Category Archives: Family History

Cherry Bounce Has Arrived!

After months of experimentation, I arrived at a recipe for Cherry Bounce I am most happy with. The last experiment finally reached three months maturity—well—one week short of three months; close enough for gubmint work, yes? So I acquired some cheesecloth, strained it, and bottled it. Oh, and I also tasted it.

YUM! It is fantastic!

I emptied the last dregs of a tequila bottle I had and put the strained final product in there. That required a quickie label. This is probably not the final version, but it will do for now.

As you can see from the image, I got about 350ml out of that last test batch. Not to worry, however, a “production” batch is currently maturing in the darkened confines of my kitchen pantry. That one used a whole 750ml bottle of Sazerac Rye, so I expect it to yield as much or a bit more, depending on how much juice the cherries throw off. It is, however, only a month into the maturing process. It should be good and ready for Thanksgiving. I would make more for Christmas gifts, but cherries are evidently out of season.

The label says it is “MB’s Cherry Bounce” made from a secret family recipe handed down from generation to generation—all lies—well, mostly lies. MB did inspire this, but since I could not find his original recipe, I had to experiment. And the recipe isn’t really secret. It is attached below for anyone who wants to make a batch of their own.

MB’s Cherry Bounce Recipe

2 lbs ripe sweet Bing cherries

1 cup Turbinado sugar

juice of one lemon

1 750ml bottle Sazerac Rye Whiskey

Remove the pits from the cherries. In a saucepan, add cherries, sugar, and lemon juice and set aside to allow the cherries to throw off some juice (at least 30 minutes or so). Simmer and stir over low heat for 20-30 minutes until sugar is dissolved and the cherries are just about to begin breaking up. I like to keep them whole for later use. You should have then substantially more juice that cherries, whereas before there was very little juice with the whole cherries. Let cool and add rye whiskey. Mix well and store in a clean covered canning jar in a cool dark place for three months. Check often to be sure there is no fermentation that would build up pressure in the jars. (There shouldn’t be with the rye whiskey in it.) Once “mature” strain through cheesecloth and bottle. Save strained cherries and refrigerate for other uses like over ice cream or as an ingredient in cocktails, or maybe make some jam with them. I don’t know how long these will keep refrigerated. You may want to freeze some in small batches to be thawed and used as needed.

The finished Cherry Bounce can be sipped straight or as an ingredient in a cocktail. See my recipe for MB’s Cherry Bounce Old Fashioned Cocktail here.

Cheers!

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The Day Fairyland Burned

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … oh, wait, wrong intro. But it was a long time ago, maybe about 1953 or there-about, when this disaster took place. And the galaxy was Waveland, MS at the summer home of my aunt and uncle. They owned twenty acres of kid-friendly heaven in Waveland. Translation: lots of woods to play in and minimal to zero adult supervision.

It began simply enough: Fairyland caught fire! GADS! That place of wonderment we kids thought possessed mystical qualities because our parents told us (liars) that fairies lived there, was burning!

Fairyland is the yellow circle. Red square was my uncle’s property.

Actually, Fairyland was a garbage dump on the neighbor’s property, because there was no garbage pick-up “a long time ago in that galaxy far, far away” of Waveland. Careless burning initiated by our parents must have caused the fire?

And then again, maybe it was caused by us kids and our Labor Day fireworks?

Whatever, Fairyland was in flames, and a conflagration of epic proportions was rapidly spreading. Where would all the displaced fairies live? Oh, the humanity!

We begged our parents to get involved. “Ummm, adults, there’s a forest fire out behind the house…”

Their reaction was immediate and decisive. “Sure sure. Can you get me another cold Regal from the ice chest?”

We kids resumed our fire-watch as the flames marched ever closer to the house, eating its way through the dried pine needles that littered the ground like a brown carpet everywhere you looked in Waveland. WE ARE ALL GONNA DIIIEEEE!

Finally, FINALLY, we were able to motivate our parents into action. Actually, the smell of burning pine needles may have been more of a motivator? Picking up his beer, Boo, my uncle trudged out of the comfortable confines of the screened porch around to the side of the house, and he saw it. His response: “Oh crap!”

