SPRAGUE: Today is July 29, 2021. This is an interview with Gary A. Castona whoserved in the United States Army from July 30, 1968, to February 7, 1969 and March 16, 1970, to March 13, 1972. This interview is being conducted by Luke Sprague at the veterans home in La Farge, Wisconsin, for the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Oral History Program. His sister Fay [Simplot] is also present in the room and she might be asking some questions. So, let's start out Gary. Where were you born?
CASTONA: [XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX] and raised in Amherst, Wisconsin, on a 300-acredairy farm.
SPRAGUE: What was that like growing up in Amherst?00:01:00
CASTONA: Isolated [laughs]. No, it was a good place to grow up. My father didn'twant us kids raised in the city. So, he made sure, [inaudible], as much as I hated that farm towards the end of it. It was a good place to grow up.
SPRAGUE: And, what kind of farm was it?
CASTONA: A dairy farm.
SPRAGUE: Where did you go to school?
CASTONA: My first school was the Little Polly School about two and half milesfrom the farm. It was a nine class room, you know, outside johns, the whole thing man, you know the last of that group. And then, up to I think it was fifth grade then we went to Amherst Junction which was a smaller school. And then 00:02:00after you got in eigth grade you went to Amherst High School.
SPRAGUE: Anything that you remember growing up in that area? Anything in particular?
CASTONA: Well, I'm gonna say this I'm a JFK boy. My father and a bunch offarmers went to meet JFK. And we got most them old boys happy, which said he wasn't afraid to walk around in his $300 or $1000 shoes in the cow shit. Ya know, hey. And another thing, he was a veteran. You know, he ah. Look what he did to save his people's lives. You know he, to me JFK is my inspiration. I was young when he got killed man and I've never forgot what he said, "Ask not what 00:03:00you can do for yourself, but what you can do for your country." And as a young, a young man man, that stuck in my world. You know. And I come from a family that went in the military, fought in World War II. I mean we didn't wait to be asked, we volunteered. You know. It's part of being an American man.
SPRAGUE: Any family members that you remember that you would be okay to name?
CASTONA: I don't know the name of my father's brothers, but there was threebrothers went to World War II, I think that were in the Army. And my mother's half-brother was a pilot lost an eye fighting the Japs.
SIMPLOT: And tell them about the book about the stone with that.
CASTONA: Oh yeah, yeah, one of my buddies, we get books from the VA to read as00:04:00you notice in my house I am a book man and our name showed up on that and I'll show you later the name of the book. It was my buddy took me to the VA, we went to the VA that day and I booked an appointment, two appointments and he had one in T, so he stayed in the car and he went looks for books. And he come back and he goes, "Gary your family's name is in this book." I go you are full of shit and he opens the book up and there it is. You know, that, I don't know if they're related or not but it is, is not a name that is so common, you know what I mean?
CASTONA: So, I had to show my family, show my shrink, show everybody man, causethat brought, it made be more proud too. 00:05:00
SPRAGUE: Mmm-hhm. You said that book was written by a Stone?
CASTONA: No, it's a book on Bastogne.
SPRAGUE: Bastogne, okay. Sorry.
CASTONA: Battle of the Bulge, Bastogne, got surrounded in there.
CASTONA: I mean, what's the odds of somebody pickin' a book up in the VA andfindin' your name in it.
CASTONA: Y'know? Me 'n my buddy, he passed, he was a veteran, too. He was thereafter World War Two lookin' for the Germans. Um, I've always in my life, I mostly hung with veterans. 'Cause that's the only place I feel comfortable. Y'know? Um, I have a problem [inaudible] society. I've been treated like crap since I came home.
SPRAGUE: So, when you were growin' up in Amherst, and then you had this familybackground, was that what drove you to join the military? Or volunteer?
CASTONA: JFK drove me. One of the best things I did in high school was history00:06:00and civics class. So, I still like my history. You know what I mean? You gotta learn from it. I mean. Y'know? They, there's a lot of mixed feelings after the war.
CASTONA: Because of how we were treated, y'know. Uh.
SPRAGUE: And we'll get to those.
CASTONA: Yeah. I don't wanna sound like a whiner, but man, fight or flight.
CASTONA: And it's all I know. For so long.
SPRAGUE: So when you joined the military, before you got in, did you have any reservations?
CASTONA: No. No, I actually, my father thought I ran away from home but Ihitchhiked to Stevens Point from Amherst. Went into the Marine Corps, thing 00:07:00there, and they told me I was a runt then. I weighed a hundred and fifteen pounds, I was five three Come back in six months. I walked out the door, went to the Army [Sprague chuckles]. Y'know. And, they got me in, that's what I wanted. I didn't care, I wanted the Corps first but the Corps wouldn't take me. Cuz' I was too little.
CASTONA: And, when I went to basic, we didn't--and then after basic and AIT I'dgrown three and a half inches and weighed a hundred and fifty-seven pounds of muscle.
SPRAGUE: So, when you enlisted in the Army, that would've been your.
CASTONA: Two months after I was seventeen.
SPRAGUE: Mmmkay. Mmmkay. Uh, did you need your parents' signature to enlist, or not?
CASTONA: Yeah, we're gonna get to that [Sprague laughs]. My father didn't wanna00:08:00sign for me. And my mother and father were two of the opposites. And uh, she told him, well, he had to talk about it. But man, he wouldn't do it and she had a talk with him that night. And she told me, she passed that, she said to him, "You always wanted him to do things on his own." Y'know? "It's, don't deny that from him. You're the one that put it in his head." So, next day he signed for me. That, y'know, that made me feel like a million bucks, too.
SPRAGUE: So, after enlisting, what was the first thing that happened? What wasthe next thing you did?
CASTONA: Basic training.
SPRAGUE: 'Kay. Tell me about that.
CASTONA: We were trained by a good group of sergeants. The master drill sergeant00:09:00was World War Two, Korean, Vietnam. The second master drill sergeant was three tours in 'Nam. And he was in Argentina and got his citizenship for being a soldier. And the buck sergeant that stayed in the bunk house with us, he had two tours in 'Nam. So, in 1968 we were trainin' for war. It was goin' on big time during that time.
SPRAGUE: Do you happen to remember any of that Argentine sergeant's name oranybody else, by chance?
CASTONA: No, but I got a picture, I got a couple pictures.
CASTONA: I had three albums in Vietnam that were either stolen from me.
CASTONA: I don't know why they'd wanna steal that kinda stuff. It's, God, them00:10:00guys were good. I was proud, I learned some things, you know. Back then man, if you screwed up, you low-crawled and stuff, with a bag, y'know, a thing full of rocks and your weapon, you low-crawled the parade field which is about three hundred yards long with pea gravel. Y'know? Learn by your mistakes. I had good discipline. My father was a disciplinarian. Y'know, so, it was different.
SPRAGUE: Any particular things you remember from basic that stick out in your head?
CASTONA: That I was just gettin' better, I was growin'. I felt, I felt great00:11:00back then. Kid, yeah, I was still growin.' I dunno any other way to explain it, it was. They double-rationed me, so [laughs] y'know?
SPRAGUE: Wow, okay. And that was at Fort Campbell?
CASTONA: Fort Campbell, Kentucky, eight three one. That was, um, where I wastrained on it by the PX, man, so. And we trained on 101st Airborne stuff there on the base that's been there, that would be there before early sixties. Y'know? They trained there.
CASTONA: I dunno if they do now again, I think they got it back finally.
CASTONA: But, it was a good place to train, and I didn't mind. When you grow upon a farm, you're physical anyway. So, that was, see what you can push yourself to do.
CASTONA: And that's what it's about, man.00:12:00
CASTONA: Made me a proud young man.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. So you get done with basic a Fort Campbell, what happened next?
CASTONA: Went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to be trained on artillery. Yeah, that wasa different--
SPRAGUE: What were your impressions of Oklahoma?
CASTONA: Flat [chuckles]. Flat. First time I ever seen a tornado, couple mileswide. That was impressive. And what happened during that time, my father died. So I didn't quite get all, I was like, two weeks short of our graduation, then. So, and I came home, didn't come home right away. What I remember. Oh, I didn't 00:13:00come home right away.
CASTONA: Well yeah, I did come home for my father's funeral, but I went back.Um, during that time, one of my younger brothers got burnt by throwin' a pint of gas in a big old boiler funace. And, I think I spent a week or so with him up there with him, man.
SIMPLOT: Yeah, he had seventy percent of his body burnt.
CASTONA: Yeah, he's a survivor man, too.
SPRAGUE: So, what did they specifically train you on at Fort Sill.00:14:00
CASTONA: Artillery. How to gun or assistant gun, how to drive certain equipment.
CASTONA: Y'know, just basics mainly.
CASTONA: I went, after Fort, after AIT, I went to Fort Hood for ah, vehicletraining. Drivin'everything except the semi. I wouldn't drive the semi, but I could drive anything else.
CASTONA: And we got, even in 'Nam, I could drive five ton or a tracked vehicle.
SPRAGUE: So, you got your tracked vehicle training.
CASTONA: Fort Hood, there.
SPRAGUE: At Fort Hood.
SPRAGUE: Not at Fort Sill.
SPRAGUE: Okay. So do you think, uh.
CASTONA: 'Nam, not, uh, Fort Hood at that time they had 'Nam training. It's, you know?
CASTONA: What to look for on the roads, they showed us what booby traps lookedlike, all that stuff. You know what I mean? 00:15:00
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. What, ah, what else at Fort Hood? Were there other things thathelped prepare you for 'Nam?
CASTONA: Uh, not really, because I got out of the service that first time.
CASTONA: Because my mother had to, uh, sell the farm. Y'know, I mean. So, Ihelped her with that.
CASTONA: Took about nine, ten months, I turned around and I joined the military again.
SPRAGUE: And that.
CASTONA: I volunteered for 'Nam.
SPRAGUE: Okay, and what type of discharge was that, when you had to come home for--
CASTONA: Hardship discharge.
SPRAGUE: Okay. Yup.
CASTONA: I even got the paperwork on that.
SPRAGUE: 'Kay. Did you have, um, y'know, was there any, that second time, you'vecome home, you sold the farm, you're helpin' your mom. You still wanted to. 00:16:00
CASTONA: I still wanted to finish what I started.
CASTONA: That was the reason I joined. And I felt like I hadn't done my job,finished my job.
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm, mmkay.
CASTONA: Y'know, and that's one of the things I learned growin' up is you alwaysfinish the job.
CASTONA: Wasn't 'fraid of hard work.
CASTONA: I'm a guy that pick up now just let go.
