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Russell "Russ" Raymond Casper
- Name: Russell "Russ" Raymond Casper
- Location of Birth: Taconite, Minnesota
- Date of Birth: December 8, 1922
- Date of Death: January 13, 1964 (41 years old)
- Parents: Alva H. Casper & Margaret (Davis) Casper
- High School and Class: 1940 Greenway High School, Coleraine, Minnesota
- Highest Rank: PFC (Private First Class)
- Branch: Army
- Other Branch:
- Date Sworn In: 1941
- Place Sworn In:
- Date of Discharge: February 15, 1946
- Place of Discharge:
- Military Awards:
- Military Highlights:
WW II Draft Registration Cards – 10/16/1940 – 03/31/1947
Name: Russell Raymond Casper
Birth Date: December 8, 1922
Birth Place: Itasca, Minnesota, USA
Residence Place: Coleraine, Itasca, Minnesota, USA
Registration Date: June 30, 1942
Employer: Own business, Coleraine, Itasca, Minnesota
Eye Color: Blue
Hair Color: Brown
Next of Kin: Mrs. E. Casper
Newspaper article: 1944 – “Dear Mom and all: I hardly know when to start but anyway I’m in France now, stationed at an abandoned German depot. We came through St. Lo and saw the damage that was done. I hardly believe there is a building standing, but life seems to be going on as usual and the people can be seen picking through the rubble for their belongings. We have plenty of souvenirs here so if we’re able to send them home, I’ll send some. I’m still feeling swell, so there’s nothing to worry about. I traded a chocolate bar for some hard cider today which wasn’t bad stuff. We’re stationed in the middle of town but have a fence of cement around our area so we don’t get in contact with the French so often. I’m still feeling fine so there’s no use in worrying. Rations are pretty short here but we still get enough to eat. We had C, K, and D rations for a while, but now I think we’ll have real food again. The address is still the same as before. You can send me a package, if you will, of eats (cookies, etc.) but don’t bother with soap as we get that in our ration. Bye for this time, PFC. Russell Casper.”
Newspaper article: 1945 - Russ Casper writes from Eng.: “Dear Mom and All: Just a few lines to let you know I am thinking about you tonight. My buddy here left today so I had both of our work to do and keeping a bunch of truck drivers in clothing is quite a job, but they are the best dressed G. I.’s around here. Most of them have been over on the continent and had practically what they wore on their backs when they came here, but after the requisition of clothes that I put in for them, no one should be short. There’s a bunch of fellows leaving tomorrow and also Friday, but I think I’ll see another Christmas on this side of the pond and after that it shouldn’t be long before I see civilian clothes again. There’s a kid here from Grand Rapids who’s going back to the States tomorrow. His name is Spade and he used to drive truck for the Canisteo mine in Coleraine. Well, I’ll close now and say Cherrio. Love, Russ.”
News article from Norfolk Daily News, dated November 12, 2020:
"After breaking an antique picture frame, a North Platte man finds a message from World War II
North Platte-Mark Shuts of North Platte recently broke his son's antique picture frame-and uncovered a hidden voice from World War II.
It belongs to a 21-year-old U.S. soldier from northern Minnesota, writing his uncle in Iowa from Europe on the back of a 1944 Christmas card to say he was all right.
Less than a month after Pfc. Russell Raymond Casper wrote his note, he and other members of his 2004th Ordnance Maintenance Company were supporting the U.S. air effort to defeat Nazi Germany in the Battle of the Bulge.
Born near Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on Dec. 8, 1922, Casper died in that city at age 41 on Jan. 13, 1964.
He's buried there in Itasca Calvary Cemetery, according to Telegraph research based on the information Shults found.
Shults and his son, Bobby-who bought the framed card in an Omaha area antique shop-hope word of their discovery might reach Casper's relatives so they can return his letter and the rest of the picture frame's contents.
"If I was someone's great-grandson and found out this had happened, I'd think, "Yeah, I'd really like to have that back." Mark Shults said.
Bobby Shults, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, has long frequented antique shops and displayed his "knickknacks in his parents' garage, his father said.
Bobby bought the framed card while attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha five or six years ago.
He told Mark it came either from Jim's Seek and Save Antiques in Omaha or the Egg Krate in nearby Elk Horn, Iowa.
Mark Shults said he "was cleaning the garage the other day when I knocked it off the wall and the glass broke.
"I was picking it up, peeling (the picture) off (and) seeing what was in there."
The broken frame had displayed a drawing of a U.S. GI sitting on a brick ledge, a young boy and girl sitting on his lap with a doll in the girl's arms and the soldier's rifle resting against the ledge.
"MERRY XMAS 1944" said the top of the drawing, which is signed and dated 1944 by the artist in the lower right-hand corner.
Other copies of the card can be seen for sale on eBay. Some were originally sent from Belgium and others from Germany, according to their sellers' notes.
