Nov. 17, 2010

Fort Pickett landing strip dedicated to former Virginia Adjutant General 

By Cotton Puryear
Virginia Department of Military Affairs

FORT PICKETT, Va. — It came more than nine years late, but the Virginia National Guard formally dedicated a landing strip at Fort Pickett Nov. 10 in the honor of Maj. Gen. John G. Castles after the original ceremony was cancelled by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Castles served as the Adjutant General of Virginia from 1982 to 1994.

 

Members of the family of Maj. Gen. John G. Castles, Adjutant General of Virginia from 1982 to 1994, along with Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Col. Tom Wilkinson, commander of Fort Pickett, unveil the engraved rock at landing strip dedicated to Castles Nov. 10. The Virginia National Guard formally dedicated a mile-long landing strip at Fort Pickett in honor of Castles after the ceremony that was originally scheduled more than nine years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, was cancelled as a result of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Castles’ wife, son, daughter and granddaughter were on hand to take part in the ceremony. Castles enlisted in the Army in May 1943, served in World War II, was discharged in 1945 and earned the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star Medal for his combat service. He joined the Virginia National Guard’s Charlottesville-based Company K, 116th Infantry in May 1949 while he was attending the University of Virginia and continued to serve in positions of greater responsibility until being appointed Adjutant General Aug. 16, 1982. Castles passed away June 19, 2001. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, my Mom and I arrived at Fort Pickett for the dedication of this landing strip in honor of my father,” said Castles’ daughter Sally. “Imagine our confusion when we arrived at the gate and were told by the guards that due to an apparent terrorist attack on our country, they had cancelled the day’s events. Much has changed since that fateful day, but not the honor bestowed on my father today. Of all people he would have understood, and of all people he would have been proud of the courage and commitment of our armed forces since that fateful day.”

According to Col. Tom Wilkinson, commander of Fort Pickett, the concept for the landing strip was developed in 1998 and construction began that same year. The Fort Bragg-based 307th Engineer Battalion performed the construction work, and it was completed in 2001. The landing strip can accommodate some of the largest aircraft in the U.S. military’s fleet.

“From June of 2001 when dad left us to Sept. 11 when everything changed, my career changed as it changed for all of us,” said Castles’ son John, a retired Army colonel. “While he wasn’t there with us, he was certainly there in heart and spirit. With me over in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can tell you that through the good times and, particularly those times when you didn’t think it could get any worse, he was there for me.”

The elder Castles enlisted in the Army in May 1943, served in World War II, was discharged in 1945 and earned the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star Medal for his combat service. He joined the Virginia National Guard’s Charlottesville-based Company K, 116th Infantry in May 1949 while he was attending the University of Virginia and continued to serve in positions of greater responsibility until retiring in 1979 after commanding the 116th Infantry Brigade. After a three-year break in service, he was appointed Adjutant General Aug. 16, 1982.

As adjutant general, Castles was instrumental in improving the Virginia Guard’s readiness ratings in the late 1980s. National Guard Bureau rated the Virginia Army Guard, based upon training scores and the maintenance of authorized personnel numbers, as the first in the nation for three of four years from 1986 to 1989, and the Virginia Army National Guard reached 102% of authorized strength in 1987 and 1988. It remained in the top ten percent up until after Castles retirement in 1994.

Among the most significant achievements during Castles’ service as the AG was the reestablishment of the 29th Infantry Division as a Virginia and Maryland unit in 1985.

He helped advance the number and role of women and minorities in the Virginia Guard. When he became AG in 1982, the state only had about 100 women serving in the Virginia Guard, but when he retired in 1994, that number had grown to nearly 800. The number of African Americans serving in the Virginia Guard also increased from about 5% of the force in 1982 to about 20% at the time of the Desert Storm mobilization in 1990.

 

A large granite rock marks the landing strip dedicated in honor of Maj. Gen. John G. Castles, Adjutant General of Virginia from 1982 to 1994. The concept for the landing strip was developed in 1998 and construction began that same year.  The Fort Bragg-based 307th Engineer Battalion performed the construction work, and it was completed in 2001. The landing strip can accommodate some of the largest aircraft in the U.S. military’s fleet. (Photo by Cotton Puryear, Virginia Department of Military Affairs)

Click HERE to see more photos from the event on the Virginia National Guard Flickr site.

Castles also worked with the Virginia General Assembly to secure enough funding and resources to create the Virginia State Guard as the Commonwealth’s first peacetime reserve for the Virginia National Guard. The Virginia State Guard was later redesignated as the Virginia Defense Force

A graduate of Infantry Officer’s Candidate School, Castles was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1944. He was first assigned as a platoon leader in the 345th Infantry, 87th Infantry Division and fought in the Ardennes Campaign in 1944-1945. Toward the end of the war he was reassigned first to the 30th and later to the 4th Infantry Division but always wore the combat patch he earned in the 87th.  

While attending school at the University of Virginia, he joined Charlottesville’s Company K, 116th Infantry as a second lieutenant on May 11, 1949. He was promoted Dec. 12, 1949 to first lieutenant, and he assumed command of Company K, 116th Infantry July 25, 1950. 

While a junior officer in the 116th he met and became close friends with then-1st Lt. John O. Marsh of Headquarters Company, 116th Infantry. They rose up through the ranks together until Marsh left the Virginia Guard in 1976. But after Marsh was appointed Secretary of the Army in 1981, their close friendship brought many benefits to the Virginia Guard, especially after Castles became the Adjutant General.

Castles is the only person to be awarded the Virginia Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award given by the state, on three occasions, and he was the first Virginian since Robert E. Lee to obtain a state lieutenant general rank.

The Virginia General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution No. 66 after Castles passed away:

HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 66

On the death of General John G. Castles.

Agreed to by the House of Delegates, July 10, 2001
Agreed to by the Senate, July 10, 2001

WHEREAS, General John G. Castles of Corbin, who led the Virginia Army and Air National Guard forces to a position of preeminence, died on June 19, 2001; and

WHEREAS, a veteran of service with the United States Army during World War II, General Castles saw extensive combat at the Battle of the Bulge and other notable engagements and earned the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantryman's Badge; and

WHEREAS, in 1982 Governor Charles S. Robb appointed General Castles adjutant general of the Virginia National Guard, which at the time ranked 50th among the state and territorial guards; and

WHEREAS, General Castles instituted rigorous new requirements for Guard officers and troops, tightened requirements for drill attendance and physical fitness, and required more field training for inexperienced officers; and

WHEREAS, aware of the requirement for combat-oriented troops to be ready on short notice, General Castles worked assiduously to improve the readiness of the Virginia National Guard, and by 1985, Virginia was ranked first among the country's National Guard organizations; and

WHEREAS, General Castles brought the 29th Light Infantry Division up to combat readiness and was instrumental in the Virginia Air National Guard's receiving supersonic F-16 Fighting Falcons; and

WHEREAS, after completing an exemplary military career that lasted 51 years, General Castles retired to his Caroline County farm in 1994; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, That the General Assembly mourn the passing of an outstanding military leader, General John G. Castles; and, be it

RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates prepare a copy of this resolution for presentation to the family of General John G. Castles as an expression of the respect in which his memory is held by the members of the General Assembly.

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