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. 'Kay.
CASTONA: I'm a self-educated man, I'm proud of that because of my reading andwhat I know. I mean, they can, I dunno, sometimes I think that people think that the war has just [door creaks] consumed our whole life. It did in the beginning, but my, 'Nam left me with the will to survive [door creaks]. Yeah, I can't even explain. 00:17:00
CASTONA: But it also left me [dog paws clack on floor and door creaks] lonelytoo, I don't even know how to explain my loneliness to people. It's personal Y'know? I can be with my friends, and yet be so, be by myself.
CASTONA: Y'know, because. What do I got to talk about? Before, I kept my mouthshut. Y'know, like I said, since I found the sarge, psshhhhew. It's comin' out, man.
SPRAGUE: So, tell me a little bit about this sarge figure [dog shakes head, earsflap]. Tell me about that.
CASTONA: Um. What I know is he was willing to teach me. So I ended up assistantgunning for him. And I didn't like that he got killed, or burned [plates clink].
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. We're gonna. [plates crash]00:18:00
CASTONA: Right along me. He was a quiet guy, but willing to teach. Y'know?
CASTONA: He helped me feel proud, that's why I gained two ranks in Vietnam. Imean, not to many people do that.
SPRAGUE: So, we're gonna come back to sarge and we're gonna cover that.
SPRAGUE: That's a very important part of your story. So, you get up, you comeback into the army, tell me about going to Vietnam. The first time.
CASTONA: I only went to 'Nam once.
SPRAGUE: Once. 'Kay.
CASTONA: When you get there, it's a, I got off in Bien Hoa. Air Force base, man.And, the first thing I remember seein' was this vet with his rifle and his pack, 00:19:00and they were just takin' his stuff away from him. So he could get on a plane and go home. Y'know, and I thought, and he looked like an old man. You know what I mean? I got, I see where that came from later. But, [sneeze in background] and he was only twenty years old. Y'know? I thought, "Oh boy. What'd I get my ass into?" Y'know? [Sprague chuckles]. Y'know? Quenstionin' your own, what the hell you're doin', y'know. But, somethin' inside me, I, it excelled there. It's just, by the time the war, when I came home, it went from thinkin' good of the vets to thinkin' bad of us. And the spittin', and burnin' flags, and. That was a quick 00:20:00way for me to get in a fight. Burn my flag in front of me. I wore shirts that said, "Burn this one, asshole." Y'know? That flag means a lot to me. Right there. A young artist from our community, she growed up, I bought it from high school art class. It's about her. Y'know, most of us country folks, y'know, we love our country more'n most. I uh, I been around the world. This is still the best place I know of. And you can drink the water. Because, anywhere out of this country you can't drink the water. And you didn't wanna drink the water in 'Nam, and you didn't know, they didn't tell us a lot about a lot of things. Which I think could've saved a lot of us health-wise. I mean, I'm here to talk about 00:21:00that, too.
CASTONA: Y'know? Because I want somebody to know that my children, one of themis sufferin' crap from it, so. How do I get help for my kids, or even, y'know, I'm hopin' what I'm doin' here will open the eyes to some people. So many of my brothers are gone, man. From their own hands. Suicide, alcohol, their own hands. Suicide by cop. Bein' involved in the VA, has always made me feel like the body count never quit. It still goes on, Y'know, our country talks so much about 00:22:00takin' care of the veteran, then they should do what they say. Y'know, I got a nurse here that comes every night to help me, bathes me and helps take care of my wounds. When I got a wound in my crotch that I'll never get rid of. Um, and they don't wanna pay her to do her job. Y'know, the VA's not takin' care of me medically, she is. Yet, I gotta kiss butt to try and even get something for her, for her work. It's comin' outta my own pocket. Y'know, I don't charge 'em any rent, the husband and wife, they help me. Y'know? This is what she's done for twenty years of her life. I mean, I'm disappointed in the system. What do you 00:23:00have to prove? To get these people to see this? Y'know? I've always felt shoved aside, y'know, they made me feel like a second-class citizen. I can understand.
SIMPLOT: [inaudible] Gary when they start with the pandemic, and when they shuteverything down, and left you.
CASTONA: Oh yeah, when that pandemic hurt me too, man. My camaraderie with theguys I see at the VA, ptsshhew, nobody. No healthcare, good thing I had this in place. My buddy that passed away, that lived with me for twenty-two years, um. I talked to this couple, and without them, I don't know where the hell I'd be. Y'know? I'm a man that don't wanna leave my home. This is my, like I said, this is my sanctuary. I feel safe here. Y'know, and I've, I'm into helpin' other 00:24:00veterans too, y'know? Knowledge man, is a big thing. Lotta young guys don't know, and if I can tell 'em something to help 'em,then I do that. Y'know. But since I been goin' back to the VA, the guys ain't there anymore, y'know what I mean? It's, you don't see hardly any of 'em. It's, I didn't realize how much of my social life was in the system.
CASTONA: You understand what I'm sayin'?
CASTONA: 'Cause it was a place . We can talk amongst ourselves. And that helps.
SIMPLOT: [Whispers to dog] No.
CASTONA: And the reason I'm back with the psychologist, because that's not thereanymore, y'know, I.
CASTONA: I'm, it's important to me. [Dog's paws clack on floor] I'm gonna00:25:00survive everything. I, this is so important to me, I don't even know how to explain it.
CASTONA: Somethin' else. [Dog paws clacking]
SPRAGUE: So, for a minute, let's go back. Let's go back to that, Vietnam,getting off the plane, seeing the soldier that looked like he aged. He got older, um. I have you down originally from the pre-interview being Alpha Company, 1st of the 27th Artillery.
CASTONA: Yes, artillery unit. One-five-five self-propelled.
SPRAGUE: Yup. So tell me about ah, that first couple months when you came intoVietnam, 'cause Operation Rock Crusher's goin' on, tell me a little bit about that.
CASTONA: Believe it or not, I don't remember a lot of it. But, we were short, in00:26:00the paperwork it says thirty-seven percent short of men. So in my comment to my shrink, everybody was, I felt like I never slept for the first six months.
CASTONA: So we didn't get a lot, the way it sounds, I didn't get a lot. I guess,the material speaks for itself. Y'know, and 'Nam to me is what I call 'shadows." The thing I wrote about "shadows," that's how I feel. Y'know?
CASTONA: I'm tryin' to put faces there so I can leave that neck of the woods,too, y'know? Life, to me, has been a maze. From the beginning of tryin' to get my head back together.
SPRAGUE: So, um, about from getting off the plane, how quick was that rolling out.
CASTONA: Oh, three days, man. We went out into the field.
CASTONA: And that's when the first shit happened, scared the shit outta everyyoung pup.
CASTONA: Y'know? New guy [chuckles]. Learnin' things that the guys could pick onyou, and it wasn't anything that hurt. Y'know? Like a lizard that says, "fuck you," or rock apes that throw rocks at you in the dark. Y'know, and the only way you know that is because you open fire on 'em. Kill 'em, y'know?
CASTONA: I remember, I get flashes of certain things.
CASTONA: And uh. I think, what I seen is when we're doin' this thing calledborder jumping. Or, maybe it was Operation Rock Crusher, too. Y'know, I come right in the middle of it, during that time we had captured the second-largest 00:28:00cache of them all. So-- I mean, stuff like that. I rememeber Cambodia had different terrain, y'know? That's. It was more like this. Without, lotta rubber, lotta people don't know the whole belly of Cambodia is rubber plantations. Y'know, Vietnam had a few.
SPRAGUE: Did uh, can you tell me anything more about capturing that cache?
CASTONA: Yeah. I got the paperwork, it talks about uh, like, five and a halfmillion rounds, AK-47 rounds. Bunkers in the ground that were messhalls that were, could do a couple hundred people. Um, let's take a break here bro, I gotta. 00:29:00
SPRAGUE: This is segment two of the interview with Gary Castona, he is gonnatalk to us, we were talking a little bit about the ah, weapons cache, or cache in Cambodia during Operation Rock Crusher. And I'm gonna let him, let him take the lead here. Gary?
CASTONA: Okay, um. This was called Shakeley's [Shakey's] Hill, because he wasthe only fatality in the assault on this complex. Which, says right here, which included uh, sixty-three flame throwers, hundred and eighty crew-served weapons, one point two million rounds of ammunition. Okay, this, you want me to read this? 00:30:00
SPRAGUE: Yeah, and if we could.
CASTONA: It, y'know, it's, 'cause it does have a lot to do with it. "Cachehunting and evaluation of base areas became the daily routine for most allied troops for the last three weeks of that operation." They say they drawed, they withdrew on June 30th.
SPRAGUE: June 30, 1968?
CASTONA: No, 1970.
SPRAGUE: 1970, okay.
CASTONA: And, the 1st Cav was involved, and 11th armored cav, and the ARVNs
CASTONA: Not real trustworthy troops. I uh, some of them just got up and run.
SPRAGUE: That was your experience?
CASTONA: That was my experience, didn't give a shit about, we took the brunt.
CASTONA: American soldiers.
SPRAGUE: What kind of, ah, fire missions did you have during that op?
CASTONA: Oh, I got paperwork that talks about that, two of 'em that says we weredoin', like, ah, Oh man.
SPRAGUE: That's okay if you don't.
CASTONA: It. We were doin' like five thousand rounds a gun. For ah, I dunno,it's in there somewhere. How much time.
CASTONA: But we were, most of the night.
CASTONA: Was artillery. For the grunts. And you're on call. Y,know.
CASTONA: In that combination of doin' that things, man, there's guard duty, try00:32:00to get one guy a little bit of sleep. And two guys on the gun. And you weren't supposed to do it, but we set up four or five extra rounds and powder charges in the gun, 'cause we were short of guys. Um-- that was part of the reason the sarge got burnt.
SPRAGUE: Were there a lot of, uh.
CASTONA: I just remember never sleepin', bro.
CASTONA: Because um, doin' artillery at night, and the get up in the morning anddrive truck. Haul captured supplies, haul our own supplies, haul for other guys [dog shakes head]. Y'know I mean [dog walks across floor], just never-ending, you know what I mean? A day, you're never, day all blended together. 00:33:00
CASTONA: And so I seen it.
SPRAGUE: Sounds like there was a lot of movement.
SIMPLOT: [Speaking to dog] No.
CASTONA: Yeah, in this stuff, some more of this stuff I got from the research,it talks about me being in eight different provinces, seven or eight different provinces. And Cambodia. And then it talks about border jumping, too. I mean, so, I think a lot of reason I can't remember or I blocked stuff off, 'cause there was continuous. Y'know? It was different.
