Joe Castagno was born in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1950. He grew
up in the two small suburban communities of Waltham and Belmont with his
three sisters and his parents. When he graduated from high school, Mr.
Castagno joined the service and enlisted in the marines for a two year commitment.
During his service Mr. Castagno toured both the United States and
Vietnam. He arrived in Vietnam in January of 1969 and left February
of 1970. During that time, his recon platoon was stationed mainly in
An Hoa. He held various jobs including driver, and was on a two-man listening
post. Mr. Castagno’s experiences show the Vietnam War and the
drama back home through the eyes of a typical marine.
This is Chris Hill and Matt Antonell and we are at Wayland High School
interviewing Mr. Castagno May 8th, 2006.
Q: Please state your name.
Mr. Castagno: My name is Joe Castagno.
Q: When were you born?
Mr. Castagno: August 16th, 1950
Q: Do you think you could describe where you grew up? Like, what was
your childhood like? Do you have any siblings?
Mr. Castagno: I had three sisters; I still have three sisters. We lived
in Waltham; I was born in Waltham in 1950 and it was… at the time
it was almost like Wayland. It was like Wayland in a lot of ways. It
was a nice place to grow up. We were in a wooded area. Ponds; did a
lot of fishing, camping, hiking, things like that.
Q: Did both of your parents work?
Mr. Castagno: Just my father did. He’s a carpenter.
Q: Was there any history of service in the army in your family?
Mr. Castagno: My father was a former Marine in World War II. He was
on three islands in the pacific; one was Taiwan, one was [Pollilo] and
the other one was Saipan. He was injured on Saipan and was discharged
3 months later. He had a head injury.
Q: What year did you graduate high school?
Mr. Castagno: 1968
Q: Did you think about serving in the military right after?
Mr. Castagno: I didn’t have plans to go on to college and at
the time the draft was instituted, so I probably would have been drafted.
To avoid that I wanted to enlist for two years.
Q: As a teenager, were you and a lot of the kids at your school aware
of the world events?
Mr. Castagno: No, we didn’t really pay to much attention to that.
We just knew that a lot of our friends were going in the service...
The 60’s was a funny time it was umm, there was a lot of protests
and things like that, but it really didn’t hit until we were already
in. We went in with the idea that we were helping our country. I guess
that’s how I would have to stand on that today. I don’t
know how… I really couldn’t answer that.
Q: When you were in high school did you know about the Cold War?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah, yeah, actually we were learning about that, I would
have to say, in elementary school. We used to get a weekly reader. It
was like a little newspaper. It used to come every week. There were
a lot of interesting things about, you know, the cold war and how it
started. Of course John F. Kennedy was our president then. Eisenhower,
he was before him. Yeah we were aware of it; the nuclear threat.
Q: Did communism affect how you enlisted for Vietnam?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah that played a big part in it because we were under
the understanding that we were going to stop communism there, rather
than have it spill over to our country. That was probably the main reason
why a lot of us went in.
Q: What do you remember about the general state of the U.S. at the time?
Mr. Castagno: It was fun. It was a fun time to grow up, it really was.
You could do a lot more then than you can now, I mean as far as the
laws and how they pertain to kids now. I know it’s tough for you
kids to even… I mean, it was so much different. If you got caught
drinking beer the police officers would probably just take it away from
you and send you home. Not going to go tell your father. I mean, it
was a close community and everybody knew one another.
Q: Where did you say you grew up?
Mr. Castagno: Belmont and Waltham. But it was it was a good time. We
looked forward to doing; there was always something to do. There were
dances somewhere every Friday night or Saturday night. Either the church
or the school would have a function. We had a lot of Fourth of July
carnivals that were around the town or the city. There just was so much
to do. You could go out; you could walk out of your house at night and
not lock your doors. Go down town. You know, hang around. Nobody bothered
you. It was a good time.
Q: You mentioned John F. Kennedy and President Eisenhower. Do you remember
anything about when they were president?
