DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

November 8, 2012

Column: Derry’s Vincent Cassidy was a poet, soldier and scholar

Rick Holmes
Derry News

---- — One of my Derry heroes has always been Vincent Cassidy (1923-1989). Recently, I was very moved when Pauline Hamer and Robert Cassidy, his sister and brother, gave me a book that had been in Vinnie’s personal library. The only reason I haven’t already written a story on his life was because his life was so well lived that there wasn’t any way I could chronicle it within the space of a single article. This story today is just one incident from his life. In the years to come I’ll tell more Vincent Cassidy stories.

After a Derry boyhood, he attended Pinkerton Academy where he was on the student council, literary editor of the Critic and wrote the class poem. He entered the University of New Hampshire in 1940 to major in history but then came the attack on Pearl Harbor. One month later, on Jan. 7, 1942, Cassidy enlisted in the Marines. After training in Virginia and South Carolina he was assigned to the Leathernecks’ 1st Raider Battalion at Guadalcanal. Soon the 5 foot, 9 inch soldier with broad shoulders, muscular biceps and almost no hips got his first tattoo. On his arm was now written “Bend But Never Break.”

Soon he was seeing combat in the Solomon Islands. Every day was a green hell as they fought countless battles with the enemy. Every day in the jungle it was kill or be killed. For 90 straight days Cassidy fought in the Solomons with little rest and living on C-rations. He soon proved his mettle and was appointed squad leader.

On Aug. 7, 1942, Private Cassidy’s squad came under enemy fire while on the island of Tulgai in the lower Solomons. They were pinned down from withering machine gun and rifle fire coming from a cave on the side of a nearby slope. The Japanese soldiers couldn’t be seen and were perfectly protected in their little rat hole. Cassidy’s men were in the open and were, as the expression goes, “sitting ducks” and would soon be “dead ducks” unless something was done immediately!

Eighteen year old Vincent Cassidy knew that the machine gun nest must be taken out pronto! Without giving it a second’s thought for his own safety, the Derry man ran like a demon toward the cave’s mouth of death. At its entrance, he began to throw hand grenades down into the cave where the unseen enemy was positioned. He kept this up until the Japanese firing began to slow down. This allows his squad to “advance and destroy the hostile position.”

For this action, Cassidy was awarded the Silver Star. His citation reads: “His conduct was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.” His medal was pinned on his chest at a South Pacific base by Major General Vogel, the commander of the Marines in the Pacific Theater.

Somehow while Cassidy was in this bloody hell he found time to write a number of poems. Each speaks about the horror and futility of war — an emotion that is shared by soldier from the beginning of time to the present day. One of his poems, sent home in a family letter, was shared with some friends in Derry. It was soon published in the Derry News, then it was republished in the Manchester Union Leader. It was next printed in the Journal of the New Hampshire Legislature at the special request of a Durham representative. Soon it was republished in a Washington hotel’s newsletter. There it read by the nation’s powerbrokers and was published in the United States Congressional Record — a rare honor that was well deserved. Here is Corporal Cassidy’s poem, “Yesterday?”

Ah, yes, I remember

Yesterday.

I was young then, light of

Heart and gay,

A stranger still to fear and

Sleepless nights

But that was yesterday.

The clang of steel, the pang

Of pain,

The bitter twang of

Twice-born hate

I have not known, nor yet

Had been to war.

I had not noticed, day by day,

Dear ones’ faces fade away,

And home becomes a dream,

A thing remembered,

Hoped for-all but lost in memory.

But now I’ve seen more than

I’ll say.

How old I’ve grown since

Yesterday!

Cassidy was discharged from the Marines in 1946. The first three things he did upon returning to a war-free life were: visit his parents, get married, and grow a Van Dyke beard. He went back to college and in time earned his doctorate. Dr. Cassidy published many articles and books and retired in 1988 as professor emeritus from the University of Akron. He passed away the next year at age 65, survived by a son and daughter. He is buried at the family lot at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Londonderry.

This Veterans Day please remember Cassidy’s example of bravery and sacrifice for his country.

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Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry and plans to hold office hours at the municipal center. He is the former chairman of the Derry Heritage Commission. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.