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. Any, ah, we're gonna get to the sarge, what other injurieshappened while you were movin' around a lot?
CASTONA: We didn't have time for that, either. Guy disappeared. Nobody tells00:34:00you. I mean, I had that problem trying to find John.
CASTONA: Tryna find the other guys who tried to save his life.
CASTONA: No names in there, either. Y'know? But the general wrote that letterand said them guys were injured, so.
SPRAGUE: Do you remember, one of the interesting things in the research papersyou're talking about is, Alpha battery, 1st of the 27th, was the first.
CASTONA: First artillery unit into Cambodia.
CASTONA: In April, they went in.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. Did you have any direct fire missions? At point blank range, orwas it.
CASTONA: Oh, that, we did things that they called 'mad minutes.'
CASTONA: Which is, right around dark everybody gets out on the bunker, thebunker line, and lets 'er rip, open up, everything. Y'know? 00:35:00
SPRAGUE: Those were called mad minutes.
CASTONA: Mad minutes.
CASTONA: Which lasted probably ten minutes, you know what I mean?
CASTONA: You're talkin', ah, dusters which are twenty mike mikes , we had atleast two Quad fifties, which was two of 'em on the back of a five ton. That's goin' off, plus our own, the private soldiers, ammunition men, that would scare the shit out of 'em.
SPRAGUE: So while you're movin' around this during Operation Rock Crusher, andyou're in these,were you multiple different roles or one particular one?
CASTONA: I believe.
SPRAGUE: From what you remember.
CASTONA: What I, I believe what happened is, your first MOS in the army iseleven bravo. You're gonna be doin' that and your job, besides. That's what I 00:36:00call the border jumping, because it wasn't a whole artillery group, it was like two guns and a bunch of grunts. Y'know? And then, all they do is push up a berm and you got them two guns there and them guys, and guys out in the field. I mean, I see that one in my head to this day, man.
CASTONA: Y'know? I always question, was it real or not? But, paperwork speaksfor itself again.
SPRAGUE: Does that, was that a bit of a change? When you were doing that duringRock Crusher, where you're a smaller size unit and you're just.
CASTONA: Yeah, well, it's whatcha, well, I call it freaky. Y'know? And y'know,if a man says to you he ain't scared, he's full of shit.
SPRAGUE: Do you happen to remember were you assigned to any particular, you00:37:00listed 11th ACR, what was the other unit? 1st Cav.
SPRAGUE: Do you remember firing round, missions for any particular one, or all.
CASTONA: It's in the book here.
CASTONA: It would be wanna show you somethin'.
SPRAGUE: Okay. This is in the Donald Phillips book again.
CASTONA: Yup. From page one-twenty-two to one-thirty is all units that wereinvolved in it.
SPRAGUE: 'Kay. Gotcha, yup. The Cambodian Incursion Task Organizations, appendix00:38:00B, April 14th through June 30, 1970, page one-twenty-two. And this is Donald V. Phillips, the book is titled, or the piece is titled, "Across the Border: The Success and Failures of Operation Rock Crusher." Which the Wisconsin Veterans Museum will have in Gary's master file. Or it'll be in the archives, one of the two places. So okay [chuckles], down into the weeds. You said you didn't sleep much?
CASTONA: No, it felt like I never slept.
CASTONA: When you're young, you can do that.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. What.
CASTONA: They tell me I. Later in, when I started having PTSD things, that comeback with a vengeance.
CASTONA: I'm a guy that sleeps with my eyes open. I can, I'll watch you movin'around in the house. My nurse come in Monday, and that happens. Y'know, and, I 00:39:00gotta tell people. I'm a guy that, you spook me, I might grab your ass [Sprague chuckles]. And my intent will be, right at that moment, to hurt you. Y'know? It's, some things you never get rid of. When you think you got it licked, it'll come back and bite ya in the butt.
SPRAGUE: It sounds like that whole operation was pretty chaotic, but was thereany typical day or any pattern at all? Or just?
CASTONA: No, it just continuous war, that's what I see it as, just continuous.It sounds like we were movin' a lot, y'know, especially after the operation was done. Some of us stayed on the border, some of us border jumped. I man, psshh, 00:40:00lilke I said, it's in them papers, man. Eight, it's like my subconscious protecting me man, from a lot of it. Y'know? But also, I had PTSD, really severe at the age of twenty three. Y'know, it didn't take ten years to fester, y'know what I'm sayin'?
CASTONA: I was havin' issues. I got out in '72 and by '75 I was in the VA. Andlost, bro, really lost.
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. So, what can you tell me about July 18, 1970.
CASTONA: [Sighs] That was the day my sergeant got burnt. Um, it was during this00:41:00operation to, Or no, maybe it wasn't, I think it was some of the border jumpin' because there were backups, supposed to be backup across the border by June. We're doin' a fire mission at night, couldn't give you a time or even a date. Well, you got the date, that's right. Um, we were short a man, so we prepped our gun for at least seven rounds. So, you could get 'em out to the grunts. Um. We had a bad fire mechanism on this one five five SP, and back then the only way to 00:42:00get the primer out is to open the breach. Um, on the third time when I opened it, that fire, powder, cooked off. And, I, to me it's like he stepped in the way so I could dive out the door. And I took off running, it took guys to stop me because I don't know where I was goin'. Um. [dog walks across floor] It took me 'til, goin' to see John on the wall. This last time. To realize that them guys got injured, too, and I found out I was the only one left out of that gun crew 00:43:00that night. Somethin' you don't forget, man. What's weird is my brother got burnt and I almost died that way, too. How strange is that? Y'know? I'm a man that believes sometimes that you're destined, what happens to you is destiny. And I think that was, I had to go through my trials and tribulations to get this far. I didn't ever thought I'd get this far. It starts with the first opening up of uh, the major thing that was so vivid in my mind, that fire was so vivid. It was like whatever happened before that, and I'd been in-country three months 00:44:00already, y'know. May, June, July, yeah. Or two and a half months at least. When that happened. Um, You don't have time. What I remember is that forward colonel had wrote the letter for me. Told me that, um, it really happened. It wasn't just a figment of my imagination, it was real. I. My PTSD has been so bad through the years, and the early years. I went through, I don't know, six or 00:45:00seven suicide attempts. And uh, it's what I call, back then, I suffered from chronic depression, and they finally diagnosed me with mood swings, ah, it gotta think of that. Yeah, it's about mood swings. And I was on lithium for five years. It was one of them things that finally stabled me out, so, But I'm a man that when I get in this chronic state, I lose time and space. You know, it's like my subconscious takes over for me. It makes me, helped me get through it. it's my protector I guess, man. 00:46:00
SPRAGUE: Do you feel like sharing that sergeant's name?
CASTONA: Yes, yes, his name is John William Kisielewski, from Jersey City, NewJersey. All I, what I remember is the polak from Jersey, and that's, was how we found 'im.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. You need a break? Or are you good to keep talking?
CASTONA: Yeah. Well, yeah we'll take a break I guess.
SPRAGUE: Okay, this is segment three of the interview with Gary Castona. We leftoff, we were talking a bit about what had happened with the sergeant, there. And 00:47:00ah, do you have anything else you wanna say on that, Gary? Or do you wanna, are you ready to move on.
CASTONA: Uh, I ended up, my unit in November, A Battery, 1st of the 27th, camehome. And I was transferred to the 6th of the 27th.
SPRAGUE: Yup. So, it's interesting in looking at the records, that it looks likethe 6th of the 27th are. I don't wanna confuse you here, your first unit, Alpha Battery, 1st of the 27th, was op-conned, they call it. To the 6th of the 27th. But then, you, they deactivated the 1st of the 27th, just like you were saying. You came home. One of the things that's interesting there, could you tell me a 00:48:00little bit about the drop.
CASTONA: So, I found it pretty ironic, I ended up on a hill. Which, I have noclue where it was at. I was a "gun bunny" again [laughs]. You hear me? The guy that carries the ammo.
CASTONA: Because they had their guys already, whatcha-ma-call-it, that kinda.That hurt me in a way, 'cause from all my responsibilities to nothin.
CASTONA: Back to bein' a gun bunny.
SPRAGUE: Did you feel, uh, effects of the drawdown? At all at that point, or?Creepin' in there?
CASTONA: Yeah. Because we were in spots where some of these bases werehalf-closed down or closed down already, you know what I mean? 00:49:00
CASTONA: And a lotta 'em, some of 'em were on the border. I got, y'know, I told'em of the towns I remember goin' through and all that. And that's where it comes with all these different provinces, man.
CASTONA: Y'know, I, and believe me, along the border changes. I don't know howto even explain it, man. Y'know.
CASTONA: Um, like I said, I'm gonna find these pictures. I need to find you thepictures. It's just, to me it's a lotta stuff, man. That I don't know if I can remember it all. Y'know? Or.
CASTONA: To me, like I said, even when I came home, it was like the war never00:50:00ended. Kept going on and on and on, y'know?
CASTONA: Broken record shit.
SPRAGUE: So let's move you on here, lets go. You wind up in the 6th of the 27th,new unit, and that was Alpha Battery?
SPRAGUE: So you told me during the pre-interview, that was eight-inch.
CASTONA: Yeah, that was eight-inch and one-seventy-fives.
CASTONA: I was on one-seven-five, I hauled ammunition to the gun for that.
SPRAGUE: Uh-huh. Um, and were they located at one place or more than one place?
CASTONA: More 'n one place. Mostly along the border. Because the one-seven-fivehas a twenty-nine mile range.
CASTONA: So, you can reach out there.
SPRAGUE: Going into the 6th of the 27th Arty, Alpha Battery, did you have any00:51:00relationships with people at the battalion level? Or any peers that you'd recognize,
CASTONA: No. It was all company level.
SPRAGUE: Mmkay. What was it like working with the one-seven-five versus the one-five-five?
CASTONA: I didn't get to do any of the drivin' or the gunning anymore, I mean,y'know I was back to low-joe on the totem pole.
CASTONA: Because the guys that were there were already stable. So, understand itbut didn't like it, of course.
CASTONA: So even though you had quite a bit of experience there, they said itdon't make any difference.
SPRAGUE: It didn't make any difference [chuckles].
CASTONA: Yeah, it didn't make any difference. That's why I said, you couldbecome an eleven bravo if the situation called for it, y'know. 00:52:00
SPRAGUE: By 11 Bravo to the civilian readers, or listeners we're talking aboutan infantryman.
CASTONA: Yeah. You got that damn MOS whether you wanted it or not.
