Like an iceberg the majority story of Conrad F. Castillo was mostly hidden out of sight.
I met Jeff Mossinghoff in one of the numerous WWII orientated groups available on Facebook. His post with a photo of the business card sized USS Missouri Japanese Surrender attendance certificate, with the red rising sun background, was easy to recognise. These were printed on board the ship and given only to those physically present during the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay 2 September 1945. It’s said there was only about a little over a thousand ever made and that the template to make them was destroyed to stop them from being made into a souvenir.
At the time I had just published the website profile for The Log Book signatory Mr Vito Alongi who served on the USS Missouri (BB-63). During the proceedings he had a ringside seat over-watching the ceremonies, he is visible in footage from the occasion atop one of the ships massive turrets.
With this common ground Jeff and I started corresponding in the comments section. Here he proceeded to explain how his late grandfather, Conrad F. Castillo, had served as one of Admiral Halsey’s stewards. Intrigued, and with interest sparked, I inquired for more details and it did not take long before Jeff floors me by a casual comment stating that his grandfather kept a wartime journal and asked if I wanted to see it?
As the numerous e-mails containing attachments of scanned documents starts to appear in my inbox it became evident that Jeff was not only in possession of his grandfather’s journal. Among the numerous documents, in immaculate condition one might add, there was also documentation of his grandfather’s service through some of the most pivotal moments in the Pacific War.
While perusing the handwritten journal pages, it became evident they needed transcription for better understanding, and as the journal entries started to emerge, they demanded context. I think neither Jeff nor I had any idea that this would be the start of a long journey following his grandfather’s footsteps.
Greatly aided by today’s modern research tools and digital archives at hand on the internet we started to unearth some of Castillo’s history. There is something quite personal about doing any deeper research into someone’s life and wartime service. Even more so when you are doing it with a close relative observing, as with my research into Mr Cyril Devaux (project founder Nick Devaux’s father). The process has to be conducted in a most respectful and honest manner, and above all, with permission. The aim is never to set fire to any veteran story as entered into his or her family’s folklore, but there is always a risk that findings may contradict the story told.
With Jeff it was easy, he was continuously encouraging and wanted to know, even if there were discrepancies. Researching his grandfather’s story only gave it more context and with that the story grew and expand, perhaps it has even been able to give Jeff some answers.
The story presented here is based on fragmented facts and made coherent by putting them into the larger picture through, what must be deemed as, qualified assumptions and guesstimates. Castillo passed away in 1997 and can neither tell, clarify, or verify exactly how things unfolded, but I believe the story as researched, and told, to be as true and accurate as it can ever be.
This story also illuminates an often-neglected group, the men of the Messman/Steward Branch. In the (then) segregated US Navy men of African American and Filipino heritage were relegated to the Messman/Steward Branch serving white officers. The DPAA states that 72 196 Americans are still missing from WWII, majority in the Indo-Pacific theatre, predominantly presumed lost at sea. These stewards, cooks and bakers all served, bled, sacrificed, and were lost in combat on ships while serving dutifully… like everybody else.
I had the honour and pleasure of being with Jeff on a Veterans Breakfast Club session in December, 2022 talking about his grandfather’s service. The oral history told by Jeff adds even more context!
Thank you Jeff, for allowing me to follow your grandfather’s footsteps, it has been an honour and pure pleasure to discover and learn. I proudly wear your grandfather’s dog tag whenever I go on green-duty.
I now digress and hope the story of Steward 1st Class Conrad F. Castillo will be an interesting read.
Lars McKie – 9 August, 2023
Below are all the to date published parts of the story: