Bobby Castillo discusses his brothers Joey and Jesse Castillo and their Vietnam War
experiences and its impact on their lives. Joey Castillo volunteered for service and began
his tour in 1966 in the Marines and served two tours in Vietnam, until 1968. He died in
2004 and is buried at the Guadalupe cemetery. Jesse Castillo also served two tours in
Vietnam in the Army and decided to make the military his career, serving twenty-five
years in the Army. He died in 1994 and is buried in Arroyo Grande, California.
Bobby Castillo, a Korean War veteran, lives in Santa Maria, California
“That’s what Joey said. He said, “You know if I fight for my country they are not gonna
be prejudice against me, I’m a hero.” I can’t believe what you just said you know. This is
one way I am going to rise above it, have some respect. But it doesn’t work, in my
opinion. I see it all of the time.”
Joey volunteered, when I was in Korea Joey volunteered. He went into the
Marines. He went in when I was in Korea. I think it was 1965 and I think Joey went in
1966 or 1967. It had to be 1966 because my mother wrote me and told me that my
brother Joey went to Nam. My brother Jesse was 25 years in the Army. They both went
when I was in Korea they both went already.
I went to Korea in October 1965 and 1966.
I was looking at Stars and Stripes. It
was coming out every Wednesday or every
Thursday. It came out so I’d go and grab it
because it was it was like a thirty page
newspaper. I don’t know, you probably
heard of it. I would be looking for it every Wednesday. I hope they don’t get shot.
Anyway, I got out in October and they were still over there. Joey volunteered. Most
people that didn’t know Joey would say he was crazy. He was like your brother
Raymond, real independent, real independent minded. That’s why him and Raymond got
along and a couple other guys. Everywhere he’d go he’d be the first one to fight.
I did not communicate with him until I got home. He was often in trouble when
he was in school. My mom used to get on him all of the time, He was always in trouble,
always doing something or other. And to us he was just Joey and to other people that
would see him, they were like this guy is a big troublemaker. He was normal to us and
that led to his whole life as Rudy probably told you. They told him “That guy’s crazy.”
To Rudy it was just Joey, he was just like that.
I let the ball drop but I was supposed to continue to go with the representative of
this area because he had a lot of medals and he had done something in Vietnam. Some of
his records got burned up. They had a big fire in Nam and some of the records depot got
burned and he told me he says, I forgot what he had done. He would only talk about it
when he was drunk. He told me one time, “You know what, the general came over and
told me you should’ve got a silver medal for this.” They gave him a Bronze Star and he
said “Ah, no big deal.” And so he never took it serious. The medals didn’t mean nothing
to him. He didn’t care about them. Not until 10 years before he died he started working
on them. He said, “I gotta go see if I can get my silver star.” And he started talking to this
lady and she would say she was going to start working on it.
Joey did two tours and Jesse did two tours. They both got shot up on the first tour.
The first time Joey came home he was shot. He had been there for about 6 months and he
got shot in the leg, his right let and left the bone missing. It went all the way through to
his left leg and when I went to Long Beach to see him he had pins all the way up. And
when I walked in this nurse had a big swab like a q-tip and she was swabbing his hole in
there and he looked terrible.
The Marines would give him a discharge. He said, “I don’t want a discharge I
want to go back.” He was brainwashed like everyone else was at the time, young stupid
like the rest of us. He had seen a lot of his friends die. He wanted to go back and pay his
debt. Sounded kind of crazy at the time but that’s what he wanted to do.
He seemed crazy going in and crazier going out. When he came back the second
time we were all at my mom’s house and my mom had cooked up a whole Mexican
dinner, you know, like enchiladas and he didn’t show up. We were all waiting for him.
All of their wives, and us, my brother Frank, Tony were all waiting. Me and the kids
were are all waiting for him at my mom’s. He was supposed to come in a bus and then
from the bus was supposed to get a taxi to get to Guadalupe and he never showed up.
