WWII Veteran Bud Castle: Tail Gunner, Army Air Corps

By BUD CASTLE

As told to Mary Louis

Loyal "Bud" Castle on September 3, 1944.

Loyal “Bud” Castle on Sept. 3, 1944

I was born in 1925 at the Minard’s Birthing Center in Angels Camp, near where my grandmother lived. My father, Walter C. Castle, named me Loyal, after his best friend. My older sister, Dolores, who could not pronounce Loyal, converted my name to Bubby. Later on, Bubby was shortened to Bud. My mother, Edith Questo Castle, died when I was 13 months old, so I have no memories of her.

My family actually lived on Stewart Street in Sonora at the time of my birth. I think I was born at the birthing center in Angels Camp so my mother could be close to her mother, who lived there. Mom and Dad already had a little girl, my older sister, Dolores. When I was 5 years old, Dad married Angelina Bonavia. She and my father had three more boys – Walter Jr., Vernon (Sam), and Paul. I attended first grade at Sonora Elementary School at the old dome building on Barretta Street.

My grandmother in Angels Camp was aging and having difficulty keeping up with milking the cows, so Dolores and I moved in with Grandma to help her out with the chores. We also had an aunt, Ruby, who still lived at home with Grandma, so she helped too. I attended second through sixth grades at the old Angels Camp grammar school.

When Grandma passed away, Dolores and I returned to our family in Sonora. During high school, I met a girl named Betty House. Over the years, our relationship became serious. I graduated from Sonora High in 1943.

Enlistment

On March 20, 1943, two high school buddies of mine, Ted Hunt and Don Menzes, wanted to join the Army Air Forces. I thought it sounded like a good idea so I went with them to Stockton Field. The recruiters there did not accept either of my friends but they wanted me. Still, I had to wait until I was 18. The recruiters called me to sign up on Nov. 21, 1943.

Betty House and Loyal Castle

Betty House and Loyal Castle

I was sent to Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas. Even though it was Texas in November, it was freezing cold first thing in the morning, followed by a hot wind in the afternoon. During my three months there I marched until a sergeant noticed, after I had taken my boots off, that I had spots all over my feet. I was told to report to a doctor, was diagnosed with scarlet fever, and ordered to bed in a hospital in Utah for a week.

In February of 1944, I was assigned as a “clerk – non-typist” at an Air Corps base in Nebraska. After two or three months, I tired of being a “clerk – non-typist” so I mentioned that I had joined the Air Corps to fly, not to be a clerk. Apparently the word spread, so I received orders for gunnery school at Las Vegas. I went home on furlough before reporting to Las Vegas. It was good to see Betty and my family.

In May of 1944, I arrived in Las Vegas. It was already quite warm. There was hardly anything there, no strip, just a couple of casinos. The gunnery school was 50 miles north of Las Vegas surrounded by a lot of desert. For six weeks, I took aerial gunnery instruction for the B-17 airplanes. Afterward, they had us dig ditches for the range-finder station for a month.

MacDill Field, Florida

In September 1944 I received orders to go to MacDill Field near Tampa Bay, Florida for further training – target practice. I had plane tickets to fly to Tampa and was supposed to report within 24 hours. But, amid confusion, I was put on a train for Tampa. By the time I reported for duty, I was two days late – and did not make a good first impression on my new sergeant. I was disciplined and sentenced to “scrub” a walkway with a brick. That was tedious way to start my new tour of duty. I was assigned as a corporal to the Army Air Force 416th Squadron, 99th Group, 5th wing.

Bud on a plane at 10,000 feet over Florida, August 1944

Bud 10,000 feet over Florida, 1944

I was to be a tail gunner. I had to kneel on a piece of wood in the rear opening of the plane, sitting back on a bicycle seat, facing the tail. A “target” plane was sent up pulling a red flag behind it. The goal was to riddle the flag with as much flak as possible. I also had to become used to taking fire but still hitting the target while doing so. There was an “eye” on the right side of me that opened and closed with my breathing through the tube from my gas mask. If it closed I had no air, so it was important to keep an eye on it.

