Conrad F. Castillo – Part 3 – Noumea

Serving on Admiral Halsey’s Flag Castillo will spend the next 18 months stationed at USNAB (U.S. Naval Advanced Base) Noumea, New Caledonia. On 1 December 1942 Castillo is promoted to Officer’s Steward 3rd Class (OS3c)[1]USS Argonne, Muster Roll Report of Changes for month 31st December 1942, page 34.

As Admiral Halsey’s staff quickly grew the cramped USS Argonne, without air condition, became hopelessly unfit serving as a headquarters. Several requests for better suited shore-based accommodation had been ignored by the Free French and finally Admiral Halsey have had enough. The short-tempered Halsey called for his barge and loaded on an impressive Marine Corps guard. Knowing that the high commissioner’s offices were unoccupied Halsey and his Marine escort simply marched up to the offices and raised the Stars and Stripes from the flagpole. Halsey was there to stay.[2]

With new headquarters sorted Admiral Halsey proceeded to establish his living quarters in what in his memoirs described as a “brick house on a cool, airy hilltop that had belonged to the Japanese consulate”. Admiral Halsey stated to have taken deep satisfaction every morning when the Marine guards raised the American flag over a bit of property that once belonged to a representative of Japan.[3]*.html

On a lighter note, the Admiral also proceeds to describe what his response to broken china was.

“My Filipino mess attendants never became accustomed to my response when they broke a piece of the consul’s china. Instead of bawling them out, I told them, “The hell with it! It’s Japanese.””

Admiral Halsey’s Story – chapter 9, p138

Castillo will have spent considerable time in this brick house that Admiral Halsey said commanded one of the most superb views he had ever seen.

In his journal Castillo summarises to have stayed in New Caledonia for two years and having made three trips to Guadalcanal during this time. Unfortunately, he does not elaborate in any greater detail beyond the above.

We can however from fragments and further entries piece together a remarkable story of meetings.

Commander South Pacific Force Confers with Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, USMC, Commanding General, First Marine Division, at South Pacific Force headquarters, Noumea, New Caledonia, in January 1943.[4]

CStd Benedicto Tulao (497 98 08) – January 1943

A key person to note in Castillo’s story is Chief Steward (CStd) Benedicto Tulao who will become a central figure while also serving Admiral Halsey for almost 4 years.

This seasoned veteran, also from Philippines, had served in the US Navy since 1932. Stationed on USS Rigel from 1939 through 1941 as an Officer’s Steward (OS2c) until his transfer to the destroyer USS Porter (DD356) in October 1941.[5]USS Rigel, Report of Changes 1939 through 1941, several.

On 26 October 1942 the USS Porter was assigned to TF 16 that exchanged air attacks with Japanese forces northeast of Guadalcanal in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. During the action Porter was torpedoed and, after the crew had abandoned ship, was sunk by gunfire from USS Shaw.[6]

Tulao, now an Officer’s Chief Steward (OCS), is noted as a survivor received onto USS South Dakota BB-57 from USS Shaw on 28 October 1942.[7]USS South Dakota, Report of Changes for month 28 October 1942, page 58. He proceeds with further transfers as survivors are moved and is noted for duty on “Flag Allowance Comdesron-5” (Commander Destroyer Squadron 5) in the final report of changes for USS Porter (DD356) issued 23 November 1942.[8]USS Porter, Report of Changes (Final Report of this command) 23 November 1942, page 24.

On 13 January 1942 he is received on board USS Fletcher DD-445 as part of Commander Destroyer Five Personnel. He appear then to receive new orders and is on 23 January noted to transfer to “NAB, EPIC, for duty in flag allowance of Commander South Pacific Area[9]USS Whitney, Report of Changes month of 31 January 1943, page 23.

In short; Tulao has been assigned duty on Admiral Halsey’s Flag Allowance as a Chief Steward.

It is at this moment the paths of Benedicto Tulao and Conrad Castillo converge. From here they will serve together, Tulao the superior, as responsible for Admiral Halsey’s personal mess and household. They will go through some of the most pivotal and decisive battles and moments of the Pacific War, all the way through the end of the 1946 Victory Tour.

Meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, Noumea – August 1943

Castillo mentions Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt staying at the house while touring the South Pacific. On the back of Castillo’s Noumea liberty card the First Lady’s signature is clearly visible bearing witness of a meeting that makes his story more profound when adding a greater context.

Despite knowing the first lady well Admiral Halsey classed Mrs. Roosevelt as a “do-gooder” dreading her arrival to his area as it would potentially monopolise resources needed elsewhere. The First Lady arrived to Noumea on 24 August, 1943 where she spent a day before proceeding to New Zealand.

Mrs Roosevelt was billeted in the “Wicky-Wacky Lodge” that was part of the cluster of buildings making up Admiral Halsey’s living quarters. That night he gave a small reception and dinner for the first lady before she started her rounds the morning after. One will have to assume that Castillo would have been present in some capacity during this dinner.

