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Robert R. Cassilly Jr., Harford County patriarch and World War II veteran, dies

Robert Cassilly
Robert Cassilly (Handout/Handout)

Robert Rogers Cassilly Jr., the patriarch of his Harford County family who was in the military during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, died of old-age complications Jan. 4 at his Bel Air home. He was 95.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Harford County, he was the son of Robert R. Cassilly Sr., a civil engineer, and Vera Swart, a homemaker.

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Mr. Cassilly grew up on a Harford County farm and was a 1943 graduate of Mount Saint Joseph High School in Irvington.

He joined the Merchant Marines and was a student at the Merchant Marine Academy when his father died. He cut a class to attend the funeral and lost his place at the school.

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“He wound up being an 18-year-old oiler on Liberty ships crossing the Atlantic in convoys dodging German submarines. He served in the engine room with an oil can spraying oil on the engines,” said his son, State Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, a Republican from Harford County.

“My father never said anything negative about his time in the Merchant Marine. In fact, his ship was strafed by German aircraft but he said, ‘We just kept rolling.’”

After the war, Mr. Cassilly enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the occupation of Germany. He volunteered to serve in Korea during the Korean War but was again stationed in Germany.

“He came home to be a farmer after his military service and he got a law degree at the University of Baltimore, but he never took the bar examination,” his son said.

In 1950, he married Nancy Webster Cassilly at Saint Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church in Abingdon.

Mr. Cassilly became a manager at the Aberdeen Proving Ground during the 1950s.

“He was smart, analytic and intense. If he was talking to you, you had his undivided attention. He was direct and to the point. He stood out,” said Todd Holden, a Harford County photojournalist. “He was an honest individual.”

Mr. Cassilly remained active in the Maryland Army National Guard. During the Martin Luther King riots of April 1968, he was deployed to the Mondawmin Shopping Center in Baltimore.

“My mother loaded up her Volkswagen bus with some of her children and drove into Baltimore and brought him a change of clothing,” her son said.

During the Vietnam War, Mr. Cassilly became a Department of Defense adviser in Vietnam. He occasionally met up with his son, Joseph Cassilly, who was also in the military and was later the Harford County state’s attorney.

Mr. Cassilly often helped his sons, Robert, Joseph and Andrew, in their political campaigns. Andrew Cassilly is now an adviser to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

“He never fancied himself a political person, but he was willing to put up signs and he’d offer his opinions,” said his son, Robert Cassilly, the state senator.

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Mr. Cassilly left the Army National Guard as a sergeant major in the 20th Special Forces and retired in the late 1980s from the New Cumberland Army Depot in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Cassilly enjoyed trips to New York City to visit his brother, Richard Cassilly, a well-known and highly praised tenor who had an international career.

“My parents would drive up to the Metropolitan Opera, and when your brother is a star, you get some pretty nice seats,” said his son. “They stayed at his brother’s apartment. For so many years, my father listened to his brother on the radio on the Saturday afternoon broadcasts. He must have been proud of his brother because he played it loud.”

His son also said: “My father really didn’t have any hobbies besides being a husband and a father. He’d maybe have a beer and fall asleep. He was a Fourth Degree member of the Knights of Columbus and was active with the Aberdeen Military Museum Foundation and the Harford County Historical Society.”

Said Richard Sherrill, past president and archives chair at the Historical Society of Harford County: “Bob was diligent in the work he did. He was precise as you can be working with historic data. He kept very good records and was an all-round nice gentleman.”

He was a member of Saint Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in Hickory, where a funeral was held Tuesday.

In addition to his wife of nearly 71 years and son, survivors include two other sons, Joseph Cassilly and Andrew Cassilly; seven daughters, Jane Knapp, Mary Cassilly, Ann Lyons, Lucy Godfrey, Veronica Cassilly and Ruth Cassilly, all of Harford County, and Martha Parkman of Wayne, Pennsylvania; a sister, Frances Cassilly Adams of St. Louis; a brother, Peter Cassilly of Bel Air; 31 grandchildren; and 21 great-grandchildren. A daughter, Becky Cassilly Borland, died in 2006. A son, Michael Cassilly, died at birth.

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