A separate picture of a sailing ship was in the frame behind the GI Christmas card, Mark Shults said.
Then he turned over the holiday card and found the brief letter on its back, dated Nov. 28, 1944.
In it, Pfc. Casper tells "Dear Al and all" he's glad to hear they recently had a son. He assures them he's fine, interrupting the note when "the work whistle" blew and finishing it after his duty shift and a viewing of the 1944 Jane Frazee film "Rosie the Riverter."
The scene on the Christmas card "is typical of the soldiers here and of the surrounding country," wrote Casper, who signed his note "Your nephew, Russ."
He also included his full first and last names and the name of his unit. That, plus information on one more small sheet Shults found, opened online doors to more of Casper's story.
He appears in the 1940 U.S. Census (the most recent one available online) as the 17-year-old second child of Alva and Margaret Casper.
The family lived in Taconite (then Taconite Junction), about 8 1/2 miles northeast of Grand Rapids and 70 miles northwest of Duluth.
It's listed as Russell Casper's birthplace in the national Find a Grave index.
Taconite also lies about 2 miles northeast of Bovey, a town sitting between there and Grand Rapids and listed as Casper's hometown in the extra note Shults found.
Written after Casper's death, that note listed Alva and Marge Casper as his parents and said he wrote the Nov. 28 note to "Albert" in Des Moines.
Albert and Irene Davis lived at the address listed in the note, according to a 1944 city directory check by the Des Moines Public Library.
The FamilySearch website says Harlan Alva Casper married Margaret Mae Davis on March 10, 1909, in Runnells, Iowa, near Des Moines. Both of Russell Casper's parents outlived him, with Margaret dying in 1966 and Alva in 1972.
Finally, the note said Russell Casper was in the Battle of the Bulge--which was true in the behind-the-scenes sense.
The 2004th Ordnance Maintenance Company serviced Martin B-26 Marauder bombers as part of the 99th Combat Wing of the U.S. 9th Air Force, according to available online World War II records.
Originally based in England, the 2004th supported aircraft from there during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion and its immediate aftermath.
It moved to France that September with 9th Air Force Service Command headquarters, supporting ground offensives by Gen. Omar Bradley's U.S. 12th Army Group through V-E Day on May 8, 1945.
That period included the Battle of the Bulge, launched by Adolf Hitler's Nazi German forces in Belgium's Ardennes Forest on Dec. 16, 1944.
Cloudy skies kept Allied aircraft grounded until Dec. 23, when the 9th Air Force--backed up by Casper's unit--finally could take to the skies.
Its planes pounded German positions during the Allied counterattack, which drove Hitler's forces back to their starting point by the battle's end on Jan. 25, 1945.
Mark Shults said any of Casper's relatives who might recognize his story may email him at [email protected]
"I would just like to somehow trace who's left in the family or who may be interested in this (material) and get this back to them," he said."
Article written by Todd von Kampen, dated November 16, 2020:
Russ served during World War II with the United States Ninth Air Force's 2004th Ordnance Maintenance Company in southern France in the fall of 1944. Casper's unit, based in Great Britain during the June, 1944 D-Day invasion, was transferred to France in September, 1944 and supported Martin B-26 Marauder bombing missions ahead of Allied ground forces until V-Day on May 8, 1945.
It took three days for a Minnesota World War II soldier's relatives to learn about his 1944 Christmas-card note that was found hidden inside a picture frame in a North Platte man's garage.
Mark Shults said he was mailing the frame and its contents Monday afternoon to Harley Casper, whose father, United States Army Air Forces Pfc. Russell Raymond Casper, grew up near and died in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
A telegraph story on Veterans Day included photos of both sides of a once-framed Christmas card Casper sent from France to his uncle Albert Davis of Des Moines on November 28, 1944.
For Harley Casper, who was 15 when he lost his father to a heart attack in 1964, the note offered an unexpected glimpse into the war Russell Casper--like many military veterans--preferred not to talk about.
"It was obviously my dad's writing," Harley Casper, 72, said Monday from near his home in San Geronimo, Texas, northwest of San Antonio.
"It's a different kind of writing. It's exactly the way he wrote."
Casper's note on the back of the Christmas card remained unseen for decades until Shults-whose son Bobby had bought the framed card in an antique shop-recently knocked it off a wall and broke it while cleaning his garage.
Three days after The Telegraph published its story, it was noticed Saturday by a friend of Loni Casper of Grand Rapids. Russell Casper was her father-in-law's uncle, she told the paper in a Facebook message.
The friend sent the story to Loni, who passed it on to her father-in-law and asked, "Could this be any relation to us?" Harley Casper said.
"And he said, "Holy smoke, that my uncle!"...It just amazes everybody. I talked to my brothers and cousins, and it's just amazing that after all these years, something like this should show up."
Shults said he was contacted over the weekend by a Colorado Springs woman who saw the story, tracked down Harley Casper and offered to connect the two.