There was an immediate call to action. “FIRE!!!” Well, maybe that is overstating it just a bit? Boo returned to the screened porch and said something like, “Umm, we have a small problem we probably kinda-maybe should take care of—like soon?”

The others looked up from the Chesterfield cigarette smoke and Regal beers. “Like what kind of a problem, exactly?”

“A small matter of a fire behind the house.”

We kids all chimed in then, “Yeah, and Fairyland burned down, and all the fairies are now displaced, refugees! Where will they go?”

With that, the slightly inebriated, adult fire brigade sprang into action with Boo shouting orders, and the others stumbling around attempting to obey. They dragged out a garden hose and attempted to reach the fire with it only to come up short by about fifty yards.

We kids formed a fire brigade of our own and commandeered a toy wagon and several buckets, which we filled with water at the free-flowing artesian well. Buckets filled, we dragged the creaky overloaded wagon to the site of the disaster. The terrain was a bit rough, so by the time we got there, most of the water had sloshed out of the buckets. We made trip after trip as our parents shoveled and batted the fire down with wet sacks and sandal-shod feet (ouch!).

And the world—well, at least all of Waveland—was saved from a flaming disaster. In other words, we finally got the fire out. Much relieved and exhausted, not to mention thirsty, they retired once more to the screened porch for fresh cans of Regal, Falstaff, and Jax beer. We kids rewarded ourselves with Nehi sodas, RC colas, pop rouge, and 7Ups.

Back at school Monday morning, we shared, with our classmates, our tales of derring-do, fighting the great forest fire that destroyed Fairyland.

And all was well with the world again. Except for the fairies who were left homeless and wandering aimlessly around Never-Never-Land, that is.

 

Dedicated to my cousin Bobby.

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More About Waveland

I have written about Waveland, Mississippi on more than one occasion. (A few such tales here, here, and here.) That is because the place holds so many memories from my childhood. During the summers, we generally went over to our little cottage in Waveland every other weekend. As soon as MB closed the office Friday night, we hit the road and did not return until Sunday night, usually quite late. MB would close the office in the summer for a two-week vacation, and guess where we went? Yeah, you guessed it.

I was poking around Google Maps, looking to see what the old hood looked like these days. It has changed a lot! Most of the houses there now were not there then and the area was more wooded. But it still brought back memories. The screen grab above shows the neighborhood. The big red square was twenty acres and originally belonged to my aunt and uncle (Margie and Son “Boo” Manard). The smaller yellow square was our property. The blue roof is the original house built by MB and his friend, Pete. Back then the yard was full of pine trees. Hurricane Camille eliminated most of those. None of the other houses inside the red square were there, and only two of those across the street existed then.

In Waveland, we fished, swam, crabbed, floundered at night, ate hamburgers, soft-serve ice cream after swims, and cold watermelons, and once watched Boo chase Jim, the horse, around his twenty acres. The kids drank pop rouge and Nehis, and the adults consumed adult beverages, mostly cold Falstaff or Jax beer (even Regal before they closed the brewery) all while exchanging gossip or playing cards. On “party nights” (when we had guests with us) they brought out the “big guns,” which was usually Seagrams 7 and 7Up or Coke. And that could lead to trouble, like the night Maxine D. fell in the bathtub and couldn’t get out. I guess she was drunk enough she didn’t hurt anything. It took three men to get her out. The fact that all four were snockered and giggling like it was the funniest thing they had ever experienced tended to hamper the operation.

When not engaged in the listed activities above, we boys were roaming the woods with our BB guns and sometimes getting into our own form of trouble but having a wonderful time. We hung out at a place near the back of the property we called “Fairyland.” (Yellow circle in the image above.) It was actually used as a dump by some of the locals, including us before we got environmentally conscious and started hauling it to the town dump. No garbage collection back then. There were a bunch of small ponds back there and lots of crawfish chimneys. It looked like a fairyland to us. I’m not sure I ever went to Waveland that I didn’t visit Fairyland.

