Serving the U.S., Middleton Recalls Time Serving in Army Casson Unit
“I know the tune and words to nearly every Christian military song there is,” says Joe Middleton, United States Army veteran and Wyoming cowboy.
Even at 77, the memories are still vivid to him.
“I heard “Onward Christian Soldier” and other songs similar to it at the many military funerals I served at during my time in the United States Army. I served from 1959-62,” Middleton continues. “I finished my term in the U.S. Army only a few weeks before President Kennedy was assassinated. I served in the Honor Guard Company, First Battle Group and Third Infantry at Fort Myer, Va. I, and the other members of the Casson Section, served at nearly every funeral conducted for members of the U.S. Military or government official who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery during that time.”
Middleton was drafted into the U.S. Army on Dec. 1, 1959, two years after his graduation from Converse County High School. He completed basic training at Fort Hood, Texas. Soon after basic training was completed, he was stationed at Fort Myer, Va.
Middleton recalls that he was transferred, “because I was the right size and I had a clean record, which gave me a security clearance. Being so near Washington, D.C. and the President, they required that.”
The first few months, Middleton struggled to find the place in his company where he could make a meaningful contribution. Every day they practiced marching for parades. He had a difficult time remembering all the different marches and was put on the “gig” list every day.
The gig list was for those making mistakes with the marching drills, and after evening chow, they made soldiers go back and practice more marching drills.
After being put on the list enough times, they sent soldiers to see company commander.
After Middleton’s first trip to the Commander’s office, nothing changed. The Commander told to him that there was no way he was being transferred into a different company. However, the second time Joe wound up in the Commander’s office, things finally changed for the better.
The Commander said to Middleton, “I know you have been having problems where we have you now, so I have been looking through your file. I see that you’re from Wyoming. Can you ride a horse?”
Middleton, having been raised on a remote homestead ranch outside of Douglas, had been riding and breaking horses for the better part of his life.
Enthusiastically he replied, “Yes, Sir!”
The Commander answered, “Well, son, we have finally found a place for you. You will still remain in the First Battle Group and Third Infantry, but we can use you in the Casson Section.”
A casson is a horse drawn unit that was originally used in battle to quickly maneuver the artillery and cannons to the best positions. Another name for a casson was “flying artillery,” and it was first used during the Mexican-American War, creating a devastating effect on the Mexican Army.
Remembering the fallen
By the 1960s, the casson was no longer actively used to in battle but was instead used assist at military funerals. It would be pulled by either a white team or a black team, depending on the preference of the family. The horses were light drafts.
Joe recalls serving at as many as four funerals in one day. When serving at the funerals, the horses and men had to be perfectly clean and proper. A big part of his job was to get the horses that he was responsible for bathed and polished beforehand.
After Joe had been in the Casson Section for a while, his job eventually became leading the back horse that completed the procession. The horse’s name was Black Jack, in honor of General Black Jack Pershing.
The black horse was saddled, with boots in the stirrups facing backwards, and the rank of the officer was on the saddle blanket.
Joe was honorably discharged only a short time before President Kennedy was assassinated. If he had still been serving at the time, he would have led the black horse during Kennedy’s funeral.
Honor of service
“I considered serving my country an honor,” says Middleton. “I also found it interesting that even during my time in the U.S. Army, I still wound up working with horses.”
“I guess working around animals was always what I was meant to do, even that far away from home and the ranch,” recalls Middleton.
Joe is still actively involved in rodeo and agriculture.
He is still involved in rodeo stock contracting, and he also helps produce bronc riding events with the Rocky Mountain Bronc Riders Association throughout Wyoming and Colorado.
Heidi Suttee is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.