SPRAGUE: Yep. Did you have any involvement or knowledge of the ground sensor data?
CASTONA: No, they didn't tell us nothing. Same with the chemicals they werespraying. They didn't tell us nothing. We--y'know, they talk about burning crap, we did that in Vietnam too. They wanted to keep you busy if you were, you know what I mean?
SPRAGUE: What experiences or work did you have with those chemicals you weretalking about?
CASTONA: We used it--the stuff that I found out that we used was called Agent00:53:00Blue. It was an agent that was made of arsenic and it was to spray on rice paddiesa or any tree that was bearing fruit to eat, food. You know, it was made to put on food. And I had people work on that too. And there was Agent White which is the same thing as Agent Orange. Same chemical makeup or damn close to it. You know, I've suffered from stuff from it in the early years. In the late '70s I had like six cysts removed from the back of my neck. You can see what it's done to my legs, you know. I got, suffer what they call chloracne where my 00:54:00blackheads actually get red and kick pus up.
SPRAGUE: How did you end up applying those chemicals?
CASTONA: With a hand sprayer, a pump hand sprayer. A lot of it. I didn't see alot of that helicopter plane stuff. I mean, we seen it after it was done, you know. But on our artillery unit you got to keep stuff clear for 300 yards. So.
SPRAGUE: You ended up working out there in the field.
CASTONA: Yeah, well go do that, too, you know. You got somebody protecting youbut, you know, you don't let the vegetation get anywhere. That's what I remember, man. Just crazy.
SPRAGUE: And how many days did it take after spraying for the plants to react?00:55:00
CASTONA: Twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours or seventy-two hours, depending onthe terrain. And then it looked like somebody had bombed it, you know what I mean? Because all the leaves were off the trees. Somewhere, I'll find them. I got pictures of that what it looks like. It was something, you know it would have been nice if they had told us guys what we were doing in spraying, because most of us were spraying it, no tee-shirt you know, and it's hotter than hell. In Vietnam you had a rainy season and a hot season. And both bears. 120 degrees in the shade in the hot season, and about seventy-five to eighty wet, raining twenty-four hours a day for the first three months of the monsoon. And we heard 00:56:00back then they were seeding the skies to keep it goin' on a a little longer. But comes out that just blows you away.
SPRAGUE: So, we're jumping ahead here a lttle bit, but what was your experiencewith the VA and the chemical exposure issue?
CASTONA: It took them until sometime in the late '80s to even acknowledge it.You know I was a Vietnam vet took on companies in an action suit, lawsuit, that we won, but it didn't seem like that any, where did the money go? It was supposed to be over a hundred million dollars, you know. You can't tell me, they 00:57:00didn't give it to all the vets. Some of us got maybe two grand out of the whole thing, you know. I mean it's, then we fought for our rights, to show that what was wrong, what was going on with our bodies and stuff. They've been real good at it now since the late '90s. I think they got a whole bunch of new people in there that are actually doing their job, but since the pandemic they been shut off, too. In the early years with the VA the VA was a form of its own prison. It was a place that didn't have windows in the tramway. It had bars on the windows, all that stuff was still there until like '86,'87 before they finally put windows and stuff in. It was 2500 psych patients at Tomah VA during that time. A 00:58:00lot of Nam vets too, you know. In our ward we were losing guys all the time even at at the VA. There were bad people that worked there too. The reason I got problems with the infection with in my crotch is because of bad health care. When you get a nurse that has more complaints against her in her three years of working there than all the rest of the girls put together, something's wrong with that. And then they had another doctor that was an Afghanistan doctor vet, 00:59:00you know what I mean? And he took on my case because another vet introduced me and got rid of that, she finally got retired. But you know, she was the type of person that if she liked you, she helped you, if she didn't, and she was a nasty nurse to me. She was my psych nurse when I first got to the VA in Tomah. And I don't know if people who know who Nurse Ratched was. Well, she's the one from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and to piss her off I called her Nurse Cratched. You know, some of them people shouldn't have been working there. Back then there was me and aides. The only, one thing I can say about us Nam guys, 01:00:00you don't fucking do that in front of us either, because we'll fight with you too. My life's been spent in the VA. I'll stick up for my brothers. I don't give a fuck what war they come from. The first time I went after somebody, there was this old boy he couldn't talk much or anything but they used to let him go bowling. He's a guy that survived Vietnam, a belly gunner on a B-17. Lots of them guys got killed. What happened to this man, he bounced through the ceiling when that fucker went and hit the ground. And that's why he was in the VA for the rest of his days. You don't, I don't give a shit who that, anymore, we're all brothers. I always felt that, even if they didn't think we were. Nobody deserves that, especially, what I'd like to see out of the whole system is treat 01:01:00our brothers with respect. We most of us that do what we do, we do out of the honor in our soul. It's a piece of us. They stepped on it, they stepped on it and it hurt. And that's why I think we lost most of the brothers by their own hand is people weren't paying attention. To me I don't fear much. You know, I mean, you scare me, then that becomes a whole different ballgame. Then there's a piece of me that's always there that if you push it too far that little switch goes off, and I'm that nineteen-year-old combat vet and I'm going to take you 01:02:00out, you know. That's how good a training I had. You know, I bet those of us that were trained in '68, '69, we knew we were going to go, so you learned to be the best that you could be. I learned it, I went and learned open-hand fighting and stuff. So, you know, I wanted to be bad as I could be when I had to fucking [inaudible], you know. Do I have regrets? Not really. Soldiering, either you're there, or you ain't. And when you're, to me it was, if you're called upon I ain't afraid to, wasn't afraid to jump in there, and I think my record shows 01:03:00that in the first place, you know. How many guys would have gone back in after that hardship discharge?
SPRAGUE: Let's keep going. We'll cover those topics again. What, let's hop backto Vietnam really quick. Let's start there, keep going on that trail. So did you end up getting any, using any aircraft spotters for your artillery unit at all, or did you.
CASTONA: I wouldn't know, they wouldn't, nope, that was tough, man, you know.
SPRAGUE: Yeah. Okay. No problem.
CASTONA: Let me go back to my first unit. The reason I had a top securityclearance is because I could go into the fire direction center and you had to go. Not just anybody goes in there, you know what I'm saying?
SPRAGUE: Yep. So you had a top-secret clearance or something?01:04:00
CASTONA: A top-secret clearance with A Battery, 1st of 27th.
CASTONA: I mean.
SPRAGUE: How did you feel about the, we talked a little bit about the pullbackand turning those bases over to the ARVNs. What was that like?
CASTONA: To me they're shitless people. They, not all of them, special unitsthat were good at what they did, but of the common soldier would drop his shit and run. You, he couldn't be trusted, That's why I, like I still got a problem with them today, you know. I can smell them, I can still smell 'em.
SPRAGUE: What, do you remember any particular, while you were in the 6th of the27th, do you remember any particular locations like Quan Loi? 01:05:00
CASTONA: Cao thuong
SPRAGUE: Cao Thuong. Okay.
CASTONA: Cao Thuong comes to my mind.
CASTONA: And that one, oh it was on that paper that said, Ouan Loi, was thatBuon Ma Thout.
CASTONA: They were all border bases.
SPRAGUE: I have a couple of them here listed. Ouan Loi, Fouc Binh?
CASTONA: Loc Binh.
SPRAGUE: Loc Binh, Qui a Lin, San Vi, Fu Loi, Bou Bop Loc Minh, and Bien Ho, itlooks like.
CASTONA: That's something that would come up on the research man, that this guydid for me. Yeah. What I mean, they asked me what kind of unit patches I seen. I 01:06:00remember the 25th, The Big Red One, the 11th Armored Cav, our Second Field Force's patch. Me and them guys man in the whole tour of Vietnam you know what I mean? So, that might explain some of the movement that I was doing, you know what I mean, that's where the, because that's one of the first things they asked my first program was, what patches do you remember.
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. Do you have any things that you'd be okay talking about in termsof taking fire or taking inbound rounds?
CASTONA: I don't remember a lot of that. I honestly don't. I think that's partof my safety mechanism they tell me. My subconscious protected me.
CASTONA: You know, like I said, war is flashes for me.01:07:00
SPRAGUE: What did you guys do in your spare time?
CASTONA: Burn shit.
CASTONA: We were allowed a couple of beers a day.
SPRAGUE: Any drug use or any.
CASTONA: No there was a lot of marijuana smoking then, but.
CASTONA: That was everywhere in Nam.
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. How about interactions with the local population?
CASTONA: Not a lot. Not a lot. And I think the reason for that was, I thinkafter the My Lai Massacre they tried to keep you away from the villages and shit like that.
CASTONA: You know, a lot of people don't understand what Calley did he had areason. That group of men had a reason to do what they did. It was like two 01:08:00weeks or three weeks before that they took a hit out of the same area that killed a bunch of 'em. So I understand what they did. I don't agree with it but that happened a lot in World War II with the Japanese, you know. I mean I talked to World War II, they knew I fought the gooks. Cuz that's what they said, "We fought the dinks, we understand." Those vets I could get along with. It was the ones that fought the Germans, that always threw up in my face that Vietnam was not a war. My fucking comment is, hey, one man dies it's a fuckin' war.
SPRAGUE: OK. During the pre-interview phone call, you talked about being orderedto write your mother, do you remember that, and did maybe one of your NCOs tell you write or lose rank?
CASTONA: Oh yeah, I, unh, had to. Red Cross, showed up with my CO. I had not01:09:00wrote during the whole Cambodian thing man or hardly anything on my first unit. And unh, he come right out to me and said, "Right now. Sit down. Write your mother a letter. Or, I'll take your, take a stripe from you." And I did. I didn't know what to write my mother. You know? And I probably, she didn't need to hear it. I mean, I guess that's how I felt. I put myself in this story or in this place. I got a deal with the consequences, I can't drop this on my mother. She got the aftermath, after the war. She was my mentor. She was um, a very social person and she did believed in her community.
SPRAGUE: Um. What did you happen to remember what Battery A, the sixth through01:10:00the twenty-seventh if you had any. Do you happen to remember, were you there when they stood down. Or were you.
CASTONA: No, unh, No.
SPRAGUE: OK. Um, Did you happen to remember the firebase name like Andrews or.
CASTONA: No, See. That's.
SPRAGUE: OK, no problem.
CASTONA: And that's in that one I showed you, that showed the map. The things.
SPRAGUE: Yup. It sounds like there was a lot of movement and you were movingaround quite a bit. Very mobile is what it sounds like.
SPRAGUE: I'm used to thinking that an artillery unit as being somewhat static oronly moving once in a while. It sounds like you were.
