Saturday, December 06, 2008

Semper Fi Bill

Freedom is a precious gift . . . which we sometimes forget is a rare gift and never free. It is easy to forget when we sit here in our great nation that little of the rest of the world has things as good as we have them. It is a surprise when you read history that most of mankind throughout most of history has aspired to what we have . . . . . and the conditions did not exist. Our freedom is a gift which we owe to a great number of patriots who have paid a heavy price on our behalf. This day I wish to remember one of those patriots, Bill Castellow, who died Thursday.

Bill Castellow Of Windsor North Carolina

In our own memories and the memories of a few of our neighbors the cost of freedom is still fresh. In the last century, the conditions for enslavement of one nation by another were nearly fulfilled on two occassions. The two great world wars of that time are growing dim though. There are only a handfull of survivors of the first war, and those who can tell us first hand about the second are getting fewer and fewer every year. A recent book, Flags of our Fathers, by James Bradley, is a reminder of one incident of that second war which speaks of the cost of freedom.

Taking Fire On The Beach Below Mount Suribachi, Bill Castellow Is The Second Soldier From The Bottom Right, Facing The Camera

The cost of freedom is always paid with the blood of patriots. The incident the book Flags of our Fathers reminds us of is the battle for Iwo Jima, a small island in the Japanese archipelago and the first battle of that war where we were on their soil. Some time back I visited with Bill Castellow of Windsor to talk about some patriots and heroes of that battle. Bill was there. And he knew a lot about those patriots and the cost they paid for us.

Bill Castellow's Scrapbook of Iwo Jima, Memories Of A Different Time

Bill enlisted late in that war, on May 11, 1944, 3 days before his 18th birthday. Bill had already had some exposure to the military, having been in the ROTC in high school, at the Georgia Military Academy in College Park Georgia. Bill had graduated early and already spent one year in college at Wake Forest.

Bill's Platoon - Top Row; Carlyle, Clark, Yarnick, Cater, Caro - Bottom Row; Clapper, Collins, Castellow, Casko, Woops - Only Yarnick, Cater And Castellow Survived Iwo Jima

Bill was called to active duty and reported for boot camp on June 23, 1944 at Parris Island South Carolina. After training he was placed in Company C of the 31st Replacement Battalion of the 5th Division, a Division that only existed because of the growth of the Marines during that War. 5th Division was disbanded at the end of the War and has not existed since. Bill was a Light Machine Gun Crewman when he was sent as a part of the battle for Iwo Jima.

Famous Picture Of Second Flag Raising

What that meant is best summed up by a quote from the Commanding General of 5th Division, Major General Keller E. Rockey. "Few times in history has a force kept fighting in the face of losses such as our division suffered on Iwo Jima. The Division followed attack with attack. It continued to assault the heavy resistance of a desperate enemy - until the last small pocket on the island was overcome".

Marine Corps Web Site Features Statue Of Iwo Jima Flag Raising Ceremony

In Bill's Scrapbook he wrote the following, "We shipped out on January 23, 1944 from Pearl Harbor on a big convoy. I was on an LST. Some trip! Arrived at Saipan, boarded a troop ship for the invasion of Iwo Jima. We landed on DDay about 9:30 AM on February, 19, 1945. My outfit was to unload on the beach the ammo and supplies from landing crafts. We were very near Mount Suribachi and under very heavy enemy fire from rockets, mortars, rifles and machine guns. From the beach we saw the raising of a small U.S. Flag on Mount Suribachi. Later that same day a larger U.S. Flag replaced the first flag."

Flags Of Our Fathers Movie Site

Another comment in the scrapbook mirrored Bill's comment, made a few times during our meeting. About his duties on Iwo Jima, "I went, with little time to be afraid. No hero. I just did what I had to do." Bill kept saying "Don't make this about me. I was no hero. This is about the guys that didn't make it."

Two Mementos Of World War II, Bill Castellow's Expert Rifleman Badge And His Dog Tag

After Iwo Jima Bill was in training for the invasion of Japan. It was expected that at least one half million American soldiers would die in that invasion, based on the experiences of the first battle on Japanese soil at Iwo Jima. However two atomic bombs took the fight out of the Japanese and that bloodbath was avoided.

Bill's Honorable Discharge At The End Of The War

For those who care about statistics, 6,821 Marines died in the battle of Iwo Jima. That is more than have died in the entire 7 years of our current conflict, including the 3,000 who died on 9/11. It is no surprise that the battle for Iwo Jima has become a major symbol for the courage of the Marine Corps, as shown in the famous flag raising ceremony.

Maybe Bill didn't think he was a hero, however he sure rated as a patriot and a hero in my book, along with all of his fellow Marines. Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for my freedom. I thank all of you who pay the price for our freedom. I will never forget you. I will miss you.

From one Marine to another, Semper Fi Bill!

The viewing is today, Saturday December 6th at the Walker funeral home in Windsor, from 4 to 6 PM. The funeral is tomorrow, December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, at 2 PM, Hiway 13 Cemetary outside Windsor.

Web site for movie "Flags of our Fathers" -


At 1:00 PM , Blogger Allen King said...

Thanks for this story. I am a friend of Bill's daughter and was glad to read about her father


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