Connell, Lt. Col. Gaston Norvell Jr .|
Lieutenant Colonel Gaston Norvell Connell Jr., of Phoenix, Arizona, passed peacefully from this earth on May 22, 2016. Our dedicated father, grandfather, great grandfather, uncle, died as he spent much of his life, surrounded by extensive adoring family. He joins his beloved wife, Jean, the love of his life, who passed away many years ago. Gaston's life encompassed the span of the 20th, , and into the early 21st century. He was born just after World War I, on April 18, 1919, in Charleston, West Virginia. His idyllic childhood was spent helping his parents run Highgale Dairy farm and roaming the hills and woods of the West Virginia countryside with his dog. As a child, he loved the outdoors, and listening to radio shows such as the Lone Ranger. Gaston loved anything with an engine. He first drove the family milk truck at the age of 8, later helping make milk deliveries along the country roads. He got his first West Virginia driver's license at age 15 and it was "good for life." In teen years, he was a fun-loving and mischievous young man, popular in school, especially with the girls. He and a friend flew an Aeronca_Champ, a canvas and wood plane around the Charleston area, and even flew under the Kanawha River Bridge. As Gaston grew older, he developed an avid interest in world events, which he followed closely as the world grew closer to war. His interest in the daily news started in these years, and lasted throughout his life. Gaston had the insight early on to know the world would be drawn into conflict, and he joined his high school ROTC to begin his military training. Upon graduation from high school, Gaston matriculated at Marshall College in Huntington, West Virginia, where he studied Economics. He continued his military training there. On December 7, 1941, Gaston and his family woke up to the news that the United States had been attacked at Pearl Harbor. He and his parents sat riveted to the radio as the horror unfolded. The following day, Gaston enlisted in the United States Army. Gaston reported for duty at Fort Benning Georgia in January 1942 where he completed officer training. He was then commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, and after three more months of training he was sent to Ft. Huachuca in Arizona as a training officer for new recruits. Gaston remained at Huachuca for a year, during which time he met Jean Frances Townley, a co-ed at the University of Arizona. She became the love of his life. As WWII evolved, Gaston wanted to be part of the action. He had had enough of training others. So he volunteered for jump school at Fort Benning, The Airborne were the elite of the army in those days. Only 40% of volunteers in jump school completed training, including Gaston. Ironically, he became a training officer at Benning after qualifying in parachute infantry. Gaston and Jean were married at Fort Benning Georgia on November 6, 1943. And in January 1944 he went overseas as a member of the 509th parachute infantry, the first parachute infantry division in US Army history. He first served in North Africa, then to Naples, Rome, and then landed on the beaches of Southern France. Gaston was a First Lieutenant and led his squad on patrols to draw fire from the German forces! As the war progressed, Gaston was involved in combat in France. His unit was stationed outside of Paris when the Battle of the Bulge broke out December 1944. His unit was convoyed to Belgium where he saw sustained combat until late January 1945. In early February 1945, Dad's unit, the 509th Parachute Infantry was disbanded. Out of 750 men there were 53 remaining including 7 officers. Gaston was then transferred to the 101st Airborne. The 101st Airborne fought their way into Germany and at the end of the war, Gaston was stationed in Austria at Berchtesgaden where Hitler has his mountain hideout. His unit received a Presidential Citation and were designated as General Eisenhower's honor guard. In August 1944, Gaston was offered the choice of remaining in Germany for an additional two years, or returning to the US for 30 days leave and then transferred to the Pacific War. He chose the later gambling that Japan would surrender before he got home. In November 1944, Gaston returned to his wife Jean in Tucson, Arizona, where he picked up his life again by studying and earning a Pharmacy degree in the second graduating class at the University of Arizona. He and Jean began their family in 1947 with the birth of their first child, Patrick. Gaston transferred to the 82nd Airborne in late 1945. He was soon promoted to Captain. He later served years with the Arizona National Guard, being promoted to Major and in 1960 he was made Lieutenant Colonel. He retired from the military in 1964. After Gaston received his Pharmacy degree and license, he and Jean moved to Phoenix in 1953, where he started his first job working for Ryan-Evans, a small family-owned pharmacy. Gaston and Jean's family grew, as did Phoenix, over the next years. Gaston's family involvement didn't end when their own kids were grown and on their own. He jumped in to help raising his grandkids Jay and Laura O'Malley, as their mom returned to school and began her own career as a school teacher. Gaston and Jean also enjoyed their together, in the early 1980's. They travelled throughout Europe, until Jean grew increasingly ill and debilitated. Gaston dedicated himself to her care in their home until she died in 1989. The ache in his heart at the loss of his life partner was assuaged by helping his busy grown children raise their own kids. He found a new direction to his life by driving his grandchildren to school, bringing lunch, watching hours of dance, gymnastics and pole vaulting practices. He became known as "Grandpie" to strangers. He attended graduations, birthday parties and athletic events up until his last week of life. He hauled kids to endless orthodontic appointments, choir practices and friends houses. He taught us all unconditional love, patience and how to appreciate all of the ordinary, extraordinary events of daily life. A viewing will take place Thursday, May 26th, 2016 from 6:00-8:00pm at Hansen Mortuary, 8314 N. 7th Street in Phoenix. A funeral service will be held 10:00 am Friday, May 27th, 2016 at Hansen Mortuary, followed by a burial at St. Francis Catholic Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Ryan House
at hov.org or 110 W Merrell St, Phoenix AZ 85013, in Gaston's name and remembrance.
Published in The Arizona Republic on May 25, 2016