Having completed her tour of New Zealand and Australia Mrs Roosevelt returned to Noumea around mid-September 1943. Before returning towards Hawaii, she made a trip to Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo.

In Mrs Roosevelt’s “My Day” column from 15 September, 1943 published 22 September she writes about her day at a “South Pacific Base”, which is of course Noumea. In this column she makes indirect mention of what must be Castillo and his fellow boys tending to their duties.

“I must tell you again how charmingly the Filipino boys arrange flowers. They had some in a saucer for me this morning, which I have beside me now and which fill the room with fragrance.”
Eleanor Roosevelt “My Day” column from 22 September, 1943 [10]Eleanor Roosevelt, “My Day, September 22, 1943,” The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Digital Edition (2017)

In the end Admiral Halsey was thoroughly impressed by the First Lady’s tour and said, “she had accomplished more good than any other person or any group of civilians that had passed through my area.”

When Castillo mentions Mrs Roosevelt in his journal, he does so with such affection that it initially had us wondering.

“She is the most beautiful woman I ever met. When she left she thanks and shake hands to all the boys”

Journal of Conrad Castillo, page 3

Digesting Castillo’s words putting them in the larger context it becomes obvious that his words refer more to the person than physical appearance. Eleanor Roosevelt was a controversial first lady at the time for her outspokenness, particularly on civil rights for African-Americans.[19]

Perhaps Castillo’s admiration originated from how he was met by the first lady in, what after all was, a highly segregated environment. Undeniably the signature of Eleanor Roosevelt is present on the back of Castillo’s liberty card.

As Castillo about a year later recounts his experience in his journal in what possibly was the biggest impression left with him. His entry states that the first lady “shook hands with all the boys”.

Island hopping and promotion – 1943

There are very few details provided by Castillo of what went on in 1943 beyond that it was a very busy year. He simply states that they travelled from island to island by plane which comes as no surprise being part of Admiral Halsey’s Flag.

There is mention of three trips to Guadalcanal in the journal of which we have been able to date one to February 1944 so far (see Ray Milland chapter). Work is still ongoing to date the other two, but they will have been with Admiral Halsey as parts of his mess always travelled with him.

By end October 1943 Castillo has been promoted to Officer’s Steward 2nd Class (OS2c). In a document from the Castillo collection, dated 28 October 1943 outlining the Admiral’s Mess, he has been made supervisor of the boys.

The document which is signed by Flag Lieutenant W.J. Kitchell and Chief Steward B.C. Tulao. It gives a good insight into how the Admiral’s Mess was organised and what duties were assigned to the boys. Moreover, it gives evidence of Castillo’s service which evidently was with distinction given his promotion and responsibilities.

Admiral’s Mess duty list – courtesy of Jeff Mossinghof.

Notably here is the continued use of ‘Officer’s Steward’ in the rank title still in October of 1943. In February that year the name of the branch was changed to “Steward Branch” (from Messman) and the word “Officer’s” was dropped from the rate title. Technically his rank title should, at that time, have been Steward 2nd Class (St2c).

For what reason the ‘correct’ rank title was not used is unknown. On the early Noumea liberty card issued to him his rank title is (correctly) given as St3c. Possibly one can attribute this to resisting major changes within the navy, or simply, an oversight that the change implemented early 1943 had yet to fully establish itself.

Meeting Gary Cooper – Australia, November/December 1943

In November 1943 Castillo is granted 15 days leave in Australia, his journal entry states going there by plane. Research show that this coincides with one of Admiral Halsey’s numerous visits to Australia and would possibly explain how Castillo got there on such a luxurious method of transport usually only available to high-ranking officers.

His Australian leave is most likely granted in junction to when Admiral Halsey visits General Douglas McArthur at the GHQ SWPA (General Headquarters – Southwest Pacific Area) in the AMP building in Brisbane. Admiral Halsey attended two meetings with General McArthur, both 23 and 24 November 1943.[11]

At this time movie star Gary Cooper, accompanied by Una Merkel, Phyllis Brooks and Andy Arcari, are also in the South Pacific. Travelling with USO they are touring battle zones and forward areas where they entertain the troops.

On Castillo’s Noumea liberty card is Gary Cooper’s autograph. The occasion is simply described as meeting Gary Cooper in Taronga Park and that “he autographed my card”.

Castillo describes going places in Sydney and “having a grand time” meeting nice girls that showed him around. He notes spending Christmas Eve in Sydney where he had a nice turkey dinner and being back on duty in January.

It is quite possible that Castillo is referring to two trips to Australia in his journal and not one long one spanning from November over December. Admiral Halsey was ordered to attend a conference with Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz in Pearl Harbor and then on to Washington to meet Ernie King. Having first flown across to Brisbane to take leave of General McArthur he reached Pearl on 26 December, 1943 where he spent 4 days with Nimitz. Admiral Halsey returned to Noumea early February 1944.