The .50-caliber shells were in a belt that automatically fed through the machine gun. My job was very important because I had to pick off the attacking forces from the rear so the bombers could hit their targets on the ground.

Last dat at MacDill Field - Bud is kneeling on far right

Last dat at MacDill Field – Bud is kneeling on far right

Our 1944 early Christmas gift from the Army Air Corps was deployment orders. I was transferred from MacDill Field to Hunter Field in Georgia. I saw a dentist there as part of my battle-ready clearance. He noticed a dark spot on one of my teeth but said it wouldn’t give me any trouble.

From Georgia I was transferred to South Carolina for our complete physical. I saw another dentist, who identified the spot as a large cavity, which he took three or four hours to repair.

After my squadron received their medical and dental clearance, we transferred to Newport News, Virginia for departure. On Dec. 26, 1944, we shipped out on the U.S.S. General M.C. Meigs. It took us seven days of awful ocean travel to make it to Naples. Most of the crew and troops vomited repeatedly. We took the lining out of helmets and used them to hold the vomit. The ship stank from it.

War-torn Italy

Historical note: Italian Premier Benito Mussolini was deposed by a vote of a fascist council on July 25, 1943 and was executed by Italian partisans on April 28, 1945. At the time of Mr. Castle’s service, Italy was a staging area for aerial attacks on Germany and its other occupied areas, after bloody battles fought across Italy earlier in the war.

Our assignment in Italy began Jan. 2, 1945. After landing in Naples, we traveled in an open truck to a temporary camp on Italy’s west coast about 18 or 19 miles up from Naples. Children ran alongside the truck begging for cigarettes. That was sad.

It was winter, and so cold that we slept in our flight jackets at the temporary camp. We ate breakfast in the mess hall the next morning, but there was very little to do so we just wandered around in the cold. The sun was shining, but it snowed through the sun’s rays. Finally about 1 p.m., we were loaded onto a closed truck (warmer) for the rest of the way to the Foggia plateaus.

We reached our base camp within a day. It was about 15 to 18 miles from Manfredonia, a city on Italy’s eastern coast. To get there, we rode right through the city of Foggia, the capital of the Foggia province.

The Foggia plains were cold and muddy. When we arrived on the plains, we saw that our camp had been blown up by the Germans the previous year. There were only two buildings left standing. It was pretty much in ruins. We were assigned to tents. Our crew was made up of 10 airmen, nine of us around 6 feet tall. Only the ball-turret gunner who sat in the belly of the plane was shorter, at 5 foot 4. That meant our tent was very crowded.

Phillip Eid, our assistant engineer, was very handy at fixing things, and suggested we modify the tent to make more room. We extended the side walls out straight to enlarge the roof. Then we gathered materials from around camp, mostly wood, and rebuilt our side walls. Inside, we dug about two feet down so all of us tall guys could stand up in the tent. We packed the mud from the floor in and around the wood that we used to build new side walls.

Next, we appropriated a gas stove to put in the middle of the tent. We put a 50-gallon gas tank outside of the tent and filled it up by carrying five-gallon cans of gas about a mile and a half across the camp to fill the tank. We found some pipe and ran it from the tank, under the tent sides, to the gas stove inside. We covered the pipes with boards so we wouldn’t step on the pipes. We had the warmest sleeping quarters in the camp! We also built shelves above our bunks to store our belongings.

Arrival of the mail was a highlight in camp. Betty wrote to me frequently. It was harder for me to get mail out. I became discouraged when one of the first letters I wrote her had some passages cut out. It was the part where I was told her where I was. But Betty figured out my location because just the top part of “Foggia” was cut out. She could still see the bottom of the “g’s” and when she studied a map of Italy, she figured it out. In her return letter she asked if I was in Foggia. Her letters were not censored. I could give her a simple “Yes” when I wrote her in return.

Sorties over Germany

I flew 15 missions in Europe, mostly over Germany. My first sortie was along the western front. Then we attacked targets just south of Berlin, and also bombed an airfield runway in Munich. The German planes couldn’t get off the ground because by this advanced stage in the war, they had no gas. We didn’t bother to bomb the planes, which were parked along the sides of the tarmac.

