June 20th, 2006
GI always tried to stay cheerful
LANDON R. CASILLAS | 1980 - 2006
By LEILA FADEL
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
As a baby, Army 1st Lt. Landon R. Casillas never needed to be coaxed to smile. His father didn't coo or do tricks to elicit an ear-to-ear grin. From his first moments, it was always there.
Lt. Casillas, of Euless, was killed June 9 after a precautionary helicopter landing at Outlaw Field in Clarksville, Tenn., according to the public affairs office in Fort Campbell, Ky. The aeromedical evacuation officer assigned to the 50th Medical Company was 26.
Military officials said they are still investigating the cause of Lt. Casillas' death.
That Friday, Richard Casillas said, he didn't get the nightly call from his good-natured son. The conversations would always end with, "I love you, Dad" and "I love you, son."
Instead, that night Richard Casillas and his wife, MayLing, boarded a plane to Fort Campbell, where his son had been stationed less than a year.
On the plane, Richard Casillas said, people around him chatted, drank their complimentary soft drinks and read magazines.
"The hardest thing about when your son is killed is having to get on the plane," he said. "No one around you knows what just happened, what you're going through."
Landon Casillas was born in 1980 in Honolulu to his Hawaiian mother and Texan father. As a child, he moved around until his dad retired from the military and the family moved from Germany to Bedford in 1996 and to Euless in 1999.
At first, adjusting to a new place was daunting for the teenager, his family said. Lt. Casillas tried out for the football team at L.D. Bell High School; he'd been a linebacker at his school in Germany.
Richard Casillas recounted how his son had come home from school one day crestfallen.
"Dad, they put me on the JV [junior varsity] team," he said.
Richard Casillas said he followed his son into his room and told him that he'd just have to go out the next day and do his best.
Then he saw that smile.
"You know, Dad," Richard Casillas, 47, recalled his son saying, "you're right. I know I can play. They just have to know I can play."
The next week he was on varsity.
"He never let himself get down," Richard Casillas said. "And never let anyone around him get down."
Lt. Casillas was muscular and seemingly stood taller than his 5-foot-10-inch frame, his father said. At first glance, Lt. Casillas' appearance was intimidating, but he had a kind and gentle demeanor, his father said.
He was known for treating lower-ranked soldiers as equals, his father said.
Lt. Casillas joined the military in 2004 after graduating from Texas Christian University, where he was in the ROTC.
He had a wife of one year, Jessica, and a 6-month-old daughter, Arle.
Jessica Casillas, 22, said she always loved her husband's goofy side.
Often he'd dance with his daughter around the room singing pop songs modified for the baby. His favorite was "I'm too sexy for my diaper," Jessica Casillas said.
Jessica Casillas said that at one time she was jealous that their daughter looks more like her husband than like her but that now she is thankful that Arle has his dark features.
"My husband was handsome," she said. "My daughter is beautiful."
At a memorial service for Lt. Casillas in Fort Campbell, Richard Casillas said, Arle grabbed at a photo of her father as her mother held her.
"Landon does not have any unfinished business here," he said. "His family knew he loved them."
Visitation is from 7 to 9 p.m. today at Greenwood Funeral Home, 3100 White Settlement Road in Fort Worth.
The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Robert Carr Chapel at TCU.
Other survivors include his sister, Shannon Casillas, 19, of Euless.
Landon R. Casillas: Euless soldier killed getting off helicopter
09:50 AM CDT on Wednesday, June 14, 2006
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – An Army soldier from Euless was killed while exiting a helicopter after an emergency landing last week in Tennessee.
The soldier was identified Tuesday as 1st Lt. Landon R. Casillas, 26. He was an aero-medical evacuation officer assigned to the 50th Medical Company, 159th Aviation Brigade.
Lt. Casillas died Friday after a UH60 Blackhawk helicopter made a precautionary landing at an airport in Clarksville, Tenn., near Fort Campbell. A warning light in the helicopter had come on just before the landing. The other four soldiers on board were treated at the base hospital.
Local fire-rescue workers told the Leaf-Chronicle newspaper in Clarksville that the soldier was struck by the main rotor blades of the helicopter.
Fort Campbell spokeswoman Cathy Gramling said the cause of death had not been released and the incident is under investigation.
Lt. Casillas joined the Army in July 2004 and arrived at Fort Campbell in October 2005. He is survived by his wife, Jessica, and daughter, Arle, both of Fort Campbell; and his parents, Richard and May Casillas of Euless.