Mr. Castagno: Well president Kennedy really wasn’t in office
that long. Obviously because of the, you know what happened. I remember
when he was assassinated. I think I was 13 or 14 at the time. It really
changed the world; I feel it really changed the… it changed everything.
You lost trust in your own country. You didn’t know what kind
of people would do that to a human being. It was just, it was... It
was sad. It really was. A lot of people were saddened by his death.
Looking back on it now… Was the CIA involved in it, was it just
a lone crazy gunman? Who knows; I don’t know if those questions
will ever be answered in my lifetime, maybe yours.
Q: How did you view John F. Kennedy? It seems like there was a lot of
support for him.
Mr. Castagno: There was. On both parties. He brought youthfulness to
the country. He set up goals and ideas. I mean he launched our space
program. You know, Russia was getting a little ahead of us on that and
he turned the tide on that. I mean, it probably doesn’t mean much
to you kids, who got onto the moon first or who was launched first,
but at that time is was a race and it had a lot to do with the Cold
War in a sense because if the Russians were beating us at something
than… you just didn’t want that to happen because they felt
more powerful enough to nuke us. Did you ever hear of the Cuban missile
crisis? [Yes response.] That was scary. I mean think being in your house
not knowing if you were going to get blown up. That’s the way
you lived. That was a pretty scary time. They used to have these “bomb
shelters” in schools. These radioactive “bomb shelters”
and stuff, but it was the basement of the school. They used to tell
us to go underneath that desk. It was ridiculous.
Q: The high school has tunnels?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah, yeah, and they used to ring sirens at 12 o’clock
for air-raid practices and stuff. I hope you kids never have to go through
anything like that. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I enlisted
in the service so you kids wouldn’t have to, maybe. Hopefully.
Q: When did you first hear about Vietnam?
Mr. Castagno: Probably late 50’s. I never gave it much thought.
It was something on the other side of the world. I didn’t even
Q: Did you ever think that it might affect your future? Did you plan
Mr. Castagno: No, no. Not in the 50’s. It started to come into
focus I would say around ‘63 it kind of took off. There were some
assassinations with the government. It was funny because John Kennedy
got killed two weeks after their president did in South Korea. I forget
his name. [Diem.] That sort of drew us in a little bit more. We were
going in as an advisorary team, rather than doing the actual fighting.
I think we got caught up in that in ‘65, ‘66 when they started
sending troops over.
Q: Did a lot of people enlist from Belmont and Waltham?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah, I had four close friends from Belmont that enlisted
in the Marines probably six months to a year before me. A person named
David [Englesaw] I grew up with since we were five years old we were
best friends. He enlisted and um… he didn’t come home. The
other four that I knew from Belmont came home. Only one got sent to
Vietnam and he got out after, I think, three weeks. He got to come home.
He had some sort of ailment and kidney infection and they let him come
home. He finished out his duty here in the states.
Q: Are you familiar with the U.S.S. Maddox? That incident?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah, I heard of it after the fact.
Q: So it didn’t really impact you that much?
Mr. Castagno: Just from what I saw on the history channel, believe
it or not. I didn’t even know about it until later on.
Q: Once you enlisted in the army, how was basic training?
Mr. Castagno: Basic training… I went to Paris Island, South Carolina.
I arrived there at two in the morning. I had to stand on yellow footprints
when we got off the bus. It was just pure hell.
Q: How long did it last?
Mr. Castagno: They rushed us through. I think we did eight weeks down
there. Then we did guerrilla warfare at Camp [Legume], North Carolina
for four weeks, but the normal training periods for the Marines are
12 weeks at Paris Island and then four weeks at Camp [Legume]; so it
was kind of like a crash course because they were trying to get in as
many people as they could through at that time; because we were needed.
Basic training, I didn’t find it physically hard for me, I found
it challenging mentally because of the… getting roused out of
a dead sleep by someone banging an ashcan around at three o’clock
in the morning telling you to get outside and start running, you know.