We made our way from the western border of Germany to the eastern border along the southern border. Our bombing was fairly accurate because the Allied troops would signal where the enemy was with their own artillery fire. We would then fly another five minutes and start bombing.

But we did bomb other locations too. We bombed the Verona Perona Railway bridge in northern Italy twice to prevent German supplies from going to southern Italy.

I remember another trip when we had a heavy bomb load and had to fly over a very tall mountain in northern Italy. We climbed quite a ways up. When the enemy started firing at us, it looked like they were firing down on us from the upper reaches of the mountain.

During another sortie, we bombed a refinery in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. The whole sky seemed like a fireball. I think it was on the way back to camp from Weiner Neustadt that we were shot up pretty good and only had three engines. We bailed out the excess weight over the Adriatic Sea in order to make it back to home base. We received a commendation for that battle.

Mission to Romania

Another trip was to bomb an airfield at Galati, Romania. We had to fly at 33,000 feet to make it difficult for the anti-aircraft guns on the ground to hit us. Sometimes, though, we flew a little lower so we could hit our targets. When flak hit us the plane bounced up. Once we returned to base with 163 holes in our plane. They had to be patched with metal, riveted to the fuselage.

We were lucky. Nobody in our crew sustained any injuries. There was another crew of three airmen that was shot down. They were rescued by some Russians and returned to our camp at Foggia within four days.

I usually flew with my own crew as the tail gunner. But one time I flew with John Jasper from Idaho on another crew in the waist (middle gunnery position).

Camp Life

We had a well-supplied camp. The food in Italy was not bad. We did eat a lot of pork and I became rather tired of it. We had fresh food.

During the early morning hours, sometimes as early as 2 a.m., a jeep would drive around the quarters of crews who were going to fly that day. Someone would yell “H hour” on a megaphone to wake us up. Then I had to get up, dress, and report to the mess hall quickly to meet the departure time.

Bud and pals on leave

Bud and pals on leave

When we returned from our flight, I could eat again. If my flight crew was on duty that day, I had no midday meal. Usually we flew every other day. We had plenty of other provisions, too. I don’t remember running short on fuel or ammunition.

There were a few airmen who felt some stress, but I didn’t. We had a very competent pilot on our team, Les Collins from Michigan, so I didn’t feel the need for any good luck charm. But then at the age of 19, I felt pretty invincible.

For entertainment, we played cards or played softball. I was the right-handed pitcher while Les pitched left-handed. I spent a lot of time reading and sleeping. Sometimes when we had furlough, we’d go into town. I bought eggnog and cookies or sweets to give the local children we came to know.

One time I had a furlough of a week or so in Venice. We were flown up there from our camp. One thing I found peculiar was that every day at 11 a.m. everyone went down to the Adriatic to swim.

I didn’t enjoy swimming in the salt water very much. I knew that we sometimes dumped our waste and non-essential equipment there, so I figured it couldn’t be very clean.

Florence

In August 1945 I was picked with three others from my squadron to take college courses at the University of Florence. There were four from each base that were assigned to six to eight weeks of courses there. I took Italian, P.E., Algebra, U.S. History and English. I met a Tuskegee airman on the basketball court while I was attending classes there. He was very tall and could really make the shots.

En route to Florence we had a treat. The first night away from camp, we were flown to Pisa. They took us to an opera house to watch a movie. It was “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” starring Margaret O’Brien. Then the next morning, we backtracked a little to fly on to Florence.

During my time off, I walked around Florence, enjoying some sightseeing. I appreciated the cathedral there. The door was metal, but it was so perfectly balanced that you could slide it open with one finger.

When our classes were completed on Sept. 8, we flew back to Foggia. The war was winding down so we just flew odd missions. Once we flew a dead body down to Bari, on the Southern coast of the Adriatic, to be shipped home.

