Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

JOE S. CASTRO
1921 - 2009

 

 

 


27th INFANTRY DIVISION

PATCH

105th INFANTRY REGIMENT

“APPLEKNOCKERS”

UNIT CREST


JOE S. CASTRO

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 Army, WWII, Pacific

 

Joe S. Castro was born in 1921, the next-to-youngest born into this large Castro family of Austin, Texas that would send four sons off to war.  His younger brother, also wounded in action, was our late Patriot, L.C. Castro (chapter charter member and our first chaplain), featured in the PATRIOT BULLETIN with a story similar to this in the August 1997 issue and that may also be found on our website.  We are overdue for saying more about Joe and L.C.’s family, and will make up for that here.

 

Parents Ladislao and Leonarda Castro had come from Mexico during World War I.   They had two daughters and three sons when they arrived in Austin, making their first home here in a downtown apartment that was upstairs over a store in the block just west of 5th and Colorado.  After four or five years there they moved (a few blocks east) near where San Jacinto crossed the railroad tracks (now 4th Street) and was very close to the main train station.  Three more sons were born to the Castros in Austin, but shortly after the birth of baby, Ladislao (L.C.) in 1924, the father died leaving Leonarda a widow with eight children. 

 

Leonarda and the children made several other moves (again a little further east) living near 10th and Navasota and then 7th and Navasota. The family had regularly attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church since their arrival in Austin.

 

As the years passed, the older children left home for employment in various places and faithfully sent money back home enabling the family, for the first time, to purchase a house of their own on 8th Street between Navasota and Lydia.  It would remain the Castro family home for many years to come. But then, one day the world suddenly changed.

 

News of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 instantly excited everyone, especially all the young men in Austin that the Castro boys knew.  Joe and all his friends went down to the recruiting station and signed up without delay.  The Army accepted him, also without delay.  On December 11th he was sworn into service and put on the train to the Induction Center in San Antonio.  Curiously enough though, Joe says, “Our friend, the guy that was most enthusiastic and had talked all the rest of us into enlisting, turned out to be the only one of us that didn’t go in.  He was rejected for flat feet.”  Joe Castro was sent to Camp Barkley in Abilene, Texas where he was rushed through training.  In February 1942 he completed training in Company A, 54th Battalion, Medical Replacement Training Center, qualified as a Medical Aidman (at various times three of Joe’s brothers also entered the service).

 

Upon graduation from the Medical Replacement Training Center course, Joe now has this to say, “We were not granted any leave, but were put on a train to San Francisco.  After a few days at the port, we loaded onto a large troop transport destined for the Philippines, a shipload of reinforcements being rushed to the relief of General MacArthur. We sailed out, but not far out into San Francisco Bay, suddenly turned around and put back into port.  Japanese submarines were known to be operating off the California coast and it is believed that reported sightings led to the aborted attempt to sail.  This was repeated three or four times over the next several days, with the ship turning back each time, never having gotten far past the Golden Gate Bridge; before finally we sailed out and kept going.  By the time we reached the Philippines, General MacArthur had been ordered out to Australia, and our transport was turned back and sent to Hawaii.”

 

On April 12, 1942, Joe’s ship arrived at Hilo, Hawaii where the 27th Infantry Division (New York Army National Guard) was in place and assigned to the beach defense of the island.  The new medic from Texas, Private Castro, was assigned to the Medical Detachment of Headquarters, 105th Infantry Regiment.  The men of the 105th Infantry had been known as the “appleknockers” since Civil War times because most of that New York regiment had been laborers recruited from the apple orchards in the Hudson River Valley.  That name has stuck with 105th for all time ever since.  

 

The 105th Regiment was responsible for the beach defenses of the eastern side of the island and their camp was very near the town of Hilo.  Joe says, “My second night on the island the volcano suddenly erupted, the sky and everything lit up red everywhere, it was beautiful. Everyone was scared, not knowing what to do.”  Joe was a company medic attached to Company A and he would remain with them throughout his two years before being wounded.  Operations on Hawaii required adapting to extreme temperature differences, very hot at sea level, while at the same time it could be freezing on the mountain slopes, where there were conditions for year-round skiing. In the fall of 1942, the 27th Division was relieved from their island defense mission by the 6th Infantry Division. They departed Hilo and from that point until the end of the war the division would be part of the campaigns committed to taking the Japanese held Pacific islands.  During the next year and a half the Solomon Islands, then the Gilberts, and then the Marshals were captured.  For their part during that time, elements of the 27th Infantry Division took Makin Island in the Gilbert Island Group in late 1943.  The island of Majuro was occupied without opposition and Eniwetok was captured in early 1944.  After that came the invasion of Saipan, in the Marianas Island Group, where the entire division was committed together in intense and prolonged fighting for the first time, and where Joe Castro sustained the wound that put him out of the war for good.

