View from Glen Hill: Serving with honor

Wilton resident Peter Kaskell was honored on July 1 in New York City with appointment to the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest award, by the President of the French Republic. Peter received this award for his service in World War II with the U.S. Army Group that included the French First Army, fighting through France and into southern Germany; his service earlier in the war was in Italy. His recognition for this honor has been facilitated by Jean-Pierre Lavielle, who has done such extraordinary work in gaining recognition for those giving exemplary service on French soil during World War II.

Peter’s German passport from the 1930s shows — surrounding his bespectacled and earnest young face — the eagle and swastika symbols of the Third Reich. Fortunately, thanks to the farsightedness of his parents, Peter got out of Nazi Germany as a young teen and went to a Quaker school in England, then to the States and Columbia University, which he left in his junior year to enlist in the Army. (His college diploma arrived in the mail in 1944 while he was serving in Italy with credit given by Columbia for his Army service, all of it in the Intelligence Branch.)

In Italy, Peter’s 36th Division was pulled from the intense siege of Monte Cassino to the Anzio beachhead where the carnage was enormous and reached everywhere as the Germans pounded every part of that beachhead from their commanding heights. Peter’s intelligence work there included information on the German lines he obtained from a German messenger captured by a forward patrol. His interrogation of that messenger was adroit in terms both of getting that specific information and of inducing the messenger to relax enough to talk generally as well as specifically, thereby enabling Peter to assess both his credibility and the extent of his actual knowledge. This kind of intelligence work is something that former prisoner-of-war Senator John McCain has long encouraged — as opposed to waterboarding and other extreme measures — not only for humanitarian and Geneva Convention reasons but also because, done right, it yields the most useful and reliable information.

Peter analyzed that resulting information very carefully, including from an order-of-battle standpoint. That standpoint considers, among other things, information on enemy units known to be in an area and draws conclusions from that as to the identity of larger units. The result of all of this information and analysis pointed credibly, in Peter’s assessment, to a gap in the German lines along an overgrown logging road leading up the steep Monte Artemisio. Passed with his convincing explanations up the chain of command and reinforced by observation plane flights in the area by the 36th’s commanding general, the information led to breakout from the Anzio beachhead through that gap between the crack German 1st Parachute Corps & 76th Panzer Corps.

Among the honors that were bestowed upon Peter by our own country for his wartime service is the Bronze Star, the citation for which states that as a skillful interrogator of Germans and an accomplished order-of-battle expert, Peter “employed his natural ability and acquired technical knowledge of the German Army to produce intelligence of superior quality…for the successful conduct of operations in the field.”

Happy at war’s end to have survived so much devastation, Peter returned to Columbia University for his law degree followed by a very distinguished career in the law including his vice presidency and general counselship of Olin Corp. where he spent 27 years. He early on recognized the importance of alternative dispute resolution, and especially mediation, as a very effective means for resolving conflict and worked to interest his colleagues among other general counsel of major corporations in this then-nascent field. His efforts to be a peacemaker after seeing so much of war and destruction led him to carry forward this visionary work in alternative dispute resolution for two decades after his retirement from Olin. He did so with the pioneering Center for Public Resources which strongly advocated use of mediation as a tremendously effective tool for dispute resolution.

Peter’s work for the good has continued in Wilton as an active member of Wi-ACT’s steering committee and a strong supporter of its work. He has also supported many other local and regional charities and, in work at the national and international level, served for 17 years on CARE’s board of directors.

Appointment as a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur is an extraordinary award and an occasion for joyous celebration of Peter and his many accomplishments!