And about 10 days later he shows up. He got discharged. He had, I don’t remember the
exact amount, maybe three or four thousand dollars. He said he was coming in this bus
and this lady spit at him. She told him he was a child killer or a kid killer and he kind of
blew it. He got on another bus to Vegas and blew all his money over there. He came back
about 10 days later. I don’t understand that, I should but. Well I feel the same way but
after I grew up and got older, it was just yourself there, the town was limited, and you
had limitations, right. He told me that he would be playing on a machine and he was so
drunk he didn’t know if he won any money or not. He just kept playing until he blew all
of his money. Then he came home. He said he felt better. He said he didn’t want to see
everybody all at once. He knew we were all gonna wait for him. There probably were like
14 in our family, kids, people, and grandkids.
I got out of high school and I wanted to go. I got in this service and I wanted to
get out of there so I moved to Santa Maria. And it was like I wanted a better life for
myself. I didn’t want to stay there cutting broccoli. But it is ironic that all of these guys
look very fondly back on those days. I was thinking about this morning when you were
You know the world it was so radical that I remember getting out in October of
1966 in my uniform and going to a bar and I was drinking with everybody and the cops
came in and when the cop was walking in everyone was sitting in the bar dropping pills
and joints you could hear them dropping on the floor and then the cops would walk
around. The cops would take off and everyone would pick up their stuff and pass it on to
the whole bar and that’s the way it was, I was thinking about it. Even the cops knew
about it but they let it go as long as you weren’t making too much of a fuss you were
good to go. I mean we could cruise around Guadalupe and get loaded day and night, and
as long as you didn’t break the law or wreck into anything the cops wouldn’t tell you
He later told me that when he used to go into a village he was in a seek-and-
destroy squad. They would go in the village, check it all out and make sure everything
was fine. If there were people they would get rid of them but after he got shot and he
went back a second time, everything was vindictive. Yeah, and that’s what came back to
haunt him many years after that. That’s what actually killed him. You could say he got
dirty needles. He got HIV. He got full blown the last 5 years and that’s what killed him
but what really killed him was all those nightmares he had.
He’d go into the hospital. He got out in about ‘75, and he just kept going to the
hospital. He would go to the hospital, get dried out, see a psychiatrist, 6 months, 7
months and we would hear from him because he would be sober and he would come to
Guadalupe, stay here about a month and then he would start getting loaded again. So we
wouldn’t see him. He would go to LA. He would live out there in the junkie streets of
L.A. with all the winos, heroin addicts and he was one of them. And he would live there
off of Wilshire. He had an old hotel there and he would live there. And he would tell me,
“You know sometimes I would get mugged 3 times a day going to the store but after a
while they would all know me and it was like, I don’t have nothing, shoot me, I have
nothing.” And they would let him go. But he was one of the people there. And then he
would get so mindless on heroin that he would get on a bus, drive across Wilshire, across
405 go into VA Hospital dump himself in there and he would start again. Then six
months of drying out.
He would tell me that he could see their little faces, the little faces of kids and the
women. He told me one time, his first tour he got ambushed on an ”L crossfire.” They
have crossfires. Somebody’s firing at you this way and somebody’s firing you at you this
way so you kind of cross in an L. And there was only 7 guys left. He said the helicopter
was coming down, and then they took off and he found out later. They told helicopters
that the firing was so bad not to pick anybody up. One Chicano warrant officer disobeyed
orders and came on down, picked the 7 of them. There was 7 of them. He found out that
the warrant officer got reprimanded, and it about 2 months he got his stuff again probably
because they needed pilots. And then he got shot after that and he came home but the
second time he went it was all vindictive, it was all payback.