Back behind Fairyland was a small creek that drained toward the Gulf and went under the railroad tracks. The culvert under the tracks was big enough we could stand up inside with only the need to stoop over a little. That culvert was the scene of the famous “you’ll shoot your eye out” gunfight Buck and I had—and I nearly shot his eye out. (The smaller red circle in the image above.)

No AC. in the “old days.” I slept under a huge window fan that sucked the air out of the house and across me in my bunk bed. The vacuum created in the house was filled by the cool night air. What a life!

There was no town water then, either. Our little piece of heaven was a one-acre plot carved out of the corner of a twenty-acre square originally owned by my uncle. He had an artesian well over near his house, which was on the opposite corner of that twenty acres. MB drilled a shallow well on our property, but the water tasted like rotten eggs. He decided maybe stringing all that pipe from the other corner of twenty acres wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Thereafter, we drew our water from an artesian well.

They sold the place in 1973. I wanted to buy it, but I was fresh out of the Air Force and, at the time, unemployed. Waveland is gone. My main regret is my kids didn’t get a chance to experience something like Waveland when they were young.

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Pete

Like most of us, my dad had a best friend. His name was Pete. They grew up together in the neighborhood along Orleans Avenue near City Park. Pete’s folks owned a barroom at the end of Orleans and North St Patrick where Orleans meets Marconi Drive. The building is still there and now occupied by an insurance agency. After the Casteix family decamped from the pharmacy/residence on Bourbon Street (the place where MB tried to launch the squeezin’s from his Cherry Bounce from the attic across Bourbon Street—and failed), they moved to a house on Orleans. This was in the thirties. Since neither MB nor Pete is here to ask, I assume that is when they met.

Both played baseball, and Pete went semi-pro for a while. MB was a semi-pro boxer in the featherweight division. Then came World War II, and MB went to the European Theater of Operations, and Pete went to the Pacific. They reconnected after the war and remained fast friends for the rest of their lives.

Pete was a very interesting fellow. He worked for the Post Office and did contracting jobs on the side. He had a 1957 Chevy BelAir (Sea Foam Green, of course) and a 1957 Chevy former telephone service truck for his contracting jobs. More on that later.

MB and Pete almost never bought anything new. They were “tight” and bought (or scrounged) used and/or fabricated what they needed. MB did buy a new boat, but he had mismatched scrounged motors on the back, and not even the same brand. One was an Evenrude and the other a Johnson. While the stuff they “manufactured” might have been functional, it wasn’t pretty, but “pretty” wasn’t their objective. This was definitely a case of function over form.

Pete helped MB build our “summer house” in Waveland. This was back in the mid-1950s.  In fact, Pete had a bedroom designated as his own in that house. Most of the materials came from a house Pete tore down. They stacked all the salvaged windows onto a trailer to haul them from New Orleans to Waveland, Mississippi. Since it was an “MB and Pete enterprise,” the trailer was homemade (function over form, remember?). It carried stuff well enough, but lacked that final je ne sais quoi—in this case, shocks. In other words, it bounced a lot. Also, notice that I said they “stacked” the windows. They were not stood on end or edge as they should have been but laid flat for traveling. Mistake. After the hour and a half drive over Highway 90 to Waveland with all that trailer bouncing, there was not an unbroken pane of glass left in the windows. They had to re-glaze them all.

MB and Pete did all the electrical wiring in the house themselves (neither was a licensed electrician as we shall see in a moment) and finished the job late in the evening about suppertime. We were staying in my uncle’s house nearby, so they ate supper and returned to the construction job after dark to test their wiring. Yeah, you guessed it. The switch in the kitchen turned on the front bedroom lights. The switch in the bedroom turned on the bathroom lights before it blew all the fuses, throwing them into the pitch black Waveland night. MB tried to walk through the walls between the studs to get to the fuse box and forgot they had put spreaders between the studs that day. One caught him right across the bridge of his nose.

Pete was a consummate scrounger and always looking for some “free prize” in life. Other’s cast-offs might be his diamond-in-the-rough. After a weekend in Waveland, we had to carry our garbage to the dump—no county garbage collection back then. Pete always managed to find some “prize” at the dump, and the standing joke was we always came back with more than we hauled to the dump.