The exact date of the encounter is yet undetermined but most likely should be around the time of the USO group’s return to Australia from New Guinea. Newspapers report Gary Cooper arriving to Sydney 18 December 1943 and making several appearances before his return to the US sometime after 26 December but before New Year’s Eve.[12]1943 ‘Gary Cooper in Sydney’, The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 19 december, p. 3.[13]U.S. Men Don’t Like Praise (1943, December 30). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), p. 6.

Meeting Ray Milland – Guadalcanal, February 1944

Another encounter mentioned in his journal is meeting the actor Ray Milland on Guadalcanal. The actor’s autograph is visible at the bottom of Castillo’s Noumea liberty card.

“On Guadalcanal we met Ray Milland the actor, he came to the house and had dinner with Adm. Halsey and also his three beauty.”

Conrad F Castillo journal, page 3

Ray Milland was touring the South Pacific with the United Service Organization (USO). In February 1944 he visited Guadalcanal with performers Frances Faye, Rosita Moreno and Mary Elliot. From what can be gathered the occasion of the meeting was most likely around 15 February 1944 when the group visited the 13th Air Force base on Guadalcanal.

The reference Castillo makes to “the house” may very well be the US Navy Headquarters located on neighbouring island Tulagi. Nothing has yet been found that collaborates this speculation but the assumption must however be made that Admiral Halsey would not, in February 1944, host a dinner for the USO troupe in the field.

The unidentified autograph

Castillo’s liberty card has four autographs of which three are identified, there is a fourth, at the top, that is yet to be identified. Having perused, scrutinised and spent hours trying to decipher the elusive text I’ve only managed to come to one plausible theory.

The theory is that this is not a name, it is a greeting written by the first lady at the time of her signing the liberty card. To my untrained eye both the type of pen and style of handwriting appear to be, if not identical, at least very similar to the one of Mrs Roosevelt’s autograph below.

The text appear to start with the word “With…” while the second word eludes us, any suggestions of clarification would be greatly appreciated.

Leaving New Caledonia for Pearl Harbor – June 1944

In early 1944 the US campaign in the Solomons to push the Japanese back was bearing fruit and organised resistance had ended by 25 March 1944.

Admiral Halsey was in May directed to San Francisco to conference with King and Nimitz. He was told that he would be relieved as Commander South Pacific (ComSoPac) and go to sea as Commander Third Fleet (a dual command that he had held since October 1942).

With these orders Admiral Halsey proceeds to take leave of his friends at each of the South Pacific bases he has been in command of. Travelling up the chain of islands and bases to Emiratu he paints a profound picture of the sights in his book.

The old battlefields were already disappearing into the jungle or under neat, new buildings. Where 500 men had lost their lives in a naval attack a few months before, eighteen men were now playing baseball. Where a Jap pillbox had crouched, a movie projector stood. Where a hand grenade had wiped out a foxhole, a storekeeper was serving cokes. Only the cemeteries were left.

Admiral Halsey, Admiral Halsey’s Story, chapter 11, page 192.[14]Admiral Halsey’s Story, Fleet Admiral William F. Halsey,  USN and Lieutenant Commander J. Bryan III, USNR

It is unknown if Castillo accompanied Halsey on this farewell trip, or if he was present on the morning of 15 June 1944 in Noumea when Halsey turned over his command as ComSoPac to Vice Admiral John H Newton.

In his journal he simply states to leave Noumea on the 15th, arriving Pearl Harbor on 17 June 1944. At the time of formally being received to “F.A. COM THIRD FLEET” on 19 June 1944 he has been promoted to Steward First Class (St1c).[15]SERVPAC ADMIN F.A. COM THIRD FLEET, report of changes, 30 June 1944, page 306

He describes his time in Hawaii as walking around having a wonderful time, probably a very welcome luxury having spent many months operating out of advanced US Navy bases such as Noumea.

The respite is somewhat short lived as on 22 August 1944 Castillo (St1c) the next chapter of Castillo’s service begins. Boarding the mighty battleship USS New Jersey (BB62) he will serve on the ship for the next 4 months through some of the most pivotal moments of the Pacific War.[16]USS New Jersey (BB62), Report of changes, 31 August 1944, page 207

Two days later in the morning of 24 August 1944 Admiral Halsey comes aboard the ship and breaks flag, effectively making the New Jersey flagship of the THIRD FLEET.

They get under way shortly after and leave Pearl Harbour to join the rest of the Third Fleet. Her departure is captured in the two below images, the thought of that Castillo is on board the ship at this time is profound.

Notably the images appear to be wrongly dated, or not referring to date taken, as the ship by 31 August was at sea well underway per ship log and other sources.

For all parts in the series see below:


About Lars McKie 73 Articles
An ordinary Swede with a passion for history and just grateful to be given the chance to participate and contribute to the project.

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