, “he was never the same.”
He lived simply and followed a routine. “He was an early riser,” Batzold says. “He’d get up every morning and make himself breakfast while listening to the radio,” sometimes to country “fiddlers,” as he called them, sometimes to the news with legendary Rochester broadcaster Al Sigl.
“After breakfast, he’d get dressed and walk,” Grillo says.
“He was well dressed,” Batzold says. “He’d always wear a sports jacket, a white shirt with an old-fashioned celluloid collar. He’d wear a straw skimmer hat.”
He would walk downtown, drop by his favorite taverns, sometimes spend time at the Knights of Columbus on Chestnut Street. After dinner, he’d walk some more.
“He was very up on current events,” Batzold says. And he loved to talk about the news.
He attended Mass at Corpus Christi Church on East Main Street when the family lived on Parsells, and then at Blessed Sacrament on Oxford Street when he moved in with his sister Helen Casey Batzold and her husband, Ivan, on Shepard Street.
“In those days,” Batzold says, “if there was a member of the family in trouble, they took them in and cared for them.” Thomas E. Casey died of cancer in April 1957. His sister cared for him until the end.
The medal that will soon be returned to the Batzold family was given in gratitude by the citizens of Rochester. Thomas E. Casey lived a simple life, but he paid a price for his service to his country and to his city. The medal is a reminder that this city was keenly and solemnly aware of the sacrifice made by thousands of its young men for the cause of peace.