Pete’s garage was a tinker/scrounger’s dream and full of just about anything you could think of that he had accumulated from various scrounging expeditions—like to the Waveland dump. That ’57 Chevy BelAir was in there after he moved up to a newer model. It had a cracked block, and I have no idea why he kept it. He lived on a busy street, and every time he left the garage doors open for any reason, someone would stop and ask about buying that ’57 Chevy. He also kept that ‘57 truck, but it was in the yard. When Pete’s wife passed away in the eighties, he offered both the truck and the car to me. Unfortunately, I had no money to restore them. I managed to get the truck and store it in a garage belonging to my wife’s family. My expectation was one day I would find the resources to restore it. Never did. Sold it. It was a unique truck with that telephone company box on the back instead of a pickup bed and probably more desirable than a regular ’57 pickup. The car went to Pete’s grandson, and I have no idea what happened to it after that.

Pete was someone you just enjoyed being around. He had a great sense of humor and was a perfect partner for MB in their many adventures. Pete passed away some ten years or so before MB. I know he missed him a lot.

NOTE: That image of Pete was in MB’s wartime photo album. It looks like he is wearing a military khaki uniform, so I think this was taken during the war when Pete was overseas, probably in India.

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Black Talon

I used to be an avid deer hunter but gave it up about 20 years ago. I just sort of burned out, and my interests shifted elsewhere. If you hunt or just like shooting, you have probably accumulated a few firearms. Among them is likely one that is very special to you, one that when you handle it, your mind is flooded with memories, hopefully, good ones. I have such a rifle.

It is a rather strange creature that started out its life just over 100 years ago, in 1917 to be exact. It is a Model 1917 rifle, often referred to as the U. S. Enfield or American Enfield (More on that later). It began life as a military rifle, probably serving with the Army. Its history back beyond 1970, when I came in possession of it, is known to me only through what has been recorded by historians writing about the M1917 in general. When the U.S. entered WWI, the standard infantry rifle was the Model 1903 Springfield, a marvelous product of American gun making. However, upon entering the war, America was woefully short of M1903s, and it would be impossible to increase production fast enough to meet the war needs. But there was a solution. It resided in the form of a rifle Remington Arms had been producing for the British to supplement their shortage of what the Brits called the Mk 1 Short Magazine Lee Enfield, or SMLE (pronounced “Smelly”). They had been working on a replacement rifle in caliber .276 Enfield instead of their then standard .303 caliber when the war started. This rifle was called the Pattern 13 or P13. They quickly canned the idea of changing calibers as impractical with a war cranking up.  With British gun makers pumping out SMLEs as fast as they could and maxed out, they approached American gun manufacturers to make the new rifle but in standard British caliber .303. That stop-gap rifle became the Pattern 14 Enfield or P14.

About the time America entered the war in 1917, the British had finally reached the point that their supply of rifles was meeting demand, and they canceled the remaining orders with American suppliers. This was fortuitous for America. Unable to meet the demand for M1903 rifles for U. S. needs, it was determined that since Remington, Winchester, and Eddystone had all the tooling in place and ready to make rifles, it would be much quicker to simply convert the British P14 from the British .303 caliber to the standard American caliber .30/06, and a new rifle was born, the M1917. Mine is a Winchester. More M1917s served with American Expeditionary Forces in Europe than M1903s.

When the war ended, America reverted back to the M1903 as their primary rifle and relegated the m1917 to war reserve status. It was brought out of reserve status during WWII and issued to some rear area troops, used for training, and loaned to allies. With WWII ended and the American semi-auto M1 Garand rifle developed just before WWII in active service, the U. S. began ridding itself of the surplus M1917 and M1903 rifles. Many of these found their way into the civilian market. The M1917 was particularly liked by gunsmiths to build custom rifles in magnum calibers. The reason it was preferred is that the action was very robust and able to stand the higher pressures of these magnums. My particular Winchester M1917 went through this process and was converted to a sporting rifle with a scope sometime before I acquired it. It was left in .30/06 caliber and retained its original barrel.

