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thedrifter
10-05-08, 07:38 AM
East Chicago veteran served in Korean War

By Bill Vargo
Times Columnist | Sunday, October 05, 2008

On a recent fall day, I had the chance to sit down with Eliseo Castaneda to talk about his time serving in the Marines during the Korean War. In the decades that have passed since the outbreak of war in Korea, relatively little has been said about the sacrifices made to hold the 38th Parallel against Communist aggression.

A few weeks ago, I wrote of the 58th anniversary of the Battle of Incheon. When I spoke with Mr. Castaneda, he reminded me that the North Koreans had pushed the allied forces all the way to the Pusan Perimeter on the Southeast corner of the peninsula. "This was like Dunkirk all over again," said Castaneda.

"So MacArthur and his generals had planned a way around the North Korean army. The plan was to invade the peninsula from the northwest about midway up the peninsula in Incheon. That way, the U.S. could cut off the supply lines of the North Korean army." The plan worked to stem the tide of the war and put the U.S. and its allies in a position to push the North farther back across the 38th parallel.

Castaneda was in the fifth wave that struck the embankments along Incheon in the evening of Sept. 15, 1950. "We had to wait until the high tide in order to get over the high wall that acted as a defense against attack. Still, we lost a lot of Marines during that attack. My first lieutenant, Baldonero Lopez, was killed that night," Castaneda remembers.

"He had taken out a machine gun nest and was preparing to lob another grenade to take out the second nest when he was hit in the shoulder. The pin had already been pulled out so rather than risk killing his comrades, he fell on the live grenade and sacrificed himself for the rest of us." Lopez, of Tampa, Fla., was awarded a Medal of Honor posthumously for that act of selfless bravery.

As the 1st Marine division moved farther across the parallel, the fighting grew more intense and the landscape more rugged. The altitudes were much higher as the landscape is much more mountainous to the north of the Korean peninsula. It was into that topography that Eliseo Castaneda, the Harbor boy from East Chicago, found himself in a desperate defense of the newly captured city of Seoul.

During that time, Castaneda and his men took a lot of losses and faced down swarms of North Korean and the Chinese army that had just entered the war in early 1951. Castaneda had been wounded the first time in November 1950 and after being sent back in early February 1951, he found himself in the thick of it again.

On June 2, 1951, he saw his last combat as he was badly wounded with shrapnel in defense of Hill 105, so named for the height of the hill. "By the time I was 21 years old, I had been wounded in battle twice and spent that birthday a hospital in Japan," Castaneda remembered.

The wounds healed but like with any soldier that has seen combat as ferocious as that war 58 years ago, the psychological scars linger. Emilio has done well. He remains involved and has a great marriage to buoy him through the memories. I wonder what that 70-something man would say to his 20-year-old self to help him through that long, cold winter.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at billvargo@yahoo.com.

Ellie