She heard his voice first – then his laugh. A group of young men were chatting at a downtown drug store, but Jackie Cassis was intrigued by one particular voice.
Her errand forgotten, she followed the sound of that laughter. “I went over to where I could see them, but they couldn’t see me,” she recalled. “They were having such a good time!”
She discovered the origin of the laugh that had captivated her. “Once I saw Tom I didn’t pay attention to the other two guys. I said, ‘He’s not tall. He’s not dark. But he’s just what I want.’ ”
It was 1946, and for Jackie, a sophomore at North Central High School, one look was all it took.
Though Tom Cassis attended Rogers High School, they both frequented the Hi Nite Club – an after-school hangout sponsored by the Odd Fellows Club. A mutual friend introduced them, but Tom already had a girlfriend. He does recall meeting Jackie, though. “She was really pretty,” he said.
Jackie sang soprano in the North Central choir and was part of Glee Club. Tom attended a performance and sat in the front row. “She sang ‘Now is the Hour,’ ” he said. “She’s got a beautiful soprano voice.” Then he chuckled, adding, “If you like that kind of thing!”
And he did like it – and her. They had a few dates but nothing serious, and by the time they graduated from high school, Jackie had another beau.
Tom had joined the Marine Reserves as a high school senior. He’d just finished prelaw classes at Gonzaga University when the Korean War began and he was called to active duty. “I left Spokane Aug. 7, 1950.”
Meanwhile, Jackie had taken a job as secretary to the purchasing agent at Kaiser Aluminum. When Tom left, she promised to write to him.
Her letters offered hope and comfort during Tom’s horrendous ordeal. He said, “We landed at Inchon on Sept. 21. I was a machine gunner ammo carrier for five months. I packed around 40 pounds of ammo in my arms.”
There was no time for them to acclimate to the country. “We were in combat almost daily.”
Five days after landing in Korea, Tom took part in the fierce fighting for the liberation of Seoul.
He will never forget it. “It was the most devastating day of my life – the most frightening day of my life.”
Tom saw several friends die that day. During the course of the war he was hit by three bullets, but he said, “I don’t have a scar on me. I was a lucky kid.”
As the months dragged on, he found his fiercest enemy to be the unrelenting cold. He said, “Eventually, I became more afraid of freezing to death than being shot.”
Jackie kept writing, but when spring arrived with no letters from Tom, she called his mother. His mother said, “I haven’t gotten a letter either, but his girlfriend has.”
Chilling words for the woman who hoped their budding romance would rekindle upon Tom’s return.
When it was finally time for him to come home he told no one, hoping to make his arrival a surprise. Instead, he was the one surprised. Arriving at his front door, he discovered no one was home.
“My mother rarely went shopping, but she went shopping that day,” he said, shaking his head. He decided to pay a visit to the downtown tavern his dad owned. When his dad saw him walk in, he came across the bar and grabbed him, knocking Tom’s hat off. “Surprised?” Tom said. “He damn near had a heart attack!”
Jackie happened to call the house that day, and she too received a surprise when Tom answered the phone.
Just as she’d hope, the couple picked up where they’d left off, Tom’s other pen pal forgotten. But this time things grew serious. “Well, it was serious to me!” said Jackie, laughing.
And it was to Tom as well. “A couple of weeks later I went and bought a ring,” he said.
The couple married at Knox Presbyterian on April 6, 1952. He started law school at GU, graduating in 1956. Like many GIs he worked full time during the day and went to school at night.
In May 1953, Jackie gave birth to their daughter, Denise. A son, Tom, followed in 1958.
After her son’s birth, Jackie left her job at Kaiser to keep up with their two busy children.
When next she returned to work, it was for her husband. Tom practiced law in Spokane for almost 50 years, and for many of those years, Jackie was his secretary.
Their retirement years have been filled with golfing and travel. They truly enjoy being together – not that it’s always been smooth sailing on the marital seas.
“We’ve had our share of fights,” Tom said. “She’s a good scrapper. She can hold her own.” As for Jackie, she glanced across the room at her husband of 61 years and said, “I never got over that first sight of him.”