The two men spoke by phone later Monday and finalized mailing arrangements.
"When that glass broke and I flipped the card over, something came alive for me," Shults said of the whirlwind experience. "I couldn't leave it alone."
Harley Casper said his father grew up on a farm near Grand Rapids, an area known for mining taconite iron ore and shipping it 70 miles to Duluth to cross the Great Lakes.
Russell Casper, born December 8, 1922, was 17 when he graduated from high school in nearby Coleraine in 1940. He was drafted into the Army in 1941, sometime before Pearl Harbor, Harley Casper said.
The family's hometown was listed as Taconite Junction in the 1940 census, while a separate note Shults found in the picture frame said Russell was from Bovey. Both are also near Grand Rapids.
Though his dad said little about the war, Harley said, he did mention being in France.
"He said it was such a horrible thing and he didn't want to talk about it," he said. But "I always had to clean up my plate because he said he saw too many little French kids digging in garbage trying to find food."
He also remembered Russell saying "he worked on airplane engines and stuff like that."
Russell's Christmas-card note listed his unit as the 2004th Ordnance Maintenance Company. Online records show it as part of the 99th Combat Wing of the 9th Air Force, which began its wartime service in North Africa.
The 9th was transferred to Great Britain in 1943 to prepare for the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. From then until V-E Day on May 8, 1945, its planes bombed German positions ahead of advancing Allied forces.
The 2004th, which serviced Martin B-26 Marauders, moved to France in September, 1944 with the headquarters of the 9th Air Force Service Command.
It was cited in a Meritorious Unit Commendation issued a year later for service between January 1 and March 15, 1944, according to a 1962 Army document.
Harley's few mementos of his father's service include a photo of Russell in his dress uniform in front of palm trees in southern France. An August, 1944 invasion had cleared that area of Nazi troops.
The separate note in the picture frame said Russell had been part of the Battle of the Bulge, during which the 2004th supported B-26 airstrikes on attacking Germans after the skies cleared over Belgium's Ardennes Forest.
Because of wartime security, it can't be determined where Russell was when he sent Albert Davis a popular Christmas card of a GI sitting on a brick ledge with two European children on his lap.
The scene "is typical of the soldiers here and of the surrounding country," Russell wrote his uncle.
After the war, Harley said, his father worked in excavation construction for the Pickens-Mather Mining Company near Grand Rapids.
In 1947, Russell married Isabelle Bullock, who had grown up in Grand Rapids. After Harley's birth, the couple had three more children: Paul and Lance, who live near their brother, and the late Trudy Simonson.
Harley said he was in his bedroom when he last talked to his father before leaving for Grand Rapids High School on January 13, 1964.
About 10.a.m., "a note was brought in telling me my uncle was there. When I went out, he told me my dad had died." Russell Casper had turned 41 a month earlier.
His widow and children stayed around Grand Rapids until they all "got sick of the cold weather in Minnesota" and gradually moved to Texas during the 1990s, Harley said.
His father rests in Itasca Calvary Cemetery in Grand Rapids. Isabelle Casper died and was cremated in 1999, Harley said, with her ashes scattered over a lake "near where my dad was born."
- Wars Involved:
World War II
- MIA / POW:
- Civilian Life:
Russell Casper married Isabelle Bullock in 1947. He was employed with Casper Construction Co. in Grand Rapids, Minnesota for many years, then with the Western Mining Co.
Russell Casper died in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and is buried in Itasca Calvary Cemetery, Grand Rapids, Minnesota (Plot I-F-11-0-7). He is survived by his wife, Isabelle; three sons, Harlan, Paul and Lance; a daughter, Trudy; his parents, Mr. and Mrs. M. A. Casper; five brothers, Lawrence, Thomas, Everett, Clyde and John; and three sisters, Mrs. Arthur Mikkola and Mrs. Ronald Kokko.
An article written November 16, 2020 by Todd von Kampen for the Telegraph newspaper of North Platte, Nebraska, provided the photo of 21-year old Pfc. Russell Raymond Casper. The article stated that a 1944 Christmas-card note that Casper had sent from France to his uncle Albert Davis of Des Moines Iowa on November 28, 1944, was found hidden inside a picture frame in a North Platte man's garage. The framed card had been bought by the man's son and was knocked off the wall and broke as the garage was being cleaned, thus revealing the back of the card. The article stated that Casper served with the U.S. 9th Air Force's 2004th Ordnance Maintenance Company. The unit was based in Great Britain during the June 1944 D-Day invasion, and then transferred to France in September 1944 to support Martin B-26 Marauder bombing missions ahead of Allied ground forces until V-Day on May 8, 1945. Through several contacts and messages, Casper's 72-year old son, Harley Casper, was finally located and connected with the owner of the Christmas card who made arrangements to mail the frame and its contents to Harley.
- Tribal Affiliation(s):