We probably ran six miles before breakfast. This was everyday, and then
came back, cleaned up our squad a little bit; with brushes probably
eight inches long by two inches wide; with buckets, on our hands and
knees scrubbing the deck. Then clean the heads. I think there were probably
60 toilets per barracks. They were all open, there was no privacy. You
showered, shaved, got yelled at some more, went outside, did more physical
training. At the beginning we were nothing, we were just maggots to
them. They were just trying to break our spirits down. All our civilian
memories kind of vanished after a few days. Then we went to the confidence
course and started climbing the ropes and started marching; well actually
the second day we started marching; learning how to march. It’s
pretty hard to describe, you would have to be there.
Q: Do you think they properly prepared you for what you experienced?
Mr. Castagno: Yes I do; definitely.
Q: What happened after basic training? Where did you go from there?
Mr. Castagno: We went to North Caroline for guerilla warfare and that’s
where we learned how to throw hand grenades, fire a bazooka, fire a
50 caliber machine gun, 30 caliber machine gun. At Paris Island the
only weapon you had was an M14 and a bayonet; and that’s what
you went to the rifle range with. At Camp [Legume] you went through
an obstacle course where they’d have these pop-up, supposedly
Vietnamese cardboard. You’d be in an actual trail in Vietnam where
they’d have pongee sticks, but only the sticks were rubber. They
had tiger pits where if you fell into one of those then the trap doors
would close on you. They’d have booby traps set up. They’d
have things swinging out of trees to try and knock your head off and
stuff. But you weren’t going to get hurt. Then you crawled under
the barbed wire and they had the explosives going off beside you. That
was four weeks of that and there wasn’t much marching. There was
little intensive training, and after that you got to come home on leave.
Everyone had a job whether you were a photographer or a quark or supply
person or mortars or a specialty like a 30 caliber or a 50 caliber.
Everybody had a specialty. You went to school for five or six weeks
wherever they sent you for that. My MOS was motor transportation. I
was chosen, I was a weapons carrier; which is like a pickup truck. We
had a fifty caliber on the back and we trained in convoys how to keep
an eye open, and how to keep an equal distance between one vehicle and
the next, and run patrols on the road with two other jeeps to keep roads
open. Because roads in Vietnam were pretty uh, when you lost a road
you lost supplies. You lost a lot. Where I was stationed you lost access
to [Lenang] and [Lenang] was important because that was our logistics.
Everything came from [Lenang], our ammo, our food, our water, our ice
if you got ice once in a while, our beer. So you wanted to keep that
road open at all costs. That was a 32 mile stretch of road; dirt road,
through villages and hostile territory.
Q: When you were trained were you trained for that specific job?
Mr. Castagno: Every Marine is trained to be a grunt, a rifleman at
first. When I got to Vietnam, I thought I’d be driving; well I
did for two days. Then I made a mistake and I paid for it. I didn’t
pick somebody up when I was supposed to, and I had to make a run; that
32 mile road trip, by myself, at night, with no lights on to get back
to Anwoa, and my master sergeant, he said to me “You’re
in trouble; you got to go to the bush because you didn’t pick
up the Chaplain in [Lenang]” and he says “but that’s
not the real reason why I’m sending you because anybody that would
travel that road at night has got to be crazy. “So he was kind
of happy that I got back but he thought I was nuts for doing that and
I was and looking back I probably never should have did that but I thought
I was going to get in more trouble if I didn’t get back. See we
used to have a convoy that traveled from Anwoa, that was where I was
stationed and that was like the rear and [Lenang]. They had a convoy
that left in the morning and if you wanted to get to [Lenang] you had
to get on that convoy and then they had troops on the sides of the road
to make sure that, well first it was cleared of mines with the engineers
and then you’d get to [Lenang]. Then they had another one that
left there every day at 2:00, and they would be bringing your groceries
and you know, things like that and more ammo if you needed it. And I
had taken the navy chaplain in cause he was starting’ with our
battalion and he needed chairs. I had a little trailer on the back of
the Jeep, he needed chairs and the Eucharist, he needed all his supplies.