 

Saipan was taken by three divisions during 24 days of bitter fighting beginning on June 15, 1944.  Following several days of intensive naval and air bombardment, the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions made successful assault landings on the west side of the island on the first day.  The Army’s 27th Infantry Division, with Joe among them, landed the next day, coming ashore through the southernmost beachhead and moved to take Aslito, the Japanese main airfield on the island.  Joe shares these memories, “There were hundreds of ships in the invasion force that stood off the island and the bombardment was still going on when we loaded into the landing craft. We were held there for a very long time before being sent ashore and the water being rough, everyone was sick. We came onto the beach, behind the earlier landing when it was still littered with many bodies, killed in the initial landing, that we had to move through, but we had to keep moving forward.  That first day was really rough for us, lots of shooting.

 

It was seven days into the operation when I was wounded.  My unit was very near the front and we were moving forward in open terrain that provided little cover.  We were taking casualties and I had been having a busy time of it applying bandages and tourniquets when I was hit in the right leg by gunfire.  I was unable to move and it took about an hour before stretcher bearers could reach where I was and get me back to the Aid Station set up on the beach.  The heat was really bad, it must have been 120 degrees on those stretchers laid out on the sand in the sun.  I was at the Aid Station the rest of that day and night and then was taken off to a Hospital Ship the following day.  After two or three days on the Hospital Ship I was taken ashore and flown out on an aircraft with six or seven other wounded.  Upon arrival back in a hospital in Hawaii I was operated on, but they couldn’t remove all the metal fragments.   I had been hit with an explosive bullet that had done massive damage after entry in my leg and it was slow to heal.” (note: of the two battalions committed, the 105th Infantry Regiment sustained 406 men killed in action and 512 wounded in action in the 24 days of fighting on Saipan).

 

Joe continues, “After about three months in the hospital they tried to send me back to my unit (the 27th Division having been returned to Hawaii after the taking of Saipan), but they refused to accept a combat medic that was still on crutches.  After several more months I still wasn’t getting any better, so in February 1945 I was medevac’d from Hawaii to a hospital in Alabama. In September 1945, I was discharged from the Army and returned home to Austin.” 

 

Brother,  L.C. was discharged and arrived back home in Austin in October 1945, a few weeks after Joe, and so too did the other two brothers, but considering their collective wounds it would be a bit of a stretch to say they had come home safely. Arthur had been a Sergeant in Company A, 5th Tank Battalion, 16th Armored Division, wounded during the Battle of the Bulge; and Ladislao (L.C.) was a waist gunner on a B-24 Bomber, wounded when shot down over Occupied France. Ramon, the only one of the four not sent overseas, had been an Army medic assigned to Bushnell General Hospital at Brigham City, Utah.  Joe says, “When discharged, I was finally off the crutches, but walked with a limp with some difficulty, and when seated, I could not sit straight upright because of pain from the shell fragments still in my leg.  Some of those pieces of metal migrated and were causing more misery, but becoming more accessible to treatment and after two or three years the Waco VA Hospital removed some more of the fragments.”

 

Each of the six brothers married and most lived and raised families of their own in the Austin area.  Although the father had died early, the mother, Leonarda, lived until 1987 and she was the oldest person ever to have been a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church when she died at age 107.  Today, Joe is the only remaining survivor of Ladislao and Leonarda’s children and this month PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot Joe S. Castro.

 

Joe S. Castro provided this Purple Heart story for publication in the December 2008 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN.  Joe passed away in December 2009.


Castro Family at a Birthday Party about 1980

TOP ROW - LADISLAO (L.C.), MANUEL, JOE

BOTTOM ROW – CARLOTA, MOTHER LEONARDA, RAMON, JACK

LADISLAO CASTRO

FATHER

1880-1925

PHOTO FROM ABOUT 1965

TOP ROW - SIX SONS

JACK, MANUEL, RAMON, ARTHUR, JOE, LADISLAO (L.C.)

 

BOTTOM ROW – MOTHER, LEONARDA; ELDEST CHILD & SISTER, CARLOTA; AND SIX DAUGHTERS-IN-LAW – LOTTIE, ELIDA, SUE, SUSIE, OPHELIA, SALLIE

"MEDIC JOE CASTRO MAY BE SOMEWHERE IN THIS PICTURE. CRUISER INDIANAPOLIS, IN THE DISTANCE, IS FIRING IN THE BOMBARDMENT OF SAIPAN AS LANDING CRAFT HEAD IN TO THE BEACH."

Joe's letter to brother, Ramon, informing the family, but understating the severity of his wounds, and asking about brother L.C., previously reported missing in action when his plane was shot down over enemy territory.

July 10, 1944

READ L.C.'s story here

LVTs Attacking Saipan

 

Newsletter of 27th Division

Holiday Cover

Newsletter of 27th Division

showing map of Saipan where Joe was wounded


TOP PHOTO

 

PFC Joe Castro

WWII


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