Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

Manuel Castillo

1922 - 2016

9th Infantry Division Shoulder Patch 60th Infantry Regiment Crest

 

MANUEL CASTILLO

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 (ARMY, WWII, Europe) Article July 2004

 

Manuel Castillo was born in South Austin in 1922 and, except for his WWII service in the Army, has lived there for his entire lifetime.  Manuel’s father was a painter, but the times were hard.  There was seldom enough money from that work, so most years the Castillo’s would go down to Corpus Christi in late Summer where the whole family could make money picking cotton.  When that was gone they would then go out to West Texas and continue to pick until the season’s cotton crop was finished in the late Fall.  In most years, by the time the Castillo’s returned to Austin, it was too late in the school term for Manuel to enroll for that year’s classes.  It took him 3 years to complete third grade, and after fifth grade he left school for good.  Manuel started out helping is father on painting jobs, but then worked many other jobs, all in the construction trades. 

As WWII approached, Manuel was a laborer helping to build Camp Swift.  From there he moved to a truck driver position on the project of constructing buildings at the new Camp Hood (present day Fort Hood).  One day in 1942, he broke his foot while changing a truck tire, and had to go home to Austin with his leg in a cast.  Art Wilke, owner of Wilke Funeral Home, hired him as his maintenance man even though he had to hobble around with the cast.  When the cast came off in October, was about the time that he got his Draft Notice.  Manual says that he was looking forward to serving and he was ready to go. 

Manuel Castillo was inducted into the Army at Camp Wolters, Texas, Nov 20, 1942, went through Basic Training and then was sent to Camp Van Dorn, near Biloxi, Mississippi, for advanced Infantry training.  He was assigned to the 5th Infantry Regiment, and became a 37mm Anti-Tank gunner in Lt Clark’s platoon of Headquarters Company.  Manuel won the regimental gunnery competition by shooting 350 out of a possible 400 points.  The 5th Infantry was moved to Camp Carson, Colorado in 1943 and, together with newly arriving units, were formed into the 71st Infantry Division.  The 71st Division started training for deployment to the Pacific and in early 1944 they were moved to Hunter-Ligget, California for division maneuvers.  Manuel spent a short Easter leave in San Diego, then immediately after he returned to duty the division was all assembled and a levy of troops was announced.  A large number of replacement troops were to be readied as “fillers” to replace the anticipated losses of the upcoming D-Day invasion of Europe.  The names of about half the men were called out and Manuel Castillo was among them. 

The levy of troops moved by train from California to Fort Meade, Maryland.  After one month there they proceeded to Fort Kilmer, New Jersey and in May 1944, shipped to England on the former luxury liner, Queen Elizabeth, then configured as a troopship that packed in an enormous number of troops.  They arrived in Wales about two weeks before D-Day and moved on into England.  Manuel was with a group designated for the 9th Infantry Division that was shipped over to Normandy about two weeks after the initial June 6th landing.  Manuel says, “We were on an overloaded landing barge heading in to OMAHA BEACH and it got stuck about 4-blocks distance from the beach.  We were loaded down with full field packs, it was standing room only with not enough space for anyone to even squat down to rest. It was hard to endure because we were stuck out there for over five hours before Engineers could rig up a ramp to get us off all that distance out from the shore.” 

Manuel’s group moved out from the beachhead area, reached their assigned destination and reported in to the Commander of Company C, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division.  The captain had been standing among a small group of a dozen soldiers when they approached and Manuel says, “One of our men asked him where the rest of the company was and the captain told us, this is the company, we were nearly wiped out, what you see here is all that is left.” 

Manuel Castillo was in combat with Company C for the next four months as the 9th Infantry Division fought from Northern France into Belgium and then into Germany.  The division had moved into Belgium faster than those on either flank, so they had to hold up for an extended period of time.  The 60th Infantry was in a heavily forested area and Manuel was a company Scout that was out front with a 4-man listening post almost every night.  One day in Belgium, Manuel heard a “putt-putt-putt” sound, and looked up as a German V-1 Rocket flew overhead and detonated not far from his unit.  He had not known such a thing existed before. In a later action, Manuel recalls, “One time we made an attack, got into a battle with some Germans, killed them all, and occupied their position.  During the night the rest of our Company moved back and we didn’t know it.  Next morning we looked out and saw Germans where the rest of Company C ought to have been.  There were these three Germans putting a machine gun into position pointing directly at us.  Our BAR man just froze up and couldn’t move.  The Sergeant took the BAR from him, but before he could use it he was hit and two of his fingers were shot off.  I was able to take down all three of the Germans with my M-1 rifle, but; one of our men was killed shortly after that as we were pulling back to rejoin the company. 

One day in late September or early October when we were in Germany, the Captain ordered me, a corporal, and one other man to go and take a pillbox.  When we got into position 8 or 9 Germans came out to surrender, but; about that time the area started being shelled by German 88mm artillery fire, so the Germans ducked back into the shelter of their pillbox.  After the shelling stopped 39 Germans came out of the emplacement and surrendered to us three Americans. 