It was fun. I took him in there, I got lost and he said come pick me
up in two hours and I got lost. I didn’t know where I was, you
know people driving by with little motor scooters and stuff, you know
getting’ killed and I was late getting him but he made it back.
He jumped on the convoy to get back and I had all his stuff with me.
So I ended up doing something different.
Q: What was it like originally leaving the U.S. and needing to say goodbye
to friends and loved ones?
Mr. Castagno: Well, I said it twice because when I left my leave I
was supposed to go right to Vietnam. That meant that I had to go to
California for staging; Camp Pendleton. And that was for thirty days.
What happened was the unit I was supposed to go replace; they got chopped
up to bits. They came back to the states and that was the 9th regimen,
27 marines and they got really wiped out and what had happened was they
came back so I had to stay with them for six more months to get them
back up to strength again. So I thought I was out of the woods; I wasn’t
going to go cause I only signed for two years so I ended up in California
for six months and I was having a ball. I loved it; I thought I was
home free. I wasn’t going to go, and then I got my orders to go
so I had to say goodbye again. Then I ended up, we flew to [Okinawa]
cause that’s usually the route you took and then I stayed at [Okinawa]
for two days and then took a boat to a ship to Vietnam.
Q: Did that six months count for your two years?
Mr. Castagno: Yes it did, yeah it counted towards my time. I thought
I was out of it.
Q: What was it like when you first arrived in Vietnam?
Mr. Castagno: Well I said, “Jeez this isn’t hard to take”
because I was in [Lenang] and [Lenang] was a city. I mean it was nice
there was beaches, I said “Jeez. I like this, you know, I could
do a year here, you know?” But I was only there for about three
hours and then they fed us and then there were 80 of us that came over
from [Okinawa] together and then we all had met somewhere and then they
told us where we were going to go. So then everybody was, you know,
“you’re stationed here in [Lenang], you’re going to
the third marine division up north, you’re going here, you’re
going there” and they came to me and three other guys and said
you guys are going to Anwoa. I didn’t know Anwoa. So we had to
get on a chopper and we get on the chopper and it was a [huey] and we
went 32 miles the distance to Anwoa. And we were flying over Anwoa and
I’m looking down, I’m saying “Wow! There are howitzers
going off, there’s people running around like crazy on the ground”
I said, “Aw man! What the hell am I doing here?” I wanted
to go home. So we landed and I got hooked up with my company and I thought,
you know, “this stinks but I guess it could be worse.” Then
they told me it’s going to get worse cause Anwoa is just where
the regimen is, it’s just the rear, just where you go back for
supplies. I was there for I think four days, that was it. Then I think
I went to [Foowak Six] which is called Liberty Bridge. There was a bridge
that went over the perfume river and whoever controlled the bridge really
controlled South Vietnam, because first of all let me go back to Anwoa.
Anwoa is where the mouth of the Ho Chi Minh trail comes out; it’s
right on the [Li Ocean] border and that’s where the North Vietnamese
were bringing all their supplies through. So Anwoa was probably a mile
from the mouth of that and it was interesting because in Anwoa there
was villages around it and there was all mountains to the rear of it
and on the other side of the mountains was where the Ho Chi Minh trail
ended. When the B52’s used to blow the trail up, we wouldn’t
get rocketed for like two or three weeks and then we’d say “Jeez!
How come nothing’s happening?” Well that’s because
they were blowing up the road, they were blowing up their supply route.
And then it dawned on us that after they rebuilt the road, in a couple
of days the rockets started coming in again so it was just luck of the
draw I guess. So I stayed a couple of months there, which was quite
a place… that was hell. And then I left there, I went back to
Anwoa with the platoon and then we started doing hills; up and down
hills, taking hills, losing them, taking them, losing them.
Q: At that point did you still believe you were fighting for?
Mr. Castagno: Uh, at that point I just wanted to get home. Patriotism
kind of went out the door.
Q: Did you see the Vietcong as patriots or as guerillas and rebels?
