Meet author Nancy Fassbender

Meet author Nancy Fassbender
November 4, 2017 @ 8:00 am – 2:00 pm
Mesa Market Place Swap Meet
10550 E Baseline Rd
Mesa, AZ 85209
Joan Wells

Nancy Fassbender shows the cover of her book, ‘My Fallen Hero.’ which tells the stories of Pinal County veterans who died in combat. On the table is the notebook in which she first kept the stories.

Author Nancy Fassbender will be in the Mesa Market Place Food Court on Saturday, November 4, from 8am to 1pm. She would love to meet local veterans, and will be signing her book, ‘My Fallen Hero.’ Please plan on stopping by to meet her. 

Here is an article written about Nancy Fassbender:

Author Nancy Fassbender honors Pinal veterans killed in combat
(This article was written by Bill Coates at Published in ‘Pinal Central’

GOLD CANYON — Nancy Fassbender placed a three-ring binder on her kitchen table. Between the covers were some 70 stories about sacrifice.

All are different. But all have two elements. The people behind the stories have a connection to Pinal County. And all died in combat.

Fassbender, 63, spent three years researching and writing their stories.

“I’d get up every morning to do this,” she said. “Three o’clock was really not uncommon, because it’s quiet. Nothing but solitude.”

These are, after all, stories calling for quiet reflection. Stories about men — they are all men — who died for their country. You can debate if they died in a Good War. Or an unpopular war. But all died on our behalf.

Quiet reflection, though, doesn’t call for a funeral march. The stories in Fassbender’s binder aren’t meant to be read with “Taps” playing in the background. They’re one- and two-page biographies filled with courage, chance or even a bit of humor. The story of Mathew Juan has all three.

He was born in Sacaton. Still a teen, he left his home to join the circus. Soon after, the Great War had erupted in Europe. Now it’s known as World War I. By 1917, America had been drawn into it.

Young men were being drafted. But Juan had an out. He was a member of the Gila River Indian Community. And, at the time, Indians were exempt from the draft.

The rule didn’t always work in practice.

“Walking down the street in Wichita Falls, Texas, he was arrested for not having a draft registration card,” Fassbender said.

He didn’t fight it. He joined the Army instead. He lied about his age and changed his name to Mathew Bennett Rivers. He sent a postcard to his parents. He shipped out on the Tuscania, bound for France. It was sunk by a German U-boat.

More than 200 American soldiers were killed. Juan survived. He ended up in the first American attack on German territory. Machine-gun fire ended his life as he charged a stronghold.

He was awarded the Silver Star.

Judging by its cover, the binder could be mistaken for a dry report. It’s not. It’s a work of care and compassion.

“I gave my heart and soul to this,” Fassbender said.

That’s probably something she hadn’t anticipated. She started out compiling names and stories as part of a simple research project for the Pinal County Veterans Memorial Foundation.

The foundation was set up to raise money for a memorial to fallen veterans from Pinal County. It has some $95,000 in the bank. Another $5,000 and it can break ground. The city of Casa Grande has already donated the land, a parcel at Ed Hooper Rodeo Park.

Fassbender got involved in 2010. She was living at Sunscape RV Resort in Eleven Mile Corner. A retired accountant, she had moved there from Nebraska. She had a personal connection to veterans. She served in the 1970s as a helicopter mechanic in the Nebraska Army National Guard.

At Sunscape, she delved into her family tree. Her research led to a book and CDs. It was thorough and engaging. And it came to the attention of the Sunscape manager.

He told her about the memorial foundation. He said they needed somebody to research the county’s fallen veterans. She was glad to do it. She started out with a bare list of names. Some misspelled. Many omitted.

Fassbender took to the internet. The library. Old newspaper clippings. She spoke to relatives and friends of the fallen if she could locate them.

Her research led to William Wesley Patterson. Patterson was killed by a sniper in Vietnam. It was 1967. He was an 18-year-old Marine.

He never knew his son, conceived before he shipped out. The son was adopted. He became a Marine himself. His adoptive father was a Marine. Fassbender’s research had completed the circle.

Over time, Fassbender shared some of her stories with me as well — stories that led to columns.

I wrote about Billy Swearengin, a navigator in World War II. Swearengin was killed when his plane went down over Germany, just weeks before the war’s end.

Fassbender put me in touch with Billy’s brother Max. He told me about Billy and their time together. Max died in November, months after I spoke to him.

I wrote about John Michael Turner, thanks to Fassbender. He was killed in Vietnam. I spoke to Turner’s father, a retired Army colonel. Fassbender made it all possible.

But that’s just the tip. The rest of the iceberg lies in Fassbender’s binder. Flip to any page and you’ll find a story worth your time.

Sgt. Katsumi Leonard Takasugi fought in World War II.

Before heading off to combat, he visited his family. Like many Japanese-Americans, they had been relocated to an internment camp. The Gila River reservation in their case. Takasugi noted the irony. He wore the same uniform as the soldiers guarding his parents.

Though from California, Takasugi enlisted in Pinal County. That met one requirement for inclusion in Fassbender’s binder. He met the other fighting in Italy, where he was killed.

He’s among 20 WWII heroes in the narrative. Other wars had their own fallen heroes. WWI, four; Korea, five; Vietnam, 35; Iraq and Desert Storm, three.

Their names will be etched on the memorial’s wall. So will many others whose stories Fassbender didn’t tell. It wasn’t for want of trying.

“I researched over 250 names,” she said.

She simply couldn’t find information on many of them. The further back, the harder it was. For WWII, the wall has many more names than stories — 109 in all. For Vietnam, it will have 37. Fassbender was able to write about all but two.

Added up, the stories would fill a book. And, in fact, a book is in the works.

“My Fallen Hero” by Nancy Fassbender will be out in February. Other war stories — beyond those of the fallen — will share the pages. Fassbender writes about the Great Escape from a German POW camp. Dogs and pigeons in war. And the Monopoly game’s role in combat.

Proceeds from the book’s sale will benefit the veterans memorial. 

Fassbender will be at the Mesa Market Place to sign copies.

For more information, query the memorial foundation at or visit its website at

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