WWII veteran became avid runner in his 60s

Arthur “Mutsy” Gassen Jr. at a run.

When Arthur “Mutsy” Gassen Jr. finally spoke about his time in World War II, he recounted how he was proud of his service and lived every day of life to its fullest.

“He had just started talking about it,” said son Wayne Gassen of his father’s wartime service. “He said he’d seen things that humans shouldn’t see and that God blessed him to survive that. He thanked the Lord every day that he woke up and felt blessed to have another day.”

At age 95, Gassen died as he lived – on the move.

Gassen and Wayne, both of Luling, were about a 10-mile bike ride on June 20. Wayne was waiting for his father to catch up to him when he heard him yell in pain. When Wayne arrived at his father’s side, Gassen  was already unconscious.

“I rubbed his shoulder and told him, ‘Dad, I love you. We all love you.’ I knew he could hear. He started breathing harder. He just couldn’t respond.”

Two women walking on the levee ran over to assist Gassen, giving him CPR until EMTs arrived. Gassen died at the hospital from complications of a heart attack, but his son said he was a fighter until the end.

A corporal in the Army, Gassen was proud of his service.

The Luling resident served the country as a rifleman for the U.S. Army in the European African Middle Eastern Campaign in Italy from 1944-45 with the 3rd Battalion, 337 Infantry Regiment. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and Good Conduct Medal. Gassen went on to work 46 years at Avondale Shipyard, where he retired. He was a high school graduate who had the mind of an engineer, Wayne said.

“He made stuff for everybody,” he said. “He could make things.”

“An awesome dad… an awesome man” — Wayne Gassen

Gassen had an infectious smile and prided himself on an active lifestyle.

But Wayne said his father didn’t start running until age 60, a move encouraged by his beloved wife, Amelia. The World Fair Run in New Orleans was their first race. Then came 5-K and 10-K runs like the United Way of St. Charles’ Bridge Run, with them sometimes running three races a weekend. They also participated in the Louisiana Senior Olympics Games and won gold medals. Like her husband, Amelia was running until she passed away three years ago at age 88.

Gassen was an avid runner and cyclist, a member of the Pacers, NORSI, and NOTC running clubs. His children also joined them although Wayne said he’d volunteer to help more than run, and fondly recounted the Pacers theme as “Drinkers with a running problem.”

Gassen with the late New Orleans restaurant owner Leah Chase.

Having retired himself a year ago, Wayne was spending more time with his father during that time. He recounted his father’s refusal to give up gardening because he enjoyed giving vegetables to friends and still cut his own grass despite his advanced age.

Wayne mused many people have asked him if his father had a good mind and replied, “His mind is good. I wish he’d forget some of the things I did.”

Described as a “southern gentleman,” Gassen loved people and was very close to his family. He was an avid LSU and Saints fan.

“We don’t have any regrets,” Wayne said. “We loved him.”

Wayne said his father, as well as his grandmother, had a strong Catholic faith and passed it on to him and his four siblings. Gassen often asked them if they went to church and they knew there wasn’t an excuse not to go.

Gassen was an active member of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Luling. Father Anthony Odiong commented to Wayne about his father always being in a suit and tie at church.

And Wayne recalled his father as “an awesome dad … an awesome man.”

A life well lived

  • Arthur “Mutsy” Gassen Jr. was a decorated World War II veteran. He was a rifleman for the U.S. Army in the European African Middle Eastern Campaign in Italy in 1944-45.
  • A high school graduate, Gassen had the mind of an engineer and fabricated many things that were needed.
  • Gassen didn’t start running until he was 60 years old and went on to win races and medals along with his wife, Amelia. At age 95, he was running the day he died.
About Anna Thibodeaux 1994 Articles
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