April 29, 2005

Cinco de Mayo Salute to Gilbert Castorena: A “Spiritual” Descendant of Benito Juárez

By Dottie Fieger, MCL Scuttlebutt Det. #886

With Cinco de Mayo right around the corner, so to speak, Detachment #886 of the Marine Corps League proudly acknowledge a little known fact about Gilbert Castorena, one of its Lifetime members, Castorena is a descendant of the Cerro Guadalupe warriors who fought bravely, under the leadership of Benito Juarez, and defeated and ousted the French army invaders from the city of Puebla, Mexico, on Cinco de Mayo 1862, The French army has been sent by Spain to suppress the revolting Indians who were crying out for freedom from discrimination and demanding Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Like Benito Juarez’ passion to end discrimination, Gil Castorena has proved to be a warrior of equality for rights of employees at Naval Air Station, North Island, where he worked while serving as Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. In those days, there were numerous complaints of discrimination filed by Hispanic employees as many Navy and federal activities in San Diego. As a member of IMAGE de San Diego (Hispanic employees organization), and as a member (later chairman) of the San Diego American GI forum, Castorena and other community and national organizations used political clout to fight discrimination against Latinos in Navy employment.

During World War II, Castorena served as a pharmacist’s mate first class with the 6th Regiment, 2nd Marine Division in Iceland, New Zeland and Guadalcanal, where his unit saw some of the heaviest fighting as the Marines began the mighty campaign to push the Japanese invaders back across the Pacific. “The Marines were hit hard and a lot of them were yelling ‘Corpsman! Corpsman!,’” he recalled. “Bullets were whizzing around us as we rushed out to treat the wounded, but thanks to the Marines, I made it back and I’ll always be grateful to them,” he said. At the beginning of this Gaudalcanal battle, Castorena’s unit had two doctors and twenty corpsmen. When the battle ended, only one doctor and four corpsmen survived including Castorena.

Castorena left the Navy in 1943 and promptly joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization where he has devoted 64 years serving in leadership positions including: District Commander; National VFW Loyalty Day Committee member; California State VFW Chief of Staff; First District VFW All American Commander. He presently serves as first District VFW Employment Chairman responsible for providing employment training and finding jobs for veterans of World War II, the Korean Conflict, Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

In San Diego, he has served as Post Commander of the VFW Post 7420 and for 25 years he held three key positions of: Adjutant; Service Officer; and Voice of Democracy Chairman. Also, for the past 30 years he is still proudly serving as VFW Scholarship Chairman South for children of Mexican ancestry from Riverside to San Diego.

Return to the Frontpage