Dean Caswell, the last Marine Corps fighter pilot ace of World War II, died Wednesday at his Austin home. He is 100 years old.
Caswell enlisted in the Marine Corps in September 1942 and served 3 times in 30 years: in the Pacific Theater of World War II in the 1940s, the Korean War in the early 1950s, and the Vietnam War in the ❜60s. Born in California, Caswell moved to Edinburgh in 1922 so his parents could work as entomologists in the Rio Grande Valley. Before applying for Navy flight training in 1941, he made butter and ice cream at a creamery for $35 a week.
He hitchhiked to Los Angeles two weeks before the Japanese aircraft carrier pilot attacked U.S. troops in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Caswell was sent to fight in the Pacific to neutralize the threat of Japanese air power. He fought in Okinawa and Iwo Jima and flew over the Japanese capital Tokyo. Marines, including Caswell, fly carrier-based fighter jets such as the Chance-Vought F4U Corsair, with its unique inverted gull-wing design.
more:Read the July 2021 profile of Dean Caswell by the American statesman
During World War II, Caswell flew more than 100 missions aboard the USS Bunker Hill, destroying 10 or more enemy aircraft in the air and 25 to 30 more enemy aircraft on the ground. He was awarded the Silver Star, three Distinguished Flying Crosses and five Air Medals. Promoted to lieutenant in July 1945.
His Silver Star was awarded for valor against wartime enemies, distinguished by his and two of his wingmen’s battles against the Japanese. He said they were attacked by 25 fighters. Caswell managed to shoot down seven of them, and his wingman shot down another 10.
Caswell is proud of his service and the life he has built with his family. He has seven children with his first wife, Audrey, who died 16 years ago. He married his second wife, Mary Donahue-Caswell, at the age of 92. He and Mary have 12 children together, including 20 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great-grandchild.
He has run a money management business in Austin for 40 years.
Caswell wrote books, spoke at airshows and Air Force events, and even did some flying stunts for actor John Wayne.
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Mary said that when people met Caswell, they told him stories of their lives.
“He would always end the conversation with: ‘Okay, thank you for sharing it with me. Don’t screw it up,’ ❜❞ Mary said.
“He would say that to my boyfriend,” said Cathy Caswell-Post, one of Caswell’s daughters.
Having a Marine Colonel as a father was pretty intimidating, she said.
“He told me that too,” said his daughter, Mary Jo Bogatto-Smith.
In a conversation with the American statesman, the Caswell woman talked about what the veteran was like. If he got word that someone he knew or was flying with was dying, he would fly to them.
“He didn’t want anyone to die alone,” Mary said. “That was so manly, so brave, so thoughtful. He loved it so much that they wouldn’t be alone when they died.”
Although he lived a century, you probably wouldn’t know it. Bogatto-Smith said that if you don’t let old people in, there are no old people.
“He didn’t show it until the last minute,” she said.
He also likes martinis. They had to be Grey Goose Vodka, clear enough to read a newspaper full of olives.
“God, he likes martinis,” Bogato-Smith said.
Caswell’s family hugged and surrounded him before he died, thanking his daughters for being his daughters and his wife for being his wife, saying he had given as much as he could to his friends, family and country. He couldn’t ask for more from his 100-year-old body. He didn’t think he could make it through the night, but he hoped he was wrong.
Then he smiled and asked, “Okay, did you all write it down?”