Robert L. Castro
I was born in Miami, Arizona, and grew up in the mining town of Ray, Arizona. Part of my chores around the house were to take a burro into the hills and chop firewood for the cooking stove and for heating up laundry water. Later, I caddied at the golf course in Miami and met Barry Goldwater there. He used to play with some of the mining executives.
For recreation, we would go swimming in the Gila River or go on a moonlight requisition to the Anglo fruit orchards, where we would liberate oranges, apples, pomegranates, apricots and peaches.
My father was born in Santa Rosalia, Baja California. He came to Arizona to work as an underground miner. I guess that's what took him so early. He was only fifty years old when he died in 1955.
I attended the schools there in Ray through three years of high school. Later, I got my G.E.D. certificate while in the service.
I enlisted in the Marine Corps and completed my boot training in San Diego in June of 1946. I was then assigned to Miramar Naval Air Station in August as a heavy-truck transport driver. I was released from duty in 1947.
Shortly after that, I joined "Easy" Company Reserves in Tucson, where I trained as an 0331, machine gunner. When the unit was activated, I went through rigid combat training prior to making the landing at Wonsan in November of 1950. I had been assigned to "A" Company, 1st Motor Transport Battalion, 1st Marines. I was officially a truck driver. I participated in the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.
After the Wonsan Landing, I went up to Hamhung then Hungnam, then to a railhead from where we operated. I was in "A" Company under Colonel Beale. This was the same outfit Vicente Suarez and Ray Salcido were in. It was the same battalion Tommy Price was in, too. From time to time, I used to see Henry Valdenegro, Bobby Fisher, Gasper Eldridge, and "Blackie" Carrillo. That "Blackie"-it seemed that every time he stood up, he'd catch a round. He had so many Purple Hearts that after a while he refused to accept them.
On December six or seven, we were headed back up to the reservoir, where we were ambushed. We lost half the company. These were Chinese regulars that hit us. We were also involved in moving the 5th Marines on the right side of the reservoir to the left, because the Army was taking over their positions. Very few Army personnel got out of there.
I was with the trucks that evacuated Hagaru-ri on the march to the sea. We were under constant fire all the way until we passed the railhead at the bottom of the pass near Hungnam. I think what really saved us was the Navy and Marine pilots that kept strafing and napalming the hills on either side of the road. I was loaded down with dead and wounded. The rest had to walk.
We regrouped at Hungnam, put our gear in order and three days later, loaded it all on board ship and sailed for Pusan. From Pusan, we went to Masan. We got some replacements there and returned some of the army vehicles we had brought out. We spent New Year's in Masan. Then, we moved on to Pohang. When we left Pohang, we drove all day until we got to Wonju. We received small-arms fire there. After about five hours, we moved on to Hongchon, then to Chunchon. When we were headed for Hongchon, we ran into about thirty to forty trucks that were on fire and a bunch of bodies laying around. An army convoy had been ambushed. At Hongchon, there had been a Chinese breakthrough. They had found a weak spot in the R.O.K. lines. So we wound up back in Wonju. We recovered the lost ground and were sitting on the Imjin River when I was sent back in July of 1951.
I was in Korea about the time that more Tucson Marines came in as replacements. We seemed to have pretty good grapevine communications. Whenever we were in a rest area, we'd always locate each other. I remember Tom Price got some pinto beans and Mexican chorizo from home and he cooked a big pot of chili beans. Boy, did they taste good!
I made home port at San Diego and was there about three weeks before I was released from active duty. So I came back to Tucson and joined the Reserves again. In 1953, I again joined the regulars and made the Marine Corps my career.
My first assignment in the regulars was as a heavy-vehicle operator in El Toro Marine Base. Then, on to Mojave, Arizona Marine Corps Station, 1953-1956.
Next came Camp Pendleton with the 9th Motor Transport Battalion. In 1959, I left San Diego for Okinawa for about a year before returning to Pendleton, where the 9th homed, until 1964.
I next joined VMO-2 Helicopter Unit in Camp Pendleton. In 1965, we left Pendleton for Okinawa, where we waited for the choppers to catch up by ship. We arrived as a unit in Da-Nang, Vietnam in April of 1965. We had the distinction of being the first gun ships to arrive in Vietnam. Our first casualty was a major who was nearly decapitated by a .50-calibre round from one of our captured machine guns. The V.C. used the gun very effectively against our helicopters by attaching a piece of bamboo to the rear sight crosswise, then sighting from the end of the bamboo, allowing them to "lead" the traveling craft. It was crude, but ingenious.
After surviving my tour of duty, I was sent to El Toro for about a year. Then to Marine Barracks, Pearl Harbor, assigned to the lower rifle range.
With 1969, came my second tour of duty in Vietnam, attached to the Forward Logistics Support Group. We ran convoys between Da-Nang and Shu-Lai, and on the opposite end, headed north on the Hai Phong Pass, past Waye City, hauling ammo to our troops.
On completion of my second tour, I was assigned to Marine Barracks, H and I, Washington, D.C. There I participated in Friday-night parades, a course writer for M.T. (Mortor Transport) Operations and Maintenance. Quantico came next. I did three years there. Then I was sent to Twakuni, Japan.
In 1975, I was back in Washington, D.C. This time to attend the State Department School in preparation for embassy duty in Rome, Italy, an envious but stressful assignment. We were constantly being briefed and trained to handle any situation that might arise from a terrorist attack. The training was very thorough. The Red Brigade tried to attack one of our consulate's offices one time, but after blowing up the wood door, they found a steel door behind it, so damage was minimal. I'm not at liberty to say what weapons we had at our disposal, but let me tell you, any attacker would have been seriously hurt. I was there from 1976 to 1979.
I was back stateside at Marine Corps Air Station, Yuma, Arizona, where I finally ended my service career in July of 1983.
My wife, who had stuck by me through all these separations and inconveniences, and raising our five boys, voiced her desire to live in Tucson so that she could finish her education at the U of A. I figured I owed her this.
My sons, who had been exposed to all this regimentation, wanted no part of the Marine Corps. They all had a good education, married and went their. In 1981, we lost our youngest son to cancer. I took the good and the bad out of life and the Marine Corps. I don't feel the Corps owes me a thing. On the contrary, I owe the Marine Corps.