And there was like his squad was all Chicanos so they were called the “Frito
Banditos.” It was his turn he had come back to the bush and I guess they used to come
out every 3 days, something like that. They would rotate and the other squad didn’t have
enough people so he sent some of his guys with them. But he would always tell the guys,
“If you get shot there, I’ll bring you back.” And he said this young Chicano kid got shot
and the Black guys left him out and they came back. They said, “We left him in the bush,
he got shot.” So him and a couple guys went back into the bush and found him and he
carried him back and that’s what I think bothered him most. He was alive but when he
got back with him he was dead. And that always kind of bothered him. He blew it. He got
his rifle and he beat the three Black guys until the rifle was broken up. So they demoted
He go promoted again by the time he got back in he was sergeant again. But
somehow every time he got drunk, he would talk. When he was sober he would make all
of these jokes. He would avoid it. He went to the VA hospital probably until somewhere
around 19, 20 years back and forth the same cycle. He’d get hooked on heroin be out
there off of Wilshire. He didn’t want us to see him and once he couldn’t take it anymore
he’d go back to the VA hospital. He would run into people from here from Guadalupe all
of the time.
He ended up with a woman. Nobody in the family ever met her. She was an addict
just like him and she had 2 kids from him and the last 10 years he kind of straightened
out. He brought the 2 kids with him to Guadalupe and he rented a house and he tried to
straighten out. He came back and he tried raising his kids by himself. His oldest little boy
is about 9. He’s with my sister Mary and his little girl is about 11, she’s with my sister
Nora in Anaheim. And my sister Mary lives in Guadalupe. So you see the last 10 years he
kind of straightened out. He tried raising his kids. He even went really straight. He went
to the city and got them to get a boxing club going. He really got involved with the city of
Guadalupe. The city of Guadalupe never gives nothing to the kids and he got them to
open up a boxing club for them. He worked on that the last years but he already full
blown HIV and he tried to make it the last 10 years.
He was kind of crude at times. He would tell me half of those guys that go to the
VA office are pansies. They just go there because they want some money. Half of them
didn’t do shit. He’d start talking crazy like that. He knew a lot of people there. Going
there about 18,19 years to where he knew all of the doctors. He knew all of the
psychiatrists. They all knew him. He was a regular cycle every 7 months every 8 months.
I was in the color guard because I knew sooner or later my brother Jesse would die and
my brother Joey would. I am sure he was out and about the fields for so long. I think it
was the result of him shooting a lot of people. It was just a massive, a massive crazy
violence mass violence around him.
When I went to Korea I was already 21 which is when you are young, that’s old
already and there’s kids going there 17 or 18. That’s what we call young when you are 21
and the kids just wanna talk they though it would be better in North Korea. He was with
Joey in 1966 in Nam but Joey was a Marine. Jesse was Army.
Jesse was everywhere. You could tell it was Agent Orange because it would kill
everything. But when he tried to get something from the government he was one of the
first ones. In 1990 they weren’t even gonna admit to it. We are told that is when he got
out. He lived in the military with these symptoms probably. When he was around 46 he
didn’t have such a troubled life as Joey did. He was married he had something there. He
shared, talked and enjoyed dinner. Jesse did, yeah my brother Jesse got married. Yeah it’s
kind of an ugly thing and I would’ve been there. But, I went to Korea. I got lucky. You
know I was young and stupid and for the government. It still amazes me. What were we
fighting for? Many of these kids were right. What the hell are we fighting for? There was
a lot of opposition, the young folk, myself involved. Why? You look back and why?
Were they really clear to the GI’s as to why they were there? Make it very clear as to why
they were there as opposed to you gotta be there. This is where the government exploits
minorities, Blacks, Mexicans. Because in the 60’s you were just starting to get away from
the old and going into the new. The white people already had jobs. The Mexicans and
same with Blacks didn’t have jobs and you were not gonna get a job.
In the ‘60s they would never sell you a house in the east side. It wasn’t until 1965
that they sold property to a Mexican in the east side of Santa Maria, which is any
property east of Broadway. If you were a Mexican and you lived in Santa Maria you
lived in the west side of Santa Maria, you never lived on the east side of Santa Maria.
They just wouldn’t sell you a house. They said you didn’t qualify. You probably know
they would tell you that you are fighting for freedom you are fighting for this and I seen it
myself and got involved and it brainwashed me. But I started seeing through it when they
killed Kennedy. That’s to me when it reality hit. These guys are all liars. They are lying
to me and I tried to tell my brothers that. My brother Joey was like, “This is for freedom.