I traded for my rifle in 1970 and took it to Alaska with me when I was transferred to King Salmon AFS in 1971. I hunted with it there in the fall of 1972 and took a nice caribou bull. After I was discharged from the Air Force, I hunted whitetail deer with it in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, taking numerous deer. The rifle always shot well even though the barrel’s bore was pitted from the use of corrosive ammo during its military career. Along about 1990, I decided the old girl needed a facelift and had her re-barreled with a brand new barrel. Then I had the whole works Parkerized. Parkerizing is a protective metal finish used by the military on small arms. It is usually a dull greenish-gray or charcoal black finished. Mine was a working rifle and not a safe queen, thus I thought Parkerizing was more appropriate than a high-gloss blue, which would have been prettier. In addition to re-barreling and refinishing, I bought a new stock for her, a nice laminated wood stock, which I shaped to my desires and needs. I chose resin impregnated laminated wood instead of some fancy grade of walnut because it is virtually impervious to weather and warping. I did this for the same reason I chose the Parkerized finish. I finished off the rebuild with a really nice new Burris scope. In effect, I had a brand new rifle, and the only remaining parts of the old was the heart, the action.

It is fairly common for gunners to name their favorite firearms. I had never done that for my 1917 and decided it was time. In testing ammunition loads in my “new” rifle, I discovered she really liked Winchester Black Talons and easily put three shots in a group well under an inch at 100 yards. So, “Black Talon” she became, and I even had a small nameplate made and mounted on the side of the stock.

Black Talon is semi-retired now, but every time I take her out of the safe for a cleaning, my mind is flooded with the memories of the many adventures we shared together.

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The MB Cherry Bounce Cocktail

I said I would be experimenting with the Cherry Bounce in a cocktail. And it came out great. It is quite simple to make if you have some of my Cherry Bounce. What? You don’t have any? Sorry ’bout that.

The cocktail is named after my father and his “famous” Cherry Bounce. He liked to drink Old Fashioneds, so the MB Cherry Bounce Cocktail is based on an Old Fashioned, which, BTW, is the “hot” retro cocktail right now. Mine is a bit different.

Ingredients:

1.5-2 ozs Sazerac Rye Whiskey (Yeah, you can use another, but we designed the Sazerac package.)

2 teaspoons Cherry Bounce (Rye Recipe Version)

2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

2 dashes Orange Bitters

a few cherries from the saved mash from the Cherry Bounce

Stir with ice in an Old Fashioned glass and add a twist of lemon peel. (The lemon peel is a Sazerac Cocktail thing. It adds a bit of tartness to the drink.)

The cherry flavor comes through and goes well with the rye whiskey. I may do some fine tuning, but I think I have a winner.

 

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Cherry Bounce – Update #3

Some months ago I began an experiment making Cherry Bounce. This was driven by the memory of my father telling stories of making Cherry Bounce when he was a kid. He continued to make it later when I was a child. I don’t recall ever tasting MB’s recipe and, unfortunately, I do not have it to duplicate. So, I was driven to the internet to find something I could use as a guide to making my own. What I found were many different recipes for making Cherry Bounce, some variations of which I used in two previous tests batches. Both came out good and were quite drinkable, but I was just not sure I had achieved “cherry nirvana” yet.

My two previous attempts were quite similar. Both used dried tart cherries (which my wife scoffed at, but that was all I had to work with). One was cooked with Sazerac Rye Whiskey added after, and the other was not cooked and had vodka for the alcohol. After several months stored away “aging” in mason jars, I tasted the two samples. Both were good, but the rye version was much more complex, and the clear winner, in my opinion.

Fresh Bing cherries are now available in the stores, so I decided to try another test with fresh cherries. Most of the “old” recipes called for fresh, tart, wild cherries, and sweet Bings would be a departure—but they were available. We began a third test batch today.

