Arne A. Rasien and Robert Shaffer of Hubbardston killed in action in World War II

HUBBARDSTON — As difficult as military deaths of young soldiers are; some stories are even more heartbreaking than others.

In the case of Private Arne Rasinen, he was an only child, twice wounded in action before returning to action, only to die of his wounds in France.

Private Robert Shaffer was another sad story in a family beset by tragedy. When he was only 15, his mother, Gertrude, died of a short illness, and before his own death on Iwo Jima, he also lost a younger sister.

His father, William “Jake” Shaffer, was well known around town as a reserve police officer, but he was also beloved by many schoolchildren as an affable caretaker for many years at Hubbardston Center School.

Many of the children who met the cheerful, smiling “Jake” probably never experienced the sadness he experienced earlier in his life.

This is the sequel to the Remembering Local World War II Heroes series.

Pfc. Arne A. Rasinen (1915-1944)

Arne Arthur Rasinen was born on December 15, 1915, the only child of Elijas and Lydia M. (Hellman) and lived on a farm on Petersham Road in Hubbardston. His parents were both born in Finland and his father was a member of the Hubbardston cooperative.

Pfc. Rasinen had been employed by the Farmers’ Cooperative Trading Association when he entered the military on January 16, 1942. He received his training at Camp Croft, South Carolina, then went overseas to serve in the campaigns Sicilian and Italian before going to France. .

He was wounded in Sicily on July 14, 1943. Then, while in Italy, he was wounded twice more, receiving the Purple Heart and cluster and the insignia of Combat Infantryman.

Tragically, he was killed in action in France on October 8, 1944 at the age of 28 and was buried in Long Island National Cemetery in East Farmingdale, New York.

Pfc. Robert Whitney Shaffer (1921-1945)

Robert Whitney Shaffer was born November 4, 1921 to William Jacob “Jake” and Gertrude A. (Whitney) Shaffer and lived on Elm Street. He had two older sisters, Ruth and Margaret, an older brother Albert and a younger sister Helen.

When he was 4 years old, his sister Dorothy died aged one and a half in 1926 following a brief contract with bronchitis. Then, while attending Athol High School, his mother died of an illness in December 1936.

Pfc.  Robert W. Shaffer, of Hubbardston

After graduation, he was employed by the Charles G. Allen Co. in Barre before enlisting on July 17, 1942, Hubbardston’s first man to join the Marine Corps during World War II.

He received his start-up training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and was later stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and Camp Joseph Pendleton, California.

In June 1943, he was accepted for parachute training and completed a rigorous course of instruction at the Parachute Training School at the Marine Training Center in New River, North Carolina.

It was noted at the time that candidates were not eligible for parachute school until they had completed all phases of recruit training and had to pass the same physical examination given to men before the flight of Marine. He also had to complete at least six jumps from an airplane before being considered for the Paramarines.

He was sent overseas in August 1944 with the 27th Marines, Fifth Division.

While serving on Iwo Jima, 23-year-old Private Shaffer was reportedly killed in action on February 21, 1945. A Navy Department telegram received by his father confirmed his son’s death.

Two days earlier, the United States had invaded Iwo Jima as part of its island-hopping strategy to defeat Japan. While this island was not initially a target, the rapid fall of the Philippines left the Americans with a longer than expected lull before the planned invasion of Okinawa.

Iwo Jima is located midway between Japan and the Mariana Islands, where American long-range bombers were based, and was used by the Japanese as an early warning station, radioing warnings of incoming American bombers towards the Japanese homeland.

Pfc's grave.  Robert Shaffer notes that he was killed at Iwo Jima.

The ensuing Battle of Iwo Jima is said to have lasted five weeks. In some of the bloodiest fighting of World War II, all but 200 of the 21,000 Japanese forces on the island are believed to have been killed, as were nearly 7,000 Marines.

In the iconic photo of raising the flag on Iwo Jima, six US Marines were depicted raising the US flag atop Mount Suribachi during battle in the final stages of the Pacific War. It was later learned that three of the six soldiers pictured would die later in the war.

The photograph, taken by Joe Rosenthal of The Associated Press on February 23, 1945, was first published in Sunday newspapers two days later and reprinted in thousands of publications. It was the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication.

Besides his father, Pfc. Shaffer also left a brother Pvt. Albert Shaffer, who was with the 8th Armored Division in Germany, and three sisters: Mrs. Aldea Johnson and Mrs. Ruth Doane of Hubbardston, and Mrs. Helen Chioda of Worcester.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal depicts six US Marines raising the US flag on Mount Suribachi in Iwo Jima.  It was taken on Friday, February 23, 1945, two days after the death of Hubbardston native Robert Shaffer.  Strategically located just 660 miles from Tokyo, the Pacific island became the site of one of WWII's bloodiest and most famous battles against Japan.  photo AP

Pfc. Shaffer was a lifelong friend of Sgt. Elmer Mannisto, also 23, of Hubbardston, died in action in Germany less than a month later on March 17 and was pictured in an earlier profile in this series.

Shaffer was buried in Glen Rural Cemetery, Hubbardston, alongside his mother, with a designation on his headstone indicating that he was killed on Iwo Jima.

Another local soldier claimed on Iwo Jima was Templeton-born Lloyd J. Mitchell, who grew up in Petersham where he spent most of his life. US Marine Corps Corporal Mitchell was killed on March 20, 1945 at the age of 23.

Comments and suggestions for Remembering Local World War 2 Heroes can be sent to Mike Richard at [email protected] or in writing Mike Richard, 92 Boardley Rd. Sandwich, MA 02563.

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