MONROE — The trip to the Solomon Islands was like an early Christmas present.
On Dec. 2, Paul Castiglione of Monroe set out on a journey hosted and paid for by the College of the Ozarks to visit the battleground where he served as a young Marine during World War II.
Castiglione, 92, returned Dec. 12 from Guadalcanal. It was the first time he had been back to the island where the famous battle began in August, 70 years ago.
Students from the Missouri college accompanied Castiglione and five other World War II veterans of the Battle of Guadalcanal, the first major offensive by allied forces against Japan. More than 40,000 people died in the battle.
While the trip brought up the memory of those deaths, Castiglione said he was pleased to help the students understand what happened.
The trip was part of the college’s Patriotic Education Travel Program, in which students go with veterans to learn about history from those who were there.
Castiglione was asked by the college to participate after his remembrances of Guadalcanal were published in The Herald and he made a trip to Washington, D.C., in August for a veterans event that college officials attended.
“It was a wonderful trip to the Solomon Islands. The students were very good to us,” he said. “Of course, the island is much different than it was in 1942. It was mostly jungle then, and now it looks like any city.”
Castiglione said he enjoyed the humid heat of the islands, located northeast of Australia, much better this time around.
“There was so much to see and talk about with the kids,” he said. “I think they appreciated what I had to tell them.”
Castiglione, the son of Italian immigrants, was raised in a large family outside of Detroit. He was 21 when he was assigned to the Guadalcanal campaign, where U.S. forces had seized an airfield from the Japanese.
At that airfield, Castiglione worked as a mechanic with the Marine Corps Cactus Air Squadron, keeping the F4F Wildcat planes in the air. He and his fellow Marines, in tents on the edge of the jungle, withstood nightly bombings from Japanese imperial forces.
During the recent trip, Castiglione said he especially appreciated being able to visit memorials to those who fought and died on Guadalcanal. He was surprised that College of the Ozarks also paid to have memorial plaques in his honor and those of the other veterans on the trip erected in a grove of coconut trees near the airfield.
The tour group visited the historical locations in the Solomon chain and laid wreaths in waters littered with wreckage where hundreds of warriors died.
“The kids asked me how I felt when I got there and many other questions,” Castiglione said. “I told them I carried my rifle with me at all times and just tried to live another day.”
Student Josh Marshall, 20, was assigned to accompany Castiglione during the trip.
He wrote a blog post on the college’s website that included the following description:
“The entire trip, Mr. Castiglione had been trying to recall when he came to shore, but time had taken that from his memory. Today, we found on the Memorial to the Cactus Squadron that they came to the island on the 20th of August. This helped give him a date when he came to Guadalcanal. … To Mr. Castiglione these memorials are special, as they honor what the soldiers did on this island and all those that didn’t make it off. To others like myself, they serve as a reminder to everyone who sees them what took place on this island 70 years ago. And now, all of us have a mission to pass on these memories to everyone we meet.”
Marshall said he enjoyed traveling with Castiglione.
“He was always ready to go, and I was impressed with his motivation,” Marshall said. “His service really touched me and it makes me want to go out and help my country.”
Castiglione said he would encourage any veteran to take part in programs such as those offered by College of the Ozarks.
“I would like to see this sort of thing done more often, so young people can understand what happened,” he said.
Gale Fiege: 425-3393427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read more about Guadalcanal and Paul Castiglione go to: http://cofopacific.blogspot.com/; tinyurl.com/HeraldCastiglione