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Marine Burial Detail Saves the Day





(This article appeared in the July 9, 1999 issue of the Observation Post, the base newspaper for Twentynine Palms, California.)

1stLt Jason D. Grose
1st Tank Bn Adjutant

Marines are well known for never "leaving their own" in the battlefield. That spirit not only pertains to fallen combatants, but also to Marines and Sailors who succumb to Father time and pass on.  As a final tribute, Marines are often called upon to participate in funeral details for those recently deceased.

Such was the case recently when 1st Tank Battalion was asked to provide a detail to a sailor in Riverside, California.  The mission was assigned to Staff Sergeant Castillo who picked a handful of tankers and a few Headquarters Marines and boarded a bus to Riverside.

Once there, the Marines and sailors dutifully donned their dress uniforms and marched to the gravesite with their M16 rifles at port arms.  Once again, a few Marines and Sailors answered the call and a Sailor was laid to rest in Marine Corps style.   But there is a twist to this story that better reflects the Marine Corps ethos.

As Castillo and his men loaded the bus and began to change over into their civilian attire for the ride home, the funeral director came running up and started pounding on the door.  He was frantic because there was another funeral starting and the military detail had not arrived.

"He pleaded with me to provide a detail and most of my Marines were already in shorts and T-shirts." Says Castillo.

Sensing the urgency, Castillo told the director that he had no blank ammunition to perform the gun salute but the Marines could perform the ceremony, causing the director to shower him with appreciation.

But Castillo had no time for the praise and turned to his Marines saying, "Ok, Marines, get your uniforms back on... quickly.  We have another detail to perform."  Without hesitation, the Marines and Sailors returned to full dress in a matter of minutes and were formed up outside the bus.

Castillo marched the formation to the gravesite.  "The funeral was at the other end of the graveyard and the place was pretty big.  When we got close, we could see it was a big ceremony and there were limousines and everything" comments Castillo.

As they were marching, Castillo could see men in uniforms loading a bus.  He pulled a Marine out of formation and gave him quick instructions to run over there and secure some blank ammunition if they had any.  The Marine darted toward the bus and started negotiating with the Army detail.  Knowing that the funeral was waiting, Castillo gave the signal to hurry up by pumping his arm up and down as the formation neared the site.

The Marine returned with 17 rounds: four rounds short of the 21 usually used for a three-volley salute.  Quickly thinking, Castillo distributed the rounds out and ensured everyone had enough for at least two volleys.  He then instructed the Marines who did not have enough rounds to go through the motions and no one would know they did not have the last round.

For the second time that day, Castillo's Marines performed a flawless burial detail. One might say that this is what Marines do for other Marines and Sailors.  But the truth about this last detail, this last-minute commitment to provide a dignified and honorable ceremony, was that it was not for another Marine or Sailor.  The fact is that the man being buried was a United States Army soldier.  But that did not matter to Castillo.

After the ceremony, Castillo formed his detail and marched off toward the bus once again.  No one at the funeral was the wiser about what had just happened but rather only knew that this professional group of young men had added nobility to the day's events.

LtCol Hawkins, the Commanding Officer of 1st Tanks, received a letter a few weeks later from the daughter of the soldier and she expressed her gratitude for the performance.  She stated that only herself and her husband understood to meaning of what was happening and the other attendees had no idea what an uncommon occurrence was happening in their midst. Not only did the soldier receive proper honors from a detail not scheduled for the funeral, but he received them from an outstanding collection of Marines and Sailors.

Keeping the tradition alive, Castillo's Marines and Sailors proved once again that we still do not "leave our own." Apparently, Castillo's definition of "our own" extends to all the Armed Services.

The Marines involved were:

SSGT Castillo, Ishmael
SGT Neal III, Leslie
CPL Bezdek, Bryce
CPL Brack, Eric
CPL Breen, Matthew
CPL Chapagarza, Oziel
CPL Harper, Christopher
CPL Harris, Paul
CPL McIver, Terrence
CPL Riley, Aldo
LCPL Potvin, Shawn
LCPL Anderson, Nickolas
LCPL Bell, Edward Jr.
LCPL McCoy, Mickel
LCPL Urena, Francisco
LCPL Walker, Philip
HN3 Bojoquiz, Troy
HN Ficlin, Trent
HN Hanley, Derrick
HN3 Rowain, Ken

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