Mr. Castagno: Looking back now, I look at the Vietcong like they were
just doing what they thought was right like us. I mean, they had a cause
and we had a cause; our cause was to stop them, there cause was to….
My belief of the Vietcong, Vietcong were, they used to come in to villages
and kill the mayor, kill any teacher. For some reason they didn’t
want teachers around, anybody that had anything to do with politics.
I didn’t like them killing teachers because I don’t see
the logic to that to single out teachers for some reason. Yeah, that
bothered me, but a lot of things bothered me over there.
Q: What were some of the things you did to pass the time?
Mr. Castagno: I’m glad you asked that. There was a lot of boredom,
don’t believe what you see on T.V. cause it’s not like that.
There is a lot of downtime. We cleaned our weapons, we wrote home, did
a lot of patrols checking wire; I mean we had to stay busy or we’d
go crazy. You get to go crazy, you learn things, you get to talk to
your fellow marines and find out what they’re doing and what their
hobbies are, and you know, sat around and listened to music, drank,
had a good time. Party at night.
Q: Did you have any responsibilities like cleaning the barracks or stuff
Mr. Castagno: Well, everybody did that in the States yeah, but not
over there, there wasn’t a barracks, I didn’t see a barracks.
I saw a tent when I was in Anwoa and that was it. Other than that we
slept outside. You’d get a lot of duty, if you were in the rear
you’d get a lot of guard duty at night you’d only sleep
for four hours a day or sometimes only two because you’d be on
guard all night. You’d switch off four on four off, four on, to
watch the lines cause we used to get overrun a lot.
Q: Did you see any combat?
Mr. Castagno: Yes I did.
Q: What was the hardest part of that?
Mr. Castagno: The hardest part of that is the surprise. We weren’t
allowed to shoot our weapons unless we were told to and a lot of times
it would just catch you off guard I mean it could happen at night. Most
of the fighting did happen between 12 at night and early the next morning
and it was just the surprise of it. I guess when all of a sudden you
know rockets are going off, mortars are going off, traces, you see the
traces flying everywhere. You know, you just keep your head down. Daytime
you could get into firefights if you happened to stumble across the
enemy its not, they don’t look for you, they’d rather slip
away and find out your positions more than anything.
Q: Were you sent on any search and destroy missions?
Mr. Castagno: I was on a two man listening post because I was with
the recon platoon.
Q: What’s that?
Mr. Castagno: You’d go out on a helicopter and they’d drop
you off somewhere with a compass and you’d call in. You’d
go up and you spend two nights up in the hills or wherever they wanted
to put you, in the jungle, anywhere they’d drop you and then you’d
hang out there. You try to be as quiet as you can and don’t bring
much with you and then you kind of listen for movement and look for
enemy without moving around to much let them come to you.
Q: Did you ever encounter people when you were out there?
Mr. Castagno: No. And then they’d extract you two days later.
One time we didn’t get extracted. I didn’t eat for eleven
days, they couldn’t get us out.
Q: Was that the scariest part?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah that was probably the worst I went through. Yeah
they had a couple of North Vietnamese divisions that went around us.
They backed in around us, they couldn’t get us out. Helicopters,
nothin’ could get us out. Eleven days. I was like that when I
got out. [Motions towards skinny desk leg.]
Q: During combat did you ever see anyone get injured or killed?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah.
Q: How did that impact you?
Mr. Castagno: Well one thing, you have friends there and you have close
friends, but you try not to. After a while you kind of isolate yourself
from really making close close friends because a lot of people that
you’re really close with may not be there the next day; You may
not be there the next day, that’s how quick things happen. How
do I feel about people dying around me? I think it sucked. I thought
it was the most awful thing I could ever see. I mean I don’t know
if…. Depends on what they got hit with. I mean sometimes you can’t
even recognize them as a person, sometimes you might find a boot with
a foot in it or a leg or an arm over here or a hand over there. You
kind of block it out; you try to block it out. I mean you can’t
stop doing what you’re doing cause the guy next to you is all
over the back of a tree. I mean, you have to survive; It’s survival.