One of our men was named “Benny Goodman,” a big guy.  During a shelling, shrapnel went through both his legs and they were broken badly.  The Captain and myself, with two others took him out in a blanket, with shells falling all around, but; we got him out safely.  I never heard if he survived or not.  Believe it or not, we had another guy in Company C named “Glen Miller.” 

One time, a tank unit had been sent up to join us in preparation for an attack the next day and I was assigned to stand guard on one of the tanks.  Although there was a lot of vegetation, I briefly got a clear view of a German soldier in the distance. He was carrying a panzerfaust, anti-tank rocket launcher, and he was headed in my direction.  I reported that to my Sergeant, but; he just wouldn’t believe me.  At least he didn’t believe me until the German had worked his way in close enough to get into firing position. He finally had to reveal his general location and I fired a shot where I knew he had to be.  I don’t know if I hit him or not, but as soon as I fired, in that same instant he squeezed off his rocket.  It detonated harmlessly in a nearby tree, but that got everyone’s attention.  Within seconds every weapon in the vicinity, including the main gun of the tank, was firing into the place the German had been. 

I was wounded on October 13, 1944.  Company C was attacking in the vicinity of Germeter, Germany.  I was firing my rifle from the prone position, when the next thing I knew, I felt something wet on the back of my neck. A shell fragment had knocked the helmet and helmet liner off my head and scraped off the back of my skull, tearing out some bone.  The soldier nearest to me, a Corporal from Corpus Christi, came to help. I asked him where he was and he said, “I’m here right in front of you.”  I realized then that I was blind, couldn’t see a thing. He dragged me over to a slit trench, laid me down in it and told me to stay put.  I lay there a long time.  I became aware of something underneath me, felt, and realized it was a dead body.  I had to lie there with that corpse because I could hear the fighting still going on all around me. Still blinded, I never knew whether it was a German or an American’s body. The firing finally stopped when the company pulled back, but they pulled back without me.  A bombing attack was then ordered for that whole area. As soon as he heard what was about to happen, this Corporal who had helped me, against the Captain’s orders, ran all the way back to where the battle had been fought, and at great risk of his own life, located the slit trench where he had left me, and brought me out to rejoin the rest of the company. That Corporal from Corpus Christi who saved my life was from another part of Company C and I do not know his name. 

Once back with the unit, they loaded me onto a jeep and I was soon back in a Field Hospital that was close by in Germany.  Although my rifle and helmet had been lost where I was hit, I was conscious, but blind and still pretty lethal. The medics had to take hand grenades and white phosphorous grenades off of me.  They started shaving my head and gave me an injection. That was when I lost consciousness. 

I did not wake up again until I was in a Hospital in Paris, France. I don’t know how long that was, but it must have been a period of days, not hours.  They operated on me there, removing several pieces of shell fragments from my brain and placing a plate in the back of my skull.  The doctors told me there were three to five other shell fragments remaining in the brain that could not be removed. They told me that I should be O.K., but, cautioned me avoid bumping my head from then on.  I was still completely blind.” 

Manuel Castillo was medically evacuated to the United States.  He remembers that on New Year’s Day 1945 he was on the ocean, returning on the Queen Elizabeth, the same ship that took him to Europe seven months before. In the hospital at Staten Island, New York, Manuel’s eyesight gradually returned.  It took a long time before he regained near-normal vision, but; was still seeing spots before his eyes, a condition that continues to the present day. He was moved to Hammond General Hospital in Modesto, California. He received a disability discharge on June 11, 1945, and returned to his parental home in South Austin. 

Manuel had intense headaches that would last two or three weeks at a time.  He could not sleep at night for the first two years after returning home and he was unable to work.  Eventually, as those conditions eased somewhat he was able to start helping his father on painting jobs. 

The Castillo’s home in South Austin had neither electricity nor phone service.  Manuel wired the house for electricity and got it to pass inspection. He then bought and installed their first washing machine.  A one-year waiting list for residential phone service was normal at that time, but; when Manuel went to apply in person and the phone company realized he was a disabled veteran, they got their phone in three weeks. 

Manuel trained as a mechanic in the Travis County Vocational School in 1952, but; was unable to find employment in Austin at the time. He went back to helping in the family painting business.  From there, he started to specialize in ceramic tile work and continued with that as his principal career for many years. 

Manuel Castillo grew up a member of the San Jose Catholic Church and is currently an active member of St. Ignatius Church.  He and his wife, Velia, who are about to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary, live next door to the house in South Austin where the Castillo’s were living when Manuel was born over 82 years ago. Manuel and Velia have been members of the Texas Capital Chapter and Unit since the early days after Chapter 1919 was chartered; and each year they have volunteered hundreds of hours in serving the Purple Heart Coffee and Refreshment Bar in the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic. Manual Castillo passed away on September 10, 2016.


 

 

Manuel Castillo Being Congratulated By Brigadier General James Bisson, Assistant Division Commander of the 49th Armored Division, As Velia Looks On. Shortly After the General Presented Manuel's Medals During Award Ceremony at Auditorium Shores On MEMORIAL DAY 2004

Manual Proudly Wearing His Newly Awarded Bronze Star And Purple Heart

Manual Poses with Frank Cortez at the MOPH picnic. Frank was very instrumental as he frequently has been in arranging Manual's Newly Awarded Bronze Star And Purple Heart
 

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