Monday, November 29, 2010

Army Pfc. Jacob A. Gassen

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Jacob A. Gassen, 21, of Beaver Dam, Wis.

Pfc Gassen was assigned to 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died Nov. 29, 2010 in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when an insurgent attacked his unit with small-arms fire. Also killed were Sgt. 1st Class Barry E. Jarvis, Staff Sgt. Curtis A. Oakes, Spc. Matthew W. Ramsey, Pfc. Austin G. Staggs and Pvt. Buddy W. McLain.

Pfc. Jacob Gassen, a former UW Oshkosh student, was killed Monday while on duty as a medic in Afghanistan.

Back home, family and friends shared memories about Gassen's life.

Jeff Rauscher said Gassen had been his neighbor since he was 8 years old, and they had been best friends almost the whole time they knew each other.

"He was like my brother," Rauscher said. "We were really close up until he went to college, but then when he came home we were close again right up until he joined the Army. He kept in touch the whole time he was in Afghanistan, too. The last time I talked to him was the day before he died."

Rauscher said he would always remember Gassen by what made him such a great friend. "He was an easy-going, happy person," Rauscher said. "He got along with everybody. He never had any enemies."

Even more than being an enjoyable person to be around, Rauscher described Gassen as a huge role model in his life. "Every time he'd come home, he'd tell me if I was doing something stupid, and he would encourage me to change it," Rauscher said. "The last time I saw him, he saw how I had changed some things in my life and he told me he was proud of me."

Rauscher said Gassen was just as loyal to his country as he was to his friends.

"The day before he left for Afghanistan he cried on my shoulder, saying he didn't want to go, but he did," Rauscher said.

Rich Zeman, the orchestra teacher for Beaver Dam High School, where Gassen graduated from in 2008, said he will always remember Gassen for his loyalty.

"The viola is sort of in between the violin and the cello," Zeman said, "and it's that instrument that nobody ever really notices."

According to Zeman, Gassen was one of the few people that did take notice of the instrument and was very loyal to it. "He was never a great player, but he was a dependable young man and you knew it was going to be a big part of his life," Zeman said.

Zemen said the last time he saw Gassen was after he finished basic training in the spring of 2009, and Gassen surprised him with just how loyal to the instrument he was. "He said, ‘come here, I've got to show you something,' and there on his right side was an alto clef, a musical symbol unique to the viola," Zemen said. "You really don't know what it is unless you're a musician."

"The joke was that the guys in the Army asked him what it was since they didn't know, and he decided to tell them it was a Chinese symbol that meant ‘good luck,'" Zemen said.

Steve Vessey, the superintendent of Beaver Dam High School, said that he remembered Gassen as a hardworking young man. "You saw that in the school orchestra, and the Beaver Dam Area Orchestra, and in his work at the YMCA," Vessey said. "He was very popular there."

Vessey added how Gassen played a part in getting the boys' swim team at the YMCA started. "He worked both as a lifeguard and as a mentor for the young people there," Vessey said. "He was well-liked by everyone."

Greg Gassen says his son, Jacob, who turned 21 on Nov. 19, was serving as a medic in his first tour of duty when he was killed. U.S. Army officials broke the news to Gassen at his Beaver Dam home Monday afternoon. Gassen says he doesn't yet know the details surrounding his son's death.

Gassen says he last talked to his son Sunday. He says Jacob was looking forward to coming home for a visit. The family planned a combined birthday and Christmas celebration when Jacob was scheduled for leave in January.

On Tuesday night, the Gassen family flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the return of Jacob’s remains. A ceremony for the family is being held there today, and then the family will return to Beaver Dam.

Gassen’s body will follow in several days accompanied by a military escort that will include Beaver Dam native Mike Richardson. Richardson, a U.S. Marine stationed in Pensacola, Fla., was a friend of Jacob, according to Gassen’s father Greg Gassen.

“Mike is really honored that he can escort Jacob’s remains back here,” Gassen said.

Funeral arrangements are pending with Murray Funeral Home in Beaver Dam.

Greg Gassen said the family has no further details about his son’s death. “Each day is a day we have to get through,” Gassen said. “He was my little boy. I’m going to miss him badly.”

Classmates have established a memorial fund in his name, according to 2008 class vice president Brittany Clifton, who said the funds may be used for a scholarship. “I felt it was something we should do as a class,” Clifton said.

Gassen also was being remembered Tuesday at St. Jerome School in Columbus where he attended first through fifth grade from 1996 to 2001.

“All of our thoughts and prayers from the entire community of St. Jerome School go out to the Gassen family at the loss of their son Jacob in Afghanistan,” said St. Jerome principal Jamie Cotter. “This week students are remembering Jacob in their daily prayer.”

Gail Tietz, the fifth grade teacher at St. Jerome said, “Jacob was a student that usually had a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. He was creative and at times, mischievous. It came as no surprise to me that he was serving his country.”

Army Pfc. Jacob A. Gassen was killed in action on 11/29/10.

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