Q: How did you distinguish between Vietcong or non-Vietcong?
Mr. Castagno: Vietcong you couldn’t, not Vietcong or a Vietnamese
villager you really can’t distinguish them because you know what
they are. The North Vietnamese Army? Now that’s different. They
have uniforms, they’re equipped and they’re like a regular
army you know, they can do heavy damage. If they had planes I don’t
think we’d ever get out if there cause we could always call in
an air strike or something if we thought something were close to us.
Or have puff come in, do you know what puff is? Puff was an old C130
World War II plane that was turned into a gunship. It had rocket pods
on it, it had a 50-cals on it. 50 caliber machine guns could cover a
football field every square inch of a football field in about 10 seconds.
Q: Were most of the people you encountered V.C.?
Mr. Castagno: Where I was it was a little bit of both. It was not so
much V.C.. V.C. was kind of getting out of the picture then; it was
mostly North Vietnamese Army regulars.
Q: Did they use the same techniques as the Vietcong?
Mr. Castagno: They used to like five hand. What they used to try to
do is, if you were back in the rear, they used to try to, they’d
put the [sapple] charges on and we used to have bunkers and we used
to have Constantine wires set-up around the bunkers and around that
perimeter and what they used to like to do is they’d strap on
a satchel charge and they’d jump in the bunker and they’d
pull the thing and blow themselves up with whoever’s in the bunker.
Then you’d get probably who knows 25-30 regulars trying to overrun
that position and then 30 on another side overrunning that position.
It was effective. You know, you’d go out the next morning and
you’d have to go see what they did and it wasn’t pretty.
They had their beliefs.
Q: How was the morale of the troops?
Mr. Castagno: When I was over there it was good. We did our job. Towards
the end of my tour in Vietnam it started to decline, people were starting
to catch on that we were just fools for being there. Other than that
I was with a pretty good group of guys I gotta say. I had a lot of fun.
Had a lot of fun with the guys I was with. We made the best of it.
Q: While you were over there did you know about any of the war protests
going on back home?
Mr. Castagno: No they kind of kept that from us. You didn’t see
newspapers from home. I think California was pretty big there first,
so we were getting bits and pieces from it but you know what went on
at home it was so far away and there was really nothing you could do
so I mean you just went on with your everyday doing what you had to
Q: Did you think the U.S. was doing enough to win the war?
Mr. Castagno: I really don’t know. I don’t know.
Q: What was leave like?
Mr. Castagno: To go home on leave? Oh it was great, you know you got
to see your friends from home and see your parents and your family and
eat real food and it was nice.
Q: The Civil Rights Movement went on during the time of Vietnam but
did you hear about it or was it kept from you?
Mr. Castagno: We heard about what happened in Chicago, that we did
find out about. We heard about Chicago. Only from a few guys who had
just come over, replacements. They were always giving you information
about what was going on in the States. The riots of Chicago, is that
what you meant. Yeah I guess the country was rioting a lot because…..Martin
Luther King, when was he assassinated? (’68) Yeah that’s
when there was a lot of rioting in the large cities.
Q: Did you ever have any interactions with the Vietnamese people?
Mr. Castagno: Yes.
Q: What were they like?
Mr. Castagno: Great people, I used to give them everything I could
give them. All we had was C-rations and I used to give them, I wasn’t
supposed to, I hope this doesn’t go to the CIA but I used to drop
of as much as I could to them. I used to give them everything I had
that I wasn’t going to use. When I went through villages they
loved me. Whatever I had, if I had a can of peaches that I liked, I
loved those; I’d give it to them. If I had a can of eggs I’d
give it to them. Yeah I had a good [repor] with the villages.
Q: Were you serving under the Tet Offensive?
Mr. Castagno: I had just, yeah, I got there at the tail end of that.
Q: How did that impact your stay?
Mr. Castagno: It didn’t really make a difference. The only was
I was going to get out of there was in a body bag or if I got wounded
three times, that was the only way I was going to get out of there.