I am doing this for my country.” And look at the way this country is treating you. The
ones that have the least amount at stake are the ones that are fighting.
That’s what Joey said. He said, “You know if I fight for my country they are not
gonna be prejudice against me, I’m a hero.” I can’t believe what you just said you know.
This is one way I am going to rise above it, have some respect. But it doesn’t work, in my
opinion. I see it all of the time.
Jesse did two tours. The fist tour was where he got the Silver Star and you
probably read that the commendation that he got decorated by general Westmoreland,
Vietnam’s first general. He was in charge of everything. Yes, directly to the president.
One little thing that he told me that he never forgot. When he got shot he got
shrapnel all over his chest so when they put him in the hospital and he was in sedation, he
said he woke up and he thought it was a couple days later. Maybe it was a day or so. He
felt something crawling all over him. So he was pulling these bandages and he was
looking down and he sees all of these worms on him and he starts screaming for the
nurses. What they used to do in those days is they’d put leeches on them to suck out the
dead meat. I am sure you heard of something like that with all the stories you guys hear.
But anyway, they put leeches deliberately. Yes, they put leeches on him to eat the dead
meat out. And he was screaming and I look back and I think if you wake up in the middle
of the night and you feel the stuff eating. And they flew him into San Francisco. They
gave him a blood transfusion and they gave him the wrong blood. The whole family was
up in arms because he was gonna die. They took the blood out and put more blood in
there and then it took and then he was home.
I remember this because after that he never was feeling healthy. After that, he
told me about that Agent Orange and you probably heard it from other veterans. They
gave you a map and they’d ask you where did you drop down. They’d put that clear paper
on top and says this is where you were. That exposure to Agent Orange was pretty
unhealthy. Since he was a lifer he could go to Vandenburg (Air Force Base, near Lompoc
California) and get prescriptions and see doctors and stuff as far as like guys now getting
compensation. He was a diabetic. He was 62 and Joey was 57 when they died.
I got out of the service and I went to the oil fields. I was working in the oil fields
and I was like 26 years old. I was working at CBS and in the afternoons I worked in the
oil fields. I was trying to make as much money as you can to support your family. There
used to be a plant here where they made phonograph records and everyone in Santa
Maria that wanted a pretty good job. You know 6 bucks an hour 5 bucks an hour in 1967.
They had 300 people and one time they had 1200 people working there and it was the
first place, the first modern place in Santa Maria where women and men worked together.
And white people and Black people and Mexicans, Filipinos and Japanese and all kinds
of races working together and it was just a party going on outside. I was one of those
people who would stand back and look at those people and you know what, this is nice
because all these people are working together and everybody’s getting paid the same.
This is great. But if you stepped out of that environment and went out there to the city of
Santa Maria and walked, they wouldn’t treat you that way. You weren’t treated that way.
And that is when I first seen that first integration of people, different races getting
together and being one.
I worked 27 years for an oil company and you know what the oil company did? I
worked right here for an oil company, they just would lower in the inventory and tell the
people we don’t have any oil. They’d have the ships coming in from San Francisco.
They’d half load the lines, and we’d have lines going from all the way from Los Angeles
lines all the way from San Francisco. They were cheaters and they’d load the line up half
the ship. So the ship doesn’t have to pay doc fees. They’d go out 3 miles and stay there
for a month and when our tanks started going low again, they’d come back in. They’d
load the line back in. It’s all manipulated. I worked there for 27 years. Because from the
president on down, the oil companies are paying all these people. That’s what I think. I
know they are. That’s why you’re paying $3 a gallon of gasoline because they are all
telling them to raise the prices up. The president is protecting those guys and looking the
other way. And they make all this phony thing. Bring all these presidents from these
gasoline companies and made a panel and asking them why are you guys raising the
prices? They already know they are raising the prices because they already set the deal a
long time ago. I think it’s not gonna end, this feud. You’re never going to. They are never
going to finish fighting each other.