SAN ANTONIO – Approaching his 100th birthday at the end of next month, Joe Castellanos was barely in his 20s when he left his East Side neighborhood 75 years ago to fight in World War II.
“Definitely going into the unknown, it takes strong character to do that,” said Ernesto Leos, Castellanos' grandson.
Sitting at his dining room table surrounded by family, Castellanos said, “I loved it where I was, but I don’t recommend it.”
Although a stroke damaged his vocal chords, Castellanos said, “It was no picnic.”
Castellanos left San Antonio without any medical training, but his family said by the time he landed in Okinawa, he had become a surgical technician and an Army medic.
Irene Bernal, his daughter, said he always tells his nurses that “they don’t know anything. That he knows more than they do.”
The war was raging when he arrived in Okinawa, where tens of thousands of Americans and Japanese people lost their lives.
“I left everything there. What I did, I forgot,” Castellanos said. “I never talk about it, never, never.”
Marcus De La Fuente, who is married to Castellanos' granddaughter, said that’s understandable, even after all these years.
“It’s gut-wrenching. It’s reality at its worst,” said De La Fuente, who served with the U.S. Marines during the Iraq War.
Leos, an Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, said, “It was hard on me, but I can only imagine what he went through.”
Leos said he saw how combat medics risk their lives to save others.
“Most assuredly, I’ve seen it many times, so you can’t ever forget what they’ve done," Leos said.
Castellanos’ daughter said her father suffered from flashbacks for a time, but he still managed to live a full life.
“He has a million grandkids and great-grandkids and great-great-grandkids," Leos said.
Castellanos said he never expected to live this long, but predicts he’ll live to 107. To celebrate his life and legacy, VFW Post 76 will honor Castellanos on March 31.
“We are proud, very blessed that he is here," Bernal said.