This will be the seventh and final chapter. I hope you have enjoyed it.
In our little story, it is early December 1944, and the war is drawing to a close. There was much estimating of an early end, as suggested by MB’s guess of the war ending in late November and noted in the last post, but that didn’t happen. Hitler had one more effort up his sleeve, and the war in Europe dragged on for another five months. Japan went a bit longer. Later that month, Hitler began his drive into Belgium in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. It caught the Allies off guard and, except for the lack of fuel for the German tanks, it might have been even more successful than it was. Of course, the Allies ultimately pushed the Germans back across the Rhine River and followed them into Germany.
In this final post of the series, events come together that are both sad and happy, events that changed my father’s life forever. Let’s begin.
MB wrote two letters home in October 1944 that I am in possession of. One was to his sister and the other was to his father. You might want to go read the one to his father here.
Then back to his diary and we find this entry: “6 Dec – Learned today of Dad’s death on Nov 20. I’ve lost my Rock of Gibraltar. Good luck Dad, and may God keep you.”
Martial B Casteix, Sr.
I can’t read that without tearing up. His mother died before the war of a disease that they developed a cure for only a couple of years later. He was close to his dad and worried about him back home having to work for K&B Drug Stores as a druggist after losing his own chain of stores during the Depression.
“Received orders to report home on T.D. If only I had been able to see Dad again.” The war was over for MB. Men in his unit gave up “points” they had earned toward going home so MB could have enough points to go home to attend to his dad’s affairs. He arrived in the New Orleans area on 26 January. His sister, Margie, had already handled most of their dad’s affairs and buried him. MB remained with her and her young daughter, Melanie, in Kenner where she lived. He eventually settled there.
Meanwhile, the war dragged on, and MB was supposed to report back to Italy. There were rumors his unit would be sent to the Pacific Theatre. That never happened, and MB never returned to his unit, which leads to another story, the last in this series.
While the war in Europe was still raging, MB got orders to report dockside for passage back to Italy. When he showed up, they had no papers on him and sent him home. He received more orders to report for shipping out to Italy. He reported, and once again they said they didn’t have him on the manifest and sent him home. I don’t recall how many times this happened. It was at least twice and probably three times, possibly more. Meanwhile, the war ends, first Europe and then Japan, and everyone is coming home and getting discharged.
But the Army seemed to forget about MB, leaving him in limbo, and he never goes back. Technically, he is AWOL – Absent Without Leave. Meanwhile, MB set up practice in Kenner. He was never paid for any of his time in the service after December 1944. My mother wanted him to go after the government for back pay and interest! She was convinced it must be in the hundreds of thousands by then. MB would just laugh and reply, “But they might put me in Leavenworth?” That usually ended it, but the story was told and retold so many times when I was a kid that it became a joke that the Army would eventually come after MB.
And then they did.
My sister Martia was working as a receptionist in MB’s office. She was an adult by then. This was some thirty years or more after the war. And one afternoon in walks a U.S. Army officer in uniform. “Is Major Casteix in?” Don’t know when, but somewhere along the way MB got promoted to major. No mention of it in his diary. Knowing the AWOL story well, Martia’s reaction was “Oh shit!” She went back to the examining room where MB was and told him, “The Army has come for you!”
“What are you talking about?” And she explained there was an Army officer in the waiting room asking for Major Casteix.
MB went out to meet the officer and identified himself. “I have something for you,” the officer replied, and he reached into his briefcase and pulled out an envelope. MB opened it, and it was his honorable discharge certificate.
That did it! My mother pushed even harder for MB to go after the Army for that back pay and the (by then she was convinced) multi-millions of dollars of interest that had accumulated in over thirty years. He never did.
Bass fishing in Alabama.
After the war, MB never traveled much or very far when he did travel. We frequently went to our summer house on Waveland, MS (and MB fished) and once to Panama City, FL on a short vacation (he fished there, too). Fishing was his second love (next to being a doctor). He spent countless days fishing in the Louisiana marshes and offshore. He loved to fish so much he even wrote a poem to fishing. You might get him to travel if there would be fish and a pole to use at the end of the journey. I took him bass fishing in Alabama a few times, and once we got him all the way to Abilene, TX, but that was for his grandson’s wedding (he didn’t fish there). He always said there was really only one place he wanted to visit—Italy, but he never made it back. He died in 2003.
I will close this series with the eulogy I gave at his funeral.
There are many ways to take the measure of a man. One is by the way he touches others. Some do this on a massive scale, through some discovery or invention that impacts the lives of millions. But some touch lives in a very personal way – one person at a time.
MB was just that sort of person. He touched others professionally as a physician.
Do you know how he came to practice medicine in Kenner? He wanted to go into pediatrics, but a war got in the way. After the war, MB continued his studies and lived in Kenner with his sister, Margie and her husband Robert Manard (most knew him as Son). But word got around in doctor-poor Kenner that there was a new one in town, and people began showing up on Son’s doorstep any time of the day or night looking for the doctor. Son finally had enough and took MB aside and told him, “I can deal with the sick kids throwing up on my rug, and the wounded bleeding on my sofa, but I just can’t handle it when people go into convulsions on my living room floor! GET AN OFFICE!”
He did and he practiced medicine as an old-fashioned family doctor in Kenner for more than fifty years.
But MB touched people in a way that was more than just the professional caring of a physician. He was the kind of person you liked being around, the kind of person who made the world a better place. He was the kind of person that you had no choice but to love.
There are some here today who did not personally know MB, but most of you here did know him. How many of you who did can say that he impacted your life, that your life would have been different had he not been a part of it? Either as a physician or personally? Raise your hands! Now, look around you.
MB (“Doc”) was not tall of stature, only about 5’6”, but if you accept the premise that a man can be measured by the lives he touches, then we have gathered here today to bid farewell to a giant.
And we were greatly blessed by the fact that this giant walked among us for 85 years. He will be sorely missed!
This is from a newspaper article about his retirement fifty years after the war.
3 responses to “A Wartime Diary – Part 7”
Thank you, Lane, I am Jeannie Black and served on the Kenner City Council from 1994 to 2014, I remember honoring your father with a proclamation for his services in the City. Really enjoyed reading every episode from his diary and the way you presented it. I was raised all of my life in Kenner and remember going to his office for stitches as a child. I think you and your family lived on 6th Street right behind his office. I remember thinking how lovely your mother was. She was Prof Barbre’s daughter, wasn’t she. After reading his stories, I wish I had known him better.
MB was the kindest man I knew. He would not charge people who couldn’t afford care and many who COULD, like our entire family and I am taking about four Manard and Lagasse families. He was my Godfather and never had a cross word to tell me. He was the only person I trusted when I was a kid to give me a shot. At his retirement party I remember an old African American lady who told us that when her child was about to lose his leg and couldn’t get the Dr’s in N O to treat him, MB did and saved his leg. There were many testimonies like that. I am so proud of him. You are so right about touching people. I love him so much. Thanks for the series, Lane. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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