CASTONA: Oh no, that track vehicle will go anywhere, like a tank. That sumbitch01:11:00down the highway will move fifty miles an hour your talking fifty-two tons. And you can take out what'cha want with that [chuckles].
SPRAGUE: Couple other quick names for Vietnam that were mentioned for theParrot's Beak and the Fishhook research material. If any of these catch a name, lemme know. Dao Ting?
CASTONA: Dao Chang, [nods assent] .
SPRAGUE: OK, Anything in particluar that you remember about that? No? OK.
CASTONA: No when ML came up, I'm going' Really?? You know. Hey I look at it thisway. Um. We never asked questions. Y'know it's. And I mean, I'm still that way. Someone tells me something and don't want me to say anything I won't. Because. I 01:12:00believe in that kind of privacy. You know I mean.
SPRAGUE: You had mentioned the rubber plantation earlier.
CASTONA: Yeah! God. That one is the one I [reaches for papers].
SPRAGUE: Do you want me to pause it here? You got it.
CASTONA: I got that. I know what I got, it's right here.
SPRAGUE: OK, so I'm gonna show.
CASTONA: Now these are two different plantations. This one's the Michelin tireplantation, they talk about. And
SPRPAGUE: This is the Michelin plantation near Dao Tieng. Let's put this up forthe watcher, the viewer here and then show me that other picture that you have there.
CASTONA: I have stuff written on it.
SPRAGUE: This one is up the road from Dao Tieng It's the Michelin RubberPlantation, and it's between there and the boundary road. With Bao Bang and up 01:13:00from Lai Khe.
CASTONA: Lao Kay. At that spot, see that was another place. I now remember thesenames. When you ask me what you remember, I go Ka Thuong, Bear Cat, La Kay.
SPRAGUE: Want to show us that picture.
CASTONA: Yeah that's this one. This one is true to its point what it talks about.
SPRAGUE: [Reads caption] 31,000 acres served as a communist staging area. It wasrumored that the French company paid off the VC to keep it operating. And so what, tell me.
CASTONA: the road goes through it, you got. I remember being on both sides. Butthat might have been the Michelin Plantation. That's what I think. The road went right through it. Oh, what. All these little dots here is plantation. And what 01:14:00most people don't know is the whole belly of Cambodia is rubber plantation. The big one is called the Chum [Chup] plantation, or something like that. Um.
SPRAGUE: Um, humh. Thanks for sharing that, We'll put it aside for now. So um.
CASTONA: Oh well [replacing papers in notebook].
SPRAGUE: You can just set it aside for now, come back to it.
CASTONA: Yeah, I got. That's what this is. Yup. [folds up notebook]
CASTONA: These places. They are straddled like our pine trees are here. You see.That's how these plantations are. You can never see through 'em. Charlie could come out anywhere with rpgs and disappear. You know? He wasn't out to destroy a whole convoy at once, but enough to kick out and so he could stop it. Do you know what I mean? Their goal was to wound as many as they could. That's what I see. [putting papers away on floor]
SPRAGUE: So, moving ahead in the sequence. What was it like when you finallyleft Vietnam as you were leaving it?
CASTONA: Oh. What happened to me over there, because of the shortness or men.01:16:00They left us in the fields until three days before I was supposed to leave to country. Instead of two weeks. So, no time to think about it. You know? Put you in pair of khakis, shove you on a plane, and head for Oakland. Um. What the fuck was that base there? That was probably one of my hardest times because when we got to the base and we were getting to move on to our different duty stations or get out of the service, there was a bunch of protestors there and they were throwing anything they could at us, and calling us all kind of names, it, it 01:17:00broke my heart. I thought I didn't. I felt like I wasn't part of my country. That was the beginning of that. And then towards the end of the war, when I got out of the service, you didn't even want to wear a uniform with your ribbons through the airports because somebody would do stupid shit.
SPRAGUE: So, when you first came back, when you went through the airport, wereyou in uniform or just put on your civvies?
CASTONA: In uniform man. We got off. We got to. I, like I said, leaving Vietnamhappened so quick like I said three days, all the paperwork, you know, all the bullshit. 01:18:00
SPRAGUE: Was there a WAC flight or was it a commercial flight out of Vietnam?
CASTONA: It was a commercial flight. I come on a commercial flight and I left ona commercial flight and what's wierd, I'm sure other guys said this, you could hear a pin drop until that fucker was in the air. And then everybody would go and get happy.
SPRAGUE: Was there a sigh of relief?
CASTONA: Yeah, or more.
CASTONA: Giddiness sometimes. Different or you know? Some guys cried, some guysman, just, you know, just like the first time you go into combat, you don't know, your'e in awe. Is this for real? I'm finally goin' home, you know? I made it! There's a sense of that, you know? I still didn't understand, have it in my head what was what. The protesting, my first experience was outside of Oakland, 01:19:00or whatever the hell was the name of that base, I, God I can't think. I know it too. Travis.
SPRAGUE: Travis Air Force Base.
CASTONA: Travis, that's where the hauled us. Back and forth from Nam too. Andwhen I want to Nam, hey when I came back they were just starting the, where they go through all your material because up until early seventies, they didn't do that. By the time seventy-one came around, they were going through everybody's stuff.
SPRAGUE: But they hadn't gone through it before that.
CASTONA: Yeah, like when they were lettin' World War Two vets bring their stuffhome if they wanted.
CASTONA: Couldn't do that after, by the time I come home. We couldn't bring01:20:00anything back, so. What I carried was a small duffel bag, little duffle bag, and I was going to get all new clothes when I got to Germany.
SPRAGUE: Before we get to Germany, did you come home to Wisconsin? Or what didyou do?
CASTONA: Yeah I came home to Wisconsin. I came home, In March. I think Vietnamwhen did I come home from Vietnam?
SPRAGUE: I have you getting to Germany in November in 1971.
CASTONA: OK, yeah.
SPRAGUE: And then that would have been a departure from.
CASTONA: That , what happened to me when I got home is within three or four daysof that I wound up in Great Lakes Naval Hospital with hepatitis. From eating gook food. With the water, you know and that shit. That's in my records. It 01:21:00wasn't drugs, you know. I spent forty-five days at Great Lakes Naval Hospital. and um. Then I got my thirty days leave. So then I was wasted away, but that was because I spent that first month and a half in a hospital.
SPRAGUE: Where did you spend the thirty days leave? At home?
CASTONA: At home. I [sighs and pauses].
SPRAGUE: What was that like?
CASTONA: I was in awe. I had to think about drink, getting drunk and open therefrigerator and sit down in front of it and eat stuff like lettuce, oranges, stuff that, drink milk. You know what I'm saying? I did that for ten years, you can ask my sister about that. And whereever I went there was real food, and not 01:22:00C-rats. That's why eating in the villages probably wasn't the smartest, but when you ate out of a can for too long you get an attitude.
SPRAGUE: So, you ate in some of the villages in Vietnam, what was that like.
CASTONA: Well, we're usually going trim in a convoy. One of us is, one of theguys is grabbing something. Cuz, you'll laugh straight out. Long as you don't tell me what it is and it looks good enough to eat, eat it. you know. I have a scent here for you that. I do aromatherapy and [reaches out palm of hand] lemongrass. Smell that?
SPRAGUE: Oh yeah. Just lightly.
CASTONA: Now the gooks, it's like a leaf, and you cut that into the food, so I01:23:00picked that out of fifty different fragrances they give me for aromatherapy. That one hit me like, I go, where the hell did I smell this one. And I talked to my ex-acupuncture doctor, she's an Oriental woman, and she said, "Gary, lemongrass." She waid you probably ate it when if you were over eating in a village, you were probably eating it you didn't know." and that scent, hey, you know it's. Some of the scents in Nam make you aware. I always had issues with the gooks. I'd back my ass against the wall until they were out of there. Because I get frantic. 01:24:00
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. So tell me about goin' to Germany.
CASTONA: Ah, Germany, If I woulda knew what I was gettin' into, I wouldaextended in Vietnam.
CASTONA: I went to what they call a Pentagon unit.
SPRAGUE: Tell me--
CASTONA: Spit shine, everything, including the guns. Everything lookin' pretty.
SPRAGUE: [Chuckles] Okay.
CASTONA: New equipment, and the longer I stayed there, the more I was upset.Because my sarge died because of faulty fucking equipment. We scavengered in the firt unit for one gun outta six, so we could keep the other fuckers running. Y'know, and pull that other one along. We could still do artillery with it, but 01:25:00couldn't move.
SPRAGUE: You're talkin' about your unit back in Vietnam.
SPRAGUE: Alpha Battery, 1st of the 27th.
SPRAGUE: Got it.
CASTONA: Yeah, that come to me--
CASTONA: Well that's why Germany had upset me. That's where I thnk the PTSD wasalready starting. Y'know.
CASTONA: Which, owrried about that, I still wanted to succeed. I went and tookan E-6 school to be a buck sergeant. Er, y'know, to make rank.
CASTONA: I come out in a class of three hundred in the top twenty, at numberseventeen. I has some award there, and ah,I had put in what they called two ten-forty nines to try and come back to Vietnam. And they wouldn't let me, and I told 'em, "I fuckin' quit." I said, "I don't give a shit how you get me outta 01:26:00the military, it's time for me to go home."
CASTONA: Y'know? I couldn't deal with the fact, all this equipment, man. Peopledied because of fuckin' faulty equipment, man. Same thign that happened in Iraq and shit. Y'know? You love your soldiers? Then treat 'em like, with the best, not bullshit. Pssh, there was no reason for the sarge to die.
SPRAGUE: So that was still followin' you to Germany?
CASTONA: Oh, that was followin' me, you're damn right, that was [??] to me--
CASTONA: That's because I was on the same kinda gun in Germany, one-five-five.
SPRAGUE: One-five-five self propelled.
CASTONA: S-P, yeah.
SPRAGUE: I have you down as Charlie Battery, 2nd Battalion, 92nd Artillery?
SPRAGUE: Sound about right?
CASTONA: Yup. That's it.
SPRAGUE: Looks like it might've been out of Giessen, Germany?01:27:00
SPRAGUE: Giessen, sorry.
CASTONA: It's about sixty miles, ah, southeast of Frankfurt.
SPRAGUE: 'Kay. Any ah, youhave mentioned during the pre-interview, maybe someracial tensions there?
