Longtime Brookings resident Elbert “El” Castle turns 100 on Dec. 7.
He attributes his longevity to healthy habits. “I quit smoking in the ’60s, and I don’t drink,” he said. Castle has no enemies and likes almost everyone.
Castle greets visitors with a firm handshake and an easy laugh. If you have hard times, he suggests, “just hang in there, ask the good Lord to help you, and read the Bible.”
And he has had some hard times. Castle grew up in the Great Depression moving from town to town in Minnesota as his step father followed the jobs. As a young man, Castle worked as a riveter for Great Northern Railroad.
In 1941, Castle joined the Army and went to train in North Carolina.
“They didn’t even have guns for us. We had old World War I stuff. We even had the old uniforms with leggings,” he said.
While still training, he awoke on his birthday in 1942 and heard the news: The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
Castle was sent to Edwards Air Force Base in California to train as an anti-aircraft gunner. He was a loader, lifting 40-pound, 90mm shells into the guns.
After training, he shipped out to Pearl Harbor to prepare for a second attack. “People don’t realize one thing,” he said. “We were losing the war in the beginning.” The Japanese had taken and fortified many islands.
The Japanese sunk cement bases embedded with railroad rails around the islands. Thousands of Marines were lost attacking the beaches when their Higgins boats were damaged or capsized.
The Army recruited Castle for a new program because he was a lifeguard. Before scuba had been invented, and with only cut-off khakis as trunks, he became an underwater demolition diver. After training in Hawaii, he returned to the Gilbert Islands.
“We swam down and placed satchel bombs on the cement bases,” he explained. Where the divers had destroyed these fortifications, Marine losses were drastically cut.
In the Marianas, Castle’s anti-aircraft group protected workers building an airfield. Japanese planes attacked regularly.
“We would just keep them high enough so they couldn’t bomb accurately. And we got a few of them too, all right,” he said.
Marines shipped in from North Africa brought Filariasis, a mosquito-borne disease. Castle was infected and shipped out to hospitals in Hawaii and then Spokane, Washington. He was hospitalized for four months.
After a fall sent Castle to the hospital again, the Army offered him a discharge. He took it and worked his way to Washington. While working at a shipyard in Camas, he noticed a young woman.
“She was warming up near a heater, and I thought ‘Wow, that’s a pretty girl,’” he said.
Castle described her as the highlight of his life. They went to lunch, and then dinner, and they were married six days later. Betty and Elbert Castle were married for 68 years before her death in 2012.
Castle worked as a barber and owned shops for 30 years before moving to Brookings in 1969 to enjoy retirement, fishing and life with Betty. They owned boats and fished together. Castle has caught salmon and lingcod over 50 pounds. He fished until he was 93.
Now 100, Castle said he doesn’t need anything.
“I have it all,” he said. “But I’d go another 70 years with Betty.”
Reach Boyd C. Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org