Q: You’ve heard of the My Lai massacre? Did you hear of that while
Mr. Castagno: No, I heard about it afterwards I think ’72 I heard
about that. I was out of there in ’70.
Q: Did that change your views on the war at all?
Mr. Castagno: Well, I think that the persons responsible for that were
wrong in my eyes. I mean, there’s no need of that. I mean, a little
baby isn’t going to do anything to you. Women can. I don’t
think there was enough reason there to do what he did, or they did.
Q: When Richard Nixon ran for president he talked about “peace
with honor.” Did you approve this strategy that he had?
Mr. Castagno: If it was going to put an end to things, yes I did. I
agreed with him because I didn’t want to see anybody else go over
there. Peace with honor or dishonor as long as it ended. I mean, there
was too many, it just affected too many people that I knew. I mean,
it has to stop somewhere; it can’t just go on. I mean, it’s
like Iraq now and Afghanistan, when’s it going to stop? When they
grab you kids? It’s not fun and games.
Q: Do you see a lot of parallels between the Iraq war?
Mr. Castagno: I do now, yeah. At the beginning I didn’t but I
do now. I’m starting to see it now. Only because of, the only
reason I can see the parallel is cause we’ve been there how many
years now? Three already? And I don’t see any end in sight it
looks like it’s going to keep going on and on and on. And if it’s
not there it’s going to be somewhere else.
Q: The shootings at Kent State. What did you think of this whole incident?
Mr. Castagno: Untrained national guardsmen. That’s my take on
that. Not enough training.
Q: Did it disappoint you that the people protesting were against what
you were fighting for?
Mr. Castagno: No, no. Everybody has their beliefs. I mean I joined
in with ‘em. I mean I had to be out of there to realize that we
were for, I don’t want to say a lost cause, but for what cause?
I don’t know what the cause was.
Q: So you protested alongside?
Mr. Castagno: You can’t say actually held up a sign and protested
but support? I can’t even say I supported it, but I didn’t
disagree with it. I can see where it was coming from. It would be like
if you had three years of college and one more to go, two more semesters,
and all of a sudden you were drafted to go over there. What’s
the point? What’s the point?
Q: What was it like on your way back from Vietnam?
Mr. Castagno: On my way back I was out of the bush and in my bed in
Q: When you returned did you feel disrespected by the people for your
Mr. Castagno: We were told not to wear our uniforms home because there
were a lot of people upset with what we did. Like I said, they have
their beliefs that’s fine with me. As long as you don’t
spit on me and I won’t spit on you. I never had any confrontation.
Q: Did you wear your uniform back?
Mr. Castagno: I had to wear my uniform back to get a military standby
flight that’s the only way you can get a flight is if you’re
in uniform cause the government; it’s a free flight but you have
to be in uniform and they did tell us as soon as you get to your destination
get the uniform off. Which I didn’t have a problem with cause
I couldn’t wait to get it off anyways.
Q: Once you returned did you feel you had missed out a lot of what you’re
friends had stayed here?
Mr. Castagno: No my friends were still there the way they were before
I left I mean no we just picked up we I left off. Just a couple years
older. We were still underage to drink. I was only 19 when I was discharged
so I was still underage to drink, legally.
Q: When did you go?
Mr. Castagno: January of 1969.
Q: How old were you then?
Mr. Castagno: I was eighteen because my birthday was in August. Yeah
and I was discharged in February of ’70 so I wasn’t even
20 yet. I still had a ways to go.
Q: Did you ever enlist after you were discharged?
Mr. Castagno: No, all done. I could have because I was on 4 years inactive
so they could’ve called me at anytime. Would they have gotten
me? No, not home.
Q: Did you experience or do you know of any experiences of people coming
back from the war and being disrespected?
Mr. Castagno: Nobody close to me that I know of. I mean nobody said
anything to me about anything. Cause when I came back I hung around
with the same group of friends and we were all marines, most of us,
so we were all in the same bag.
Q: Have you visited the war memorial in D.C.?