CASTONA: Aw, see that's another thing I never understood. I never seen that inVietnam, and I was brought up, you know, we're all the same. Know what I'm sayin'? I ended up with a Black--mostly Black unit. And them were guys, man, that I trusted with my fuckin' life. They're the ones that taught me. Y'know, this [??] truck here, um-- Jonesie. That's what it says on there, y'know? 01:28:00
SPRAGUE: Was Jonesie--
CASTONA: What happened to him, is ah, only one guy drove in trucks when youhauled ammunition. And wheat it did was pop Jonesie's eyes outta his head, and he was bleedin' from all his orifices on his head. Um--
SPRAGUE: Was he African American?
CASTONA: Yeah. These are the guys I served with. These are my guys, y'know?
SPRAGUE: Oh, and here's a picture of Jonesie.
SPRAGUE: Well, we think it's Jonesie, truck driver, do we happen to knowJonesie's real name? Or last--
CASTONA: He was from Mobile, Alabama.
CASTONA: And when I was down south, and I went and grabbed a phone book inMobile, it was like ah-- [lauhgs] prolly ten thousand Joneses.
CASTONA: So that was the end of that.01:29:00
SPRAGUE: Was he just wounded, or was he killed in action?
CASTONA: He--no! He survived it, I didn't fina out until years later that hesurvived it. I had the sergeant alive and Jonesie dead, and it was the other way around.
CASTONA: Y'know, because like I said, my head.
SPRAGUE: Yeah, things got mixed up.
CASTONA: Y'know, Jonesie's friend--Jones--these guys, man, I got some otherpictures, I gotta find 'em for ya. They're uh-- of a place called Nui Ba Den, it's Black Virgin Mountain, hauled ammunition outta Tay Ninh. Um, I got pictures of some a that.
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. [Pages shuffle]
CASTONA: I was lucky. This guy here, was from my sister unit. Rutherford.
SPRAGUE: This guy, right here.01:30:00
CASTONA: [Papers shuffle] Sorry, bro-- This is when I connected with him.
CASTONA: This guy right here.
SPRAGUE: With John J. Rutherford.
CASTONA: Right. And he remembered--
SPRAGUE: Rutherford, got it.
CASTONA: He remembered my nickname an' all that.
SPRAGUE: [Laughs] He addresses you here as "Dear Igor" and you had mentionedearlier, off-interview, that that was your nickname.
CASTONA: In Vietnam.
SPRAGUE: From your [intermen??] in 'Nam.
SPRAGUE: 'Kay, interesting.
CASTONA: And he talks about some of the drivers an' stuff.
SPRAGUE: And he wrote it in 1991 [October 16, 1991 in letter onscreen]. [Laughs]Interesting. So--go ahead, I'm sorry. 01:31:00
CASTONA: He was the guy that got me these pictures.
SPRAGUE: That would be a great contact.
CASTONA: Yeah, that was my first time---that was--I didn't know that was thesarge. You know how we found out it was him, I had found him somewhere in the 90s, I guess, but they didn't have him with my unit. They had him with the 7th of the 8th, which was the eight inch battery.
CASTONA: But the time I was there, he was there. So--
CASTONA: I didn't take that in my head. But the person that was helping meresearch had talked to the mother, and the next day the sister called back. His sister--yeah, I gues they don't--two kids in that family. And she didn't want me 01:32:00to bother the parents. Outta respect-- for John's mother, "Gold star mother, you back off." It's the honorable thing to do. So I backed off, and it was hard for me to do, but outta respect.
CASTONA: Y'know, I found out that--what the hell was that. i wrote that thingabout John, when--and I wrote about Shadow. That was when I found out, whatcha-ma-call-it, we actually had the right man.
SPRAGUE: So ah, talking about John William Kisielewski?
SPRAGUE: Kisielewski. Spelled--make sure I have this spelled right. K-I--
CASTONA: Whoa bro, man, I got it here somewh--
SPRAGUE: Oh no, I've got it written down here for ya, from our pre-interview.01:33:00Looks like to me it's K-I-S-I-E-L-E-W-S-K-I. Sergeant John William Kisielewski.
CASTONA: Yeah, and it start with a "T", right?
SPRAGUE: With a "K". Or--
CASTONA: It should be a "T" if I'm right.
SPRAGUE: A "T"? Well maybe we can--
CASTONA: I'll figure--
SPRAGUE: Yeah, well we can find that out or fix it later, but yeah. Or we canlook for it now if you want, I mean, pause it and come back to it.
CASTONA: Oh, I--here. It is a "K".
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm, yeah. Yeah, so, this is a poem,or a--prose?
CASTONA: Um, it's not a poem, it's what Vietnam left me with. [Paper reads: InHonor of Sgt. John W. Kisiewski AKA "The Pollock", Crew Chief, 155 Self Propelled Howitzer. Burnt: July 18, 1970, Died: August 8, 1970, Found: May 15, 2015.] About the sarge and the other people I lost through the years. I mean, 01:34:00uh-- it was a dedication to him that I tried to leave in D.C. but there was no place to leave it. And it's called "Shadows." [Title reads: Shadows of War] It's my explanation of my journey through mental illness and PTSD, y'know? This is, when I found him, my life started to change again, you know what I mean?
CASTONA: I feel, in my fifty years since the war, that I've lived four differentlifetimes in this one. Because I've fought for change, y'know what I mean?
CASTONA: Y'know, I understand what my doctors are tryna tell me, I should beproud of myself an' all that. But what people don't understand is the guilt of 01:35:00survival. Y'know?
SPRAGUE: So that's uh--we'll come back to that. Let's finish up with Germanyreal quick. So, you get--tell me about that discharge or whatever you're willing to tell me--
CASTONA: So, when I told 'em that, I put on my civilian clothes and I stayedaround the base. and waited for them to do whatever they were gonna do to get me out. Y'know, I wrote a letter for my court martial, but I never went to one. That explained how I felt that I shoulda got a good discharge.There's a whole thing on that in there, too.
CASTONA: About how I got that changed an' all that, too.
SPRAGUE: How do you think that affected you, leaving the military that way?
CASTONA: Um-- at that time, I didn't give a fuck. I wanted home, I had enough.01:36:00"If you weren't gonna do what I asked you to send me back, fuck you, I'm done." Y'know? At least I felt in Vietnam like I was doin' something.
SPRAGUE: Mmm. Did they--I've gotta ask, what--I know you had mentioned it, wetalked about it during the pre-interview. You talk about a discharge or court martial, was it an actual court martial?
CASTONA: Yeah, oh yeah, it was--the papers there, I got that, that's in there.
SPRAGUE: Mm-hm. An then, that initial discharge, even though you said you had itupgraded in '78, that initial discharge was other than honorable? Dishonorable? Or?
CASTONA: No my [inaudible]
CASTONA: It was, I got the paper work. What they did, is. My aunt was a bigperson in Veterans of Foreign Wars. She had been national commander a couple of 01:37:00times out of West Allis 1912.
SPRAGUE: And what's her name by the way?
CASTONA: Her name was Rosemary Klarr.
SPRAGUE: Rosemary K-a, K, K-Larr [sounding out].
CASTONA: K-L-A-R-R. I think.
SPRAGUE: Klarr, okay got it.
CASTONA: Her husband was a submariner during World War II.
CASTONA: Her second husband.
CASTONA: She was, and another one they called the Cooties.
SPRAGUE: Yep, yep, the Cooties.
CASTONA: They were, she is the one that helped me and I hated her. [Laughs]. Shewas an authority figure too so. But she believed in what she was doing. And what she did for me, when I started having my PTSD issues is she got that discharge changed. And I have the paperwork to prove it.
SPRAGUE: Mmm-hmm. Okay, no problem. I believe you. I am good we don't need tosee that. But yeah that's good that she was willing to help you. 01:38:00
CASTONA: Well yeah man. Yeah, like I said talk about people in the military inmy family doin'. My mother and her, Aunt Rose, both were Rosie the Riveters, hear me?
SPRAGUE: Mmm-hmm. Rosemary, was she in the auxilaries or was she actually in--aveteran herself?
CASTONA: She was in the woman's auxiliary national commander, public--I
SPRAGUE: Okay, cool.
CASTONA: I am not sure how many times, three, four.
SPRAGUE: Oh wow.
CASTONA: She was a tough cookie.
SPRAGUE: So you get out of Germany, you come home, what was that like comingback from Germany?
CASTONA: Oooh. A lot of starter reflex.Every time something bang, boom I wascrawlin' into a hole. Some peopel would laugh at me for. Thought it was funny. 01:39:00Thought it was funny to pick on us if we had that problem. I. What I did was I ran into another Nam vet and we pissed around for a whole year, drinkin' beer. you know? That was our way to deal with coming home. He was a door gunner, I was a truck driver, er, track driver, too. [sighs] Yeah, we'd get up. Reason why, we had this buddy owned a beer bar, he'd let us sleep on the pool tables and we'd clean up for him in the morning, ya' know? That's where we'd start drinkin' beer, ya know? Um. The nightmares weren't so prevalent yet. Ya know? That didn't 01:40:00happen 'til the war ended. And they came with a blast.
SPRAGUE: What was your thoughts on.
CASTONA: Oh! Let me finish here, I got something else to tell you. I wasoffered. I used to walk around with a bottle of beer in my military coat.'cuzi can't do that, that's what I was wearin' and I knew the local law, ya' know. There were a couple of them that were Nam vets. And they wanted me to be a cop in the worst way, or a deputy sheriff. And I couldn't do it, I told them I wouldn't do it. They asked me why and I was never touched a pistol until I went in the military. And I told them "no," I cn't do that, because If I pull a 01:41:00pistol on you I'm gonna shoot you. Shoot to kill. You know that's. I don't care, that's in the head brother. I don't know any other way to explain it man, I couldn't do it. That messed with me too, man. you know. you think it's. INo control on what's goin' on around you really. You know? the protesters are still doin', jerks still doin' their shit. I didn't even go to certain places 'cuz I didn't want to deal with them guys.
SPRAUGE: When you came home, where did you go? When you were doin' what you were doin'?
CASTONA: My brother's house was in Stevens Point.
SPRAGUE: What was the. What did you feel like the community support was?
CASTONA: There was none. There was a neighbor that always called the law on me01:42:00when come home, when I had a buzz on. She didn't like vets. That's happened to me more than one time in my life. I got paperwork that shows that. From this community when I first came to it. But I wasn't going to leave. You hear me? Me and a few other of my brothers tried to. We tried in a lot of ways to educate the law here. John Spears is a good many because he, cuz he knows what PTS is about. You know? If I have issues with somebody, I usually go to him, and I respect the law, you hear me? They got a job too. I wouldn't want their job. It takes a special person to do that kind of shit. Just like it takes a special 01:43:00person to be a soldier. you know.