Janis, my spouse and cooking expert, and I reviewed several recipes and made some adjustments we thought might be an improvement. As mentioned, we started out with fresh, sweet, Bing cherries. As in the two previous test batches, I used turbinado sugar rather than refined white sugar. Turbinado has a bit of the raw molasses taste to its flavor and may not add much to the final product, but I like it and well, that’s what I wanted to use. Get over it.

Part of the decision process was how to handle the fresh cherries. I bought a nice cherry pitter from Amazon and pitted all the cherries we used. Since we wanted to save the leftover cherry mash for other uses after we made the Cherry Bounce, I elected to keep the pitted cherries whole rather than chop or just split them. I leaned heavily toward a recipe that called for cooking, reasoning the flavors might be more intense. And since the rye whiskey gave a more complex flavor in my previous tests, I decided to stick with it as the alcohol base.

Cherries pitted in my brand new, fancy-dancy, semi-automatic, cherry pitter, I cooked them down over a low heat with the turbinado sugar and some lemon juice. (The cooked mash tastes absolutely divine!) The Sazerac Rye Whiskey was added to the cooled mash. That has been put away to age.

Now the hard part—waiting!

I will publish the exact recipe once I have determined I have it refined to my satisfaction. Meanwhile, I plan to run another series of tests, using the cherry mash from the original rye test batch and some from this new batch. These tests will be for a new cocktail I have tentatively named “MB’s Cherry Bounce Cocktail.” He loved Old Fashioned Cocktails, and my recipe will be based on an Old Fashioned. More on that once I begin that test, which will probably be today as I celebrate July 4th.

Cheers for now.

 

 

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A Wartime Diary – Part 7

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

Part 5 here.

Part 6 here.

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.

 

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A Wartime Diary – Part 6

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

Part 5 here.

ROME!!

So begins this chapter of my father’s WWII diary. We left the last part with the Allies just entering Rome after a long and bloody fight coming up the Italian boot mostly dealing with rugged mountainous terrain. As MB said, “A terrible place to fight a war.”

He gets a bit poetic here. “ROME! What a city! A modern metropolis thriving in the shadows of a bygone era. The nearest thing to cities back home that we’ve seen. Modern buildings, clean wide streets. Electric cars. Life goes on as usual with no interruption. By now (June 11) the Romans have become used to us & go about their business with no apparent curiosity about the Yanks. Beautiful girls, well dressed with bright printed dresses, very friendly.” I bet they were.

MB goes on the rattle off one of his long lists he calls “a few points of interest,” but I will spare you the details.

Here begins what I call the “Gypsy Phase” of his war experience. Understand that each of these moves required breaking down a hospital with all its tents, beds, and equipment, packing it, moving it, and setting it up again somewhere else. No easy task.

“6 June – We move to Priverno – French Air Evac.”

“14 June – We move with 422ndFrench Hosp to Aeroporto, 25 miles above Rome. Still doing Air Evac.”

“21 June – Move again! Still with French Air Evac. Viterbo.”

“12 July – We move to Sienna with 421st French Hosp. Still doing Air Evac. Activity here is increasing…behind the lines. It means only two things: Southern France or another landing up the boot. I pick France in 2-3 weeks.”

MB has been in the Army for almost three years at this point and in a combat zone for almost two years with the last year close to the front and seeing the worst of it. But now he is out of the action and it is getting to him as he states, “Afraid I am getting weary of the war. I’ve lost all ambition & initiative. Things are too dull back here – same nothingness each day. I’m even getting tired of looking at the Italians.” (The women?) “Sienna (a beautiful and historic city) is only six miles away, but I can’t work up enough interest to visit it. Maybe if I had a few air raids I would snap out of it!”

MB on right with a French officer, probably the commander of the French unit they are attached to.

Evidently, he does muster up the energy to visit Sienna. “14 July – Sienna, another Italian walled city. Old, steeped in legend. Famous for its numerous churches, the finest Cathedral & the shrine of St. Catherine of Sienna. Narrow winding streets with many balconies. Also the home of famous briar pipes.”

The French celebrate Bastille Day. “The French held a huge celebration here today to celebrate Bastille Day. Parades & talks by Army Commanders. Colorful Goume and Senegalese bands and guards. City all decorated. Gen Clark flew into our airport in a Simpson & an escort of 6 Piper Cubs!” Six Piper Cubs? They aren’t even armed. Some escort.