Mr. Castagno: No I haven’t.
Q: Do you remember when it was designed and built?
Mr. Castagno: I remember, I don’t remember the exact date but
I remember when it going on.
Q: Did you feel-
Mr. Castagno: Did I feel slighted that my name wasn’t on there?
Q: Did you feel proud about the war and that you had served?
Mr. Castagno: I don’t think I’d ever feel proud of what
I did. Let’s just say I did what I did cause I thought it was
the right thing to do at the time. Pride? I had pride in the corps.
The marine corps was probably the best, if I ever had to go back in
I’d go in the corps again. They trained me to do what I had to
do probably better than any other branch of the service. That’s
about the only pride I have left, I have pride of being a former marine.
[Was I] proud of being in Vietnam? No I can’t say that I was proud
of being in Vietnam. I still don’t know what the hell we were
Q: Would you recommend other people today to join the Army or Navy?
Mr. Castagno: I can give you a personal take on that, my oldest son
Adam, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Adam, he had
just graduated from high school and he was going to go enlist in the
marine corps. The recruiters came to my house in their dress blues and
their white gloves and their swords and their hats and everything else.
You know all the bells and whistles on and I think that can impress
a kid. I was a little impressed by it myself but I explained to him,
if you do want to go in the service, why can’t you go to college
first and then maybe be an officer cause if you’re going to be
in the military, being an officer is the best way to go. I mean, you’re
going to get better food, better living conditions and then if they
can help you with your education as far as money wise. Finally Adam
did see light at the end of the tunnel but it took quite a bit of convincing
from me and his mother but why he shouldn’t. They told him he
was going to be going to college at night. I just couldn’t comprehend
how that would happen because that’s not what they’re about.
They’re not about a day job and then you go to college at night.
Maybe in the Air Force or the Navy, but not there. So we pushed and
pushed and prodded until we got him to get that out of his mind. Let
me just, have you ever seen these guys in marine, they all have the
blues on, the white hats, you know that’s like the poster child
Q: So did your son finish college and then?
Mr. Castagno: He has one more year to go. And I don’t think he’s
gonna go. He’ll be too old by time he gets out of school.
Q: When you enlisted did you think you were going to be drafted anyways?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah that was the pretty much what was happening. If
you didn’t go to college right away you were going to get drafted.
Q: If there wasn’t the war do you think that you would have gone
Mr. Castagno: No I wasn’t college material. I did go when I got
Q: What lessons did you learn from your time in Vietnam?
Mr. Castagno: Don’t go there again. It’s bad. Uh, I don’t
know. I really don’t know, I couldn’t answer that.
Q: Or do you think the U.S. as a country learned any lessons?
Mr. Castagno: This country? I don’t know. Doesn’t look
like we’re going to be getting out of Iraq soon. I think we had
a nice few years without anything going on and then unfortunately 9/11,
Q: Going back to while you were over there, did you get letters?
Mr. Castagno: Yeah I got letters. The VFW, the local VFW sent us a
package about once every 3 months it had some books in it, candy, shaving
gear, some dry socks, T-shirts, things that they know you’re going
to want. Letters from home all the time, you know, corresponded with
my family. Free too, no postage.
Q: What kinds of things did you write in your letters home? That you’re
Mr. Castagno: Just to let them know that I was still hanging in there.
I kind of kept everything low-key. “I’m fine Ma.”
Had to make up things to keep the space going on the letter. Everything
that goes out of there is opened. I’m not going to say every piece
of mail cause that would be hard to do but of every three letters one’s
going to get opened. From the higher ups cause they want to see what
you’re putting in there. I made a mistake once. Every envelope
that we had had a little map of Vietnam on it just an outline and I
made a pen mark where I was and they caught it. Where I thought I was.
That came right back “Change your envelope.”
Q: Did the officers have a different experience than the normal soldier?
Mr. Castagno: Not in the field they really didn’t, they lived
like we did; they ate the same food as we did. Had bigger decisions
to make. But in the States they had it pretty good.