SPRAGUE: Who'e John?
CASTONA: John Spears. The local sheriff for Vernon County.
SPRAGUE: OK. How many of your fellow and brother veterans are you in touch withor not in touch with?
CASTONA: I got one. Most of the boys have died. Most of my buddies have gone.You know when I talk about that guilt. That's one of those guilt things I still deal with. To watch so many of my brothers go. Bro. I did four PTS programs in Tomah VA and one at a private hospital to get rid of my dreams. There was the guy that helped me and he used to work at the VA, but he went into his own 01:44:00private care, and he had. And he was the guy I told you that took us basket cases, and unh. I spent four and a half months with him in a civilian hospital. And I was only combat veteran. So it was a learning experience for me to learn how other people could end up with trauma, just as bad as combat. You know I mean, I never, really seen that before, you know? So it was a good experience for me. And the man helped me get rid of my nightmares. He got me so I could talk back to him. Tell him, "You can't do this to me anymore." If I got too crazy, "Get up Gary." I haven't had a nightmare in almost twenty years. I have flashbacks. That's what I get. I haven't had a panic attack until before this 01:45:00pandemic. When the pandemic first started. And I hadn't had one in eighteen or twenty years. And that, when, and I know why I didn't want 'em again. 'Cuz I was an old man, and it physically, it hurt me. It put me in a hospital for a week. I lost a whole day, what I call that a loss of time and space. You know what, and I call it, um. There I go. My subconcicous is covering my ass again, ya know? You kow what I mean?
SPRAGUE: What was your, experience with veterans organizations when you came home?
CASTONA: Not good. Not good. When I come home. I went to, I was just. I just got01:46:00home from Vietnam. I went to the local American Legion and I thought that would be a place for me to be with other soldiers. Wrong. There was an old World War Two vet there that fought the Germans, kept tellin' me,Vietnam's not a war. And leave me alone. And leave me alone. and I ended up kickin's his ass. They brought the cops. and they told me I was banned from that place for life.Yet, when I was here, they came to me again, 'cuz we wanted to start our own group of 01:47:00younger guys. And they lied to us. Ya' know they, uh. they, Uh, they come to me and I got like, in less than a week we got what we needed to start our own. So we started having meetings in this place, and they bullshitted us around for a year and there was politics that came up and they told us that if we didn't keep our mouths shut more or less, that they wouldn't give us our charter.
SPRAGUE: This was the Legion?
CASTONA: And you know what we told 'em? Stick it up your ass. Nicely though. Youknow, when, when this guy comes and told us man, that we had a politically go 01:48:00and follow their shit. Do you know what I told 'em? More than some of the other guys. But what I told 'em, I says, "How fucking dare you? I fought for this right. you're telling me. I gotta vote this way or you ain't gonna do this for us? Why fuck yourself." And that was the end of that.
SPRAGUE: Was that here in Vernon County, or was that in Portage County?
CASTONA: Yeah! Oh yeah man, this was when I first got here.
SPRAGUE: OK. I'm just trying to clarify if it was over by Point?
CASTONA: You know. If Ibana was before, uh Spears, he'd been sheriff for I don'tknow, many years. One of my buddies named Ron Knutson was a cop that, for Ontario at one time and he had seen and we know the presence of bad things that happened. We had told them that this murder was gonna happen 'cuz he had dealt 01:49:00with this man. He ended up killing his wife. Um, It's
[SPRAGUE Checks Tape and resume interview]
SPRAGUE: I'm here with Gary Castona and we are talking about his feelings anddealing with the uh, American legion and some issues with those after coming home from Vietnam. And then he was talking about dealing with shit.
CASTONA: I forgot were I was.
SPRAGUE: You were dealing with, uh, coming home and politically the Legionwanted you to vote a certain way, or politically act a certain way and how that disturbed you and you decided you had better things to do. OK.
CASTONA: Yeah, What I 'm talking about is there's, what people don't understand01:50:00is we have this sense of things when they're wrong. Does that make sense, you know what I mean. It's. What Vietnam did, what people don't understand. When combat is happening, even the insects disappear. You hear me? It's That's where that dead silence drives us nuts. It drives me nuts. I have the TV going twenty-four hours a day. because if you shut it off, I wake up. You know what I mean? You can smell things happening, or feel things. You have more senses that you don't even know you're aware of until you come home. You under, you know? It's feelings, smells, and sometiems with the dinks around you can, that' like a 01:51:00slap in the face, wake you up.
SPRAUGE: What was your experience of Memorial Day?
CASTONA: Oh, I didn't do any holidays for probably twenty years. You know. Imean. My mnother was a christmas person and she lived here the last three yes of her life. And I did that for her. But to me holidays, Memorial Days, I had my youngest brother I can't remember the dates, but he died swimmng on Memorial Weekend. You know, I mean, It seemed like every so often I'd get a shot. My 01:52:00birthday ended on the day the war ended. You know what I mean. It just.
SPRAGUE: And your birthday is?
CASTONA: April thirtieth, 1975, or um, [XXXXXXXXX]. That's the date the VietnamWar ended. I didn't realize there was somewhere in my paperwork I had some um stuff I wrote in the paper about how I felt and what people should, what I wanted people to understand, you know?
SPRAGUE: What are your thoughts, on. Have you ever seen the movie, have you everseen it, the movie, the fictional movie, "Born on the Fourth of July?"
CASTONA: I watched that one and I understand that movie more than peopleunderstand, because.What it reminded me of was my days in the early VA. Um, 01:53:00they, what happened in one of my PTS units wasn't a good thing that happened. He took us to see "Platoon," And you know, they were still not sure of what to do. That whole fuckin' group of guys, man we were all fucking nuts for about three days. You know? Cuz I'll tell you why. Lotta people won't. Did you see the movie?
SPRAGUE: I've seen the movie Platoon?
CASTONA: Did you see the silhouette right at the beginning? By that stack,standing my the tree. Most people don't see that.
CASTONA: Understand what I mean. What I think or how it happens for me is whatthe military taught me is to see movement and not look for an animal or whatever it is. You know, you look for movement, out of the ordinary, what's out of the 01:54:00ordinary. I am an observer, I have people tell me I am an observer. Cuz. you know. I sit back and watch people. Cuz I'm leery of them. I had to learn from an old cop that that I grew up with that me as a kid, to learn to tell people that were harassing me, in pub or anyplace else, say three times, " leave me alone, leave me alone, Leave me the fuck alone." And it they push it, I didn't realize that she sat me there and she said you know Gary, why we arrest you first? You are a combat veteran, and I never though about that. You know. But by listening to him and by saying it three or four times if the guy that harassed me, then I 01:55:00could kick his ass and they'd haul him away. Because the bartender knew I was trying to get it stopped. My earlier years I couldn't do that. [clicks his fingers] and I'd fire in a minute. You know? Later my life, later after, sometimes during the VA I lived in the woods just to avoid people. cCuz it felt like to me that I had to do that, because every time I came out to Joe Public, there's always that one fuckin' asshole that's gonna poke. And back then, I'd get, I'd fire. There was no time to think, I reacted. And that's. most peole were scared of that. I wasn't. I thought, it was normal, you know what I'm sayin'? It was normal.
SPRAGUE: Yeah, yeah. So how do you feel about your Vietnam experiences?01:56:00
CASTONA: The things I feel, that I'm proud of, is the camaraderie we had, withmy fellow guys, man, you know . The guys, that, that worked together. We, you know, it's. You get to know a man when you sleep in the mud next to each other. Shit like that. You know. Eatin' C-rats. You know, the good and the bad things. That camaraderie was something that I always missed when I came home. Until they had their PTS programs there was no camaraderie with any group. It was screwed up. Nobody knew what to do for us or to us, or what. You know? I'm lucky I had 01:57:00my mother right there. You know she, she told 'em right out. that that ain't my son that came home from the war. There's that jacket there. You see what it says on it?
SPRAGUE: It's a little hard to reead, it looks like it says, "my son is"
CASTONA: A Vietnam veteran.
SPRAGUE: A Vietnam veteran.
CASTONA: And I'm proud of him. And that's when the Vietnam vets first started.That come out of Stevens Point. She knew a bunch of them guys too. She helped teach the handicapped and stuff like that, and she belonged to the Foster Mother program. And she did that for twenty years. Twenty-four years after she retired. She taught people to read. She was. You know, my mother was my mentor. She, You 01:58:00know I'm a mama's boy and proud of it. And I don't care what anybody says. She believed in me when nobody else could, or understood, my own brothers and sisters were spooked by me, you know? I was unpredictable brother, what can I say?
SPRAGUE: And what was that organization on Stevens Point, what was it called?
CASTONA: VIetnam Vets of America.
SPRAGUE: Here I can get to it. Here let's pause the interview again. This issegment five. We are still speaking with Gary Castona and we are continuing the interview. And Gary had started telling me about coming home and his mother and 01:59:00her support as a Vietnam vet. I'm going to turn the floor back over to Gary. Tell me about that Gary.
CASTONA: My mother said that her son didn't come home, that her same son didn'tcome back from the war. Um. My mother was involved in what they call the Foster Grandparent Parent Program. Which was to help kids read or help the handicapped. It was all about learning. Um. She was also during the war. She was Rosie the Riveter, she didn't like being called that, but she worked for Allis Chalmers and Allis Chalmers supercharger helpin' with puttin' fighter planes together. Um. worked most of her life, uh, she loved her soldiers, and anything to do with 02:00:00education. Proud woman. Got her GED at seventy-seven. she had more, what do you call it, good old things from the college courses that she took. She had more education in college things things, then um, and she still doesn't have her high school diploma. So she got to do what she wanted. She quit school to work in the war factories. And she always wanted to be a teacher. And at the end of her twenty-four years, after she retired, is what she did, she gave back to her community. Like I said she loved her soldiers, she was my mentor. She, unh, 02:01:00stood by when nobody wanted to learn what Vietnam was about.
SPRAGUE: Now, was your mother Betty Castona?
CASTONA: Yes sir. Elizabeth Castona. And this is one of the things she gotcomplimented for [Holds up Stevens Point Journal article about mother's teaching career].
SPRAGUE: And that was in Stevene Point or somewhere else.
CASTONA: Yes sir, Stevens Point.
SPRAGUE: Why don't you, when you are ready, show us the jacket, that she had.