Discharge

As my discharge date drew near, I flew to Naples, Italy. While I was there awaiting my flight out, I recognized someone from Sonora High, Allen Penrose. I greeted him and said, “I know you.” I was in the same class in school as his younger brother, and Allen was two years ahead of us. We talked for awhile. He was a pilot and about to fly to Brazil.

From Naples, I flew to Casablanca in Morocco, then Dakar along the West Coast of Africa, across the Atlantic to British Guinea, and then island-hopped up through Puerto Rico and eventually landed in West Palm Beach, Florida. Every place we landed I sought out a gym to shoot hoops. We usually stayed over at least one night at each stop.

From Florida I took a train to Fort MacArthur in Southern California. It took me a week or two to make it back to California from Naples.

On Dec. 2, 1945, I was discharged from the Army Air Corps and received my “walking” papers at Fort MacArthur.

Civilian Life

I hitchhiked to Sonora and arrived home in about a day, but I was only there for a month. One day Paul Dawson, vice principal of Sonora High School, saw me walking down the street. We talked, and he encouraged me to continue my education. In January 1946, courtesy of the G.I. Bill, I enrolled at San Jose State College with a physical education major. I played basketball on the freshman team.

In the middle of my junior year, I had Dr. Henderson for English. She interested me in Shakespeare so I added two more majors – English and math. I stayed in one of the houses near the college that rented to students. I bought a Buick so I could come home on weekends with friends. My folks’ home was filled with college students every weekend, doing laundry and eating my mother’s home cooking.

Of course I continued courting Betty. We were married on July 26, 1947. At first during our marriage, Betty stayed in Sonora at her folks’ place. She was working, so it just made sense for her to continue saving money.

My name finally came up on the student housing list, so we were thinking of having both of us move in there. But an acquaintance of my mother had a home in San Jose that was not being used. She rented it to us for six months from January to June of 1948. We came home to Sonora for me to work in construction for the summer.

Our first child, Carol Lee Castle, was born in June 1948 in Sonora. The next year we found another house through Bob Cowden, a friend at the college who knew people in San Jose. When I graduated from San Jose State, I was hired as a student teacher and then full-time at Sonora High School. Later we welcomed two more children: our son, Robert Melvin Castle, in April 1952, and our second daughter, Cathleen Susan Castle, in December1955.

I taught and coached basketball and football at Sonora High for 34 years. They named the gym after me. I was one of the first inductees in the school’s Hall of Fame. Earlier, I had been inducted into the Hall of Fame at Merlo Field in Standard.

Quilt made by Bud's daughter, Carol, with pieces from his team t-shirts. The #9 image at center is from his shirt when he pitched for the Sonora Quarterback Club, a softball team he played on for years. The other border images are from bowling shirts.

Quilt made by Bud’s daughter, Carol, with pieces from his team t-shirts.

Retirement

After retiring from teaching in 1984, I worked in construction for four years. I have spent the remainder of my retirement with family and friends. I also joined the Sonora Elks Lodge. More recently, I have been taking care of my health issues.

I have attended no military reunions and did not join any veterans’ organizations. But occasionally I have seen some of the people I knew in the service. While we were living in San Jose, Phillip Eid, my crew’s waist-gunner, came to visit me. Later, he looked us up in Sonora and visited twice. Interestingly enough, though, I did run into Allen Penrose again. I had dropped into a local tavern with some friends, and saw Allen sitting at the bar. I walked over to him and said the same thing I had said to him many years earlier in Italy when we were both waiting for departure, “I know you.” He laughed and we caught up on old times. Now we both live here in Sonora Hills.

Service Reflections

I don’t think my military service affected my personality. I have had the same personality throughout my life. I have been easygoing before, during and since the service. The service educated me in many ways, helping me gain a college degree, which enabled me to begin my lengthy career in teaching.

Being in the military also made me appreciate where I live. That is why I haven’t traveled in my retirement – I did enough traveling in the service. I am glad to have served my country in the Army Air Forces.

Commendations and Medals

American Campaign Medal
European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
Good Conduct Medal
Air Medal
Victory Medal

Bud Castle, February 2013; photo by Dirk Travis

Bud Castle, February 2013; photo by Dirk Travis

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