CASTONA: well, my mother would try anything to get me help in any way she could.And, some of the guys had children with disabilities that she helped each. You know. She taught the cops, the gangster, the veteran, you know. Nobody's kids 02:02:00were left out. She believed in that. Um. My mother. I didn't belong to the Vietnam Vets of Stevens Point. But my mother went out of her way to join this and say this [holds up nylon jacket with VVAW logo on back], "My son is a Vietnam Veterans of America" and "Proud of him."] My son's a Vietnam vet and I'm proud of him. It means so much to me. Ma Castona she was known by most of the veterans.
SPRAGUE: And there's her name tag there. Let's get that up. Mom Castona. Wow.
CASTONA: My way to honor my mother. Like I said I love her and I miss her. She02:03:00was a person i could talk to when there was nobody else. And she put up with me and my mental states that weren't so good either. Very special person, You know, there, it's like the VA sometimes. It's, sometimes you get somebody that really cares. and they want you to succeed. My mother always wanted me to succeed. She would give me the will help fight again and so I wasn't harming myself. Cuz, like I said, the first years, the first few years home were tough. She came to the programs when they had a, you know when they have like family days and 02:04:00stuff. And she came to each of these programs. And she like, she shared what she went through too, ao. It's real. It's not a figment of anybody's imagination. War is real.
SPRAGUE: So, Gary I gotta ask you. Why did you want to do this interview?
CASTONA: Why do I want to do this interview? It's my way of finding, I don'tknow it I'll ever find anybody, but have been looking for, since the early eighties lookin' for guys from my unit. If I can't find somebody It was about honor and the them getting being honored, because what I found is they don't even know who we are. We were guys sman, and people died. And like I said they 02:05:00forgot who we were. And when they talk about expendable, now I understand that word. You know?
SPRAGUE: Is there anything else that you would like to cover?
CASTONA: About my mother?
SPRAGUE: No, that you would like to cover?
CASTONA: I, I, to me my life has been like goin' down a jungle path. The older Iget, the less booby thats are there.there are there. You know, because in one shape of form, I've tried to face 'em. It's , I feel like a shadow man that, 02:06:00I've wrote about it, and I think somebody should throw it in this thing too because It's really how I feel. It was, it come out of me, I just picked up a pen one day and wrote it and I didn't know where it was comin' from. And you know, people read it and even my shrink said that she even got the chills from what she read. I mean, where did that come from, that's from inside. It's a piece of war that's it's unexplainable. Um, you just can't tell anybody, man, 02:07:00what it was like in a way that makes them understand. That's what I found out. you know. And some may care. In my time I had people tell me, :well you got what you deserve." That's a hell of a statement to shrow at a young soldier, after he's put his ass on the line. Um, Yeah. My bitch is with Joe Public. Reason he thinks sere were treated th way we were is because the media was out of control then. They made ous out to be killers. And not have any soul. And they are totally fucking wrong. We got more soul than people will ever understand. Because we have taken other souls. Until somebody does that, what the fuck do 02:08:00they know? Don't judge me, I'm telling you. my biggest bitch with Joe Public is you have been judging me since I came home. and even now and then you still do it to me. And still you're spooked by when I get pissed off at you. I, this is my way it's not being put down during the whole thing. What we are doing here is my life. My life is not normal. You know, I am a guy. Man, you weren't going to put me in a halfway house. I went to the woods. I grew up in the woods. OK! What Nam did for me was teach me how to do it better. And I was at peace with myself 02:09:00in the woods, except my nights were crazy, 'cuz I didn't sleep. My whole life has been fighting for that sleep. You know. I'll go to my deathbed being tired. That's what my mother instilled in me. Be proud of who you are. Even if other people tell you they ain't. Because you've done something that not any of them could just say they did either. What do they know? They were having fun being teenagers, I was doing my duty. I considered it my duty, I'm proud of that. Even if they never gave me back an honorable discharge. I'm not. I don't care. I'm 02:10:00proud of what I did in fuckin' Vietnam. If I learned anything I learned that men can be so goddam tight it's like losing your own family when something happens to one of them. But Vietnam you didn't have time for the sour or the pain that goes with it. It's up in the back of your fuckin' head. It comes out on a day man when you don't want it to. [gestures show frustration] PTSD for me is physical. It always has been. [phone rings, dog barks]
SPRAGUE: On that note we'll conclude the interview? [Tape stops and restarts and02:11:00interview continues]. This should be segment number seven. We are speaking with Gary Castona and this should be segment numbner seven. And he was explaining to me off camera, how it affected his family, his coming home as a Vietnam Vet. Now Gary Im going to let pick up from there.
CASTONA: All right. After I started ending up in hospitals in 1975. I do thisfor my children. I want people to know how the Orientals, it's not that I hated them, but the same people that I fought,or that fought with us, they got everything they wanted, a house, a car, education, and they denied that of my children, they didn't even help feed 'em, when there was, when I was 02:12:00incapacitated. They, to this day, they could have got help with education. And gave. When I got to get my disability, they are too old to get an education. Also what I should say before this is that, I couldn't, they denied me for twenty some years, because I couldn't come up with a physical body of summaries, and how in the hell was I going to do that when they didn't, wasn't going to 02:13:00give us some information. How could I help my self. They stole from my kids after then stole from. My girls are working for twelve dollars an hour. That upsets me, when they could had a chance at education they could be better. Or why didn't they help feed them? You know? It's, One of my girls understands, the other one quite don't. I just, I walked from my girls. I loved them enough to walk away.I I paid for that in a lot of different ways. Um. I didn't want them 02:14:00to get anything from me. Let me put it that way Because PTSD is transferable. I didn't want to mess up their lives. I loved them enough to walk away. I had to. I didn't want to hurt them. They are. they stole from my kids as far as I am concerned. The things the government said about helping my family, when it was in need if anything went wrong, It's all a lie. If just somebody shows me that they can change it, then I might believe it. But, 'til then I still consier a lot of it a lie. you wonder why, uh, us vets are the way we are sometimes, 02:15:00especially us old ones is because they lied to us so many times, too much, who do you believe.
SPRAGUE: Are you speaking specifically Gary to the, uh, the VA or?
CASTONA: To our politicians. the doctors in the VA, I want then to know thatthis is not a game. It was not a game. It affected me. It took from me. I didn't have he chance like most kids, to be a teenager. I was a soldier. And I'm proud of that, and I have to be proud of that 'cuz that's one thing I felt like I did 02:16:00a fuckin' great job at man. Ya know? And I must have been doing something right when they gave me the rank. So, you know I, I, nobody knows about that. Our struggles in combat, um, soldier, combat soldier, it has stuff that the normal person don't have. And that's its sense of loneliness, its sense of guilt. Um. Even at my age to this day, it's tiring. You. Sometimes, you are at a loss for 02:17:00words, because you don't know if somebody is going to understand you or not, you know? I always felt like the best thing I could do is keep my mouth shut because of what was going on in the world. I'm a narrator man. I'm proud of that, and my people don't know that, because they weren't proud of us. And they don't know how that affected us. You know, we didn't lose the war, our politicians walked away from it. lot of people don't know how big Vietnam is. Vietnam, South Vietnam is 360 miles long and 90 miles wide at its widest point. You could put 02:18:00two South Vietnams in the state of Wisconsin. You tell me why we couldn't cover every inch of that ground if you wanted to do it. Instead of losing lives. And you can, because, we get blamed for the war being lost, we're not the ones that walked away from it. Politicians need to look at themselves. They want the soldier, then treat 'em like a person, then treat 'em like a person. Don't. Sometimes I think they want us to fail. You know? there was times I watched I thought they were out to kill me. Or drug me to death. I am guy that's fat, most 02:19:00of my times, since I've been home from Vietnam, In the VA system. and thirteen out of the first twenty-five years on the site, four PTS programs, one, um, civilian hospital. anything I could learn, er, Whatever I could learn about PTSD, because I wanted to come home. It's about coming home. When you come home and they spit on you, and do things to you man. It, there's no way to explain it, what it does to you. It hurts a man's soul. There's so many times I want to 02:20:00cry because of that war. But what I was. I don't know if it was what I was brought up to do or got so calloused. I'm looking for that. I want to be. I do mind that call. It's a part of being human. That's what the war stole from me. I got, sometimes man I got music, there's one song that sticks in my head to this day. It was by Billy Joel, and it was called "I Am Human." And if people would listen to it maybe they would understand. You know, from a com, from a com. You 02:21:00know. He stuck up for us Nam vets too. My music is part of me because of that. Time I grew up in. You know, I grew up with country music , but I like rock, Rock 'n roll, you know. I like all music. Um. that's another thing from my mother. She would read books on othello, you know what I mean, she was very much into the star thing man, she knew all of that. And they would teach us. You'd lay on the ground on that farm sometimes, and look up. and they'd teach us, We were taught, we were taught that. I might get lost, but I, I don't get lost, I get confused. I might get confused. you understand what I am saying. I'm never lost for any length of time. Its. I was taught a lot of good things. I, I, 02:22:00really got. I see now I got a lot of my way to go with the paperwork butvcause then somebody gonna figure it out is what I see. you know just excess stuff man, that I hunted for all them years. Another Thing I want other vets to know is never quit. Somebody tells you to let it go, tell 'em fuck you, and pursue. I pursued my PTSD like I fucking heated the gooks. It's all about comin' home. I want to come home. I want to feel like I actually came home. I guess for the 02:23:00longest time I didn't, I can remember when I welcomed us home twenty-five years later. Too fuckin' late. People like Jane Fonda get away with shit like she said, and not be a traitor. You know? the other thing I am proud to wear is my jacket and it is about a lot of stuff about Vietnam. About Agent Orange. And just stuff like that. Not a biker's jacket. [Goes to get Jacket do barks] Yes, No, No, [dog barks and stops]. That's the back of it. 02:24:00
CASTONA: It's not a biker jacket if you look. It's about my brothers.
SPRAGUE: Is there a particular unit on there, a unit patch or anything.
CASTONA: Yep. My unit patch is right there second field force patch. Right there.
SPRAGUE: Any of the other patches have any particular meaning?
CASTONA: The Agent Orange one. The PTS one. In memory of my brothers, And any02:25:00soldier. Many memory. In memory of the guys who died n Vietnam. Um. My patch from Fort Hood, that was Patton's unit, whether people know that or not. You know. Our Wisconsin Missing in Action [MIA], and honor to the dead. You don't see a biker jacket there do ya?
CASTONA: And I'm proud of this one. I don't care if people like it or not.American-made asshole. Get it right. There [puts down jacket]. All right. I'm 02:26:00happy it's where it's at. I want to get together with you guys on this paperwork, though.
SPRAGUE: OK, so that concludes the interview for now.