French tank? Uniform of the dude on the right looks French.

“18 July – This stunning Russian advance amazes me. Yet, I’m puzzled. No army no matter how strong can advance as rapidly against opposition no matter how little. The Krauts must be pulling back to some powerful defensive line. If this is not the case, I believe in miracles.” He is referring to what is happening on the eastern front with the Russians on a tear and pushing the Germans out of Russia and Poland.

“28 July – We move to Cecina.” Cecina is well up the Italian boot above Rome. “The French have pulled out of the line & we’ve been relieved. Have no assignment & no prospects. There are too many medical troops here for what’s on the line. Somebody is going to make another invasion. Us maybe? Preparations are in progress for something tremendous. When, where? The new moon is up now.” Most landings took place during a full moon.

“7 Aug – Our second-anniversary party was a huge success. Wonderful meal, fine dance. Hope this is the last.” Evidently, it is the second anniversary of them being in theater.

“15 Aug – This is what I’ve been expecting. The landing in Southern France by 7thArmy. Now to grind the Hun out of France.” He predicted this earlier in his diary and missed the date by a week. Operation Dragoon was the Allied invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944. The invasion took place between Toulon and Cannes by a combination of American and Free French troops.

“22 Aug  – The siege of Paris has begun.” The Allies broke out of the Normandy beachhead and rolled toward Paris. “Such tremendous advances & such destruction of the German armies means the end is near. It may come at any minute & certainly, it will come suddenly.”

He shifts his focus back to Italy. “It won’t be long before the final push starts to clear Italy of the Germans. The Brazilians are here and the 92nd Div (Negro) is here.”

Umm! It gets spicy now! “L’amore in Rome!” You don’t need that translated, do you? It sounds like he had some chaperone-less fun? “Officer Rest Center at Hotel Excelsior on Via Veneto (Via Ganorrhea)!” Yeah, that’s what he said and how he spelled it. I know he knows how to spell “gonorrhea.” On the chance the “Via Ganorrhea” was a street in Rome, I Googled it in Google Maps. What came up were pins for about a thousand doctors offices. I’m thinking he misspelled it, after all.  “Via” is Italian for “way” or “street.” I believe. I tried Googling it as a street and no luck. Is it a joke?  The officer’s rest center is on Via Veneto, but you chance getting gonorrhea while there? Then we have this note in his diary following that comment, “5thArmy is running the worlds largest brothel!!” Maybe that explains it?

“23 Aug – The French Marquis liberated Paris! The advance continues. I guess: Shortly the 5thArmy will enter France by way of Italy.”

“2 Sept – We moved to San Casciano, 15 miles below Florence. The push to drive the Krauts out of Italy has begun. The Battle of France is over – the Battle of Germany is about to begin!” France is liberated, at this point in our story, and the Allies are about to cross into Germany.

Back to Italy again. “Florence – the art center of the world. I’m disappointed! It may be the war or I don’t appreciate art! Just another Italian city. Germans blew all bridges except Ponte Vecchio – footbridge. All art still hidden. First saw the city on 3rdSept. Artillery still around city – Germans only 6 miles away. That may explain my feelings! Surprised at amount of goods still for sale – clothes & expensive items but no food. Moral: Don’t live in a big city during a war.”

“8 Sept – Visited Pisa. It’s a ghost town. Not a civilian there. In fact, the town is hardly there … Only section not ruined is that around the tower … It too has the scars of battle. Cathedral of Santa Maria Majore beautiful. Built in 1063.”

MB took this pic of the tower.

“TD as house physician at Hotel Excelsior. A pleasant week. Good food and service.” (TD = Temporary Duty. We used to call it “TDY” in the AF.) “Searchlight Sam, Tina & Lucia!!!” I have no idea who Searchlight Sam was. He closed that with three exclamation points just like I typed it so it must have been very important to him. He follows it up with, “What a time!” Is Sam is a friend adept at “searching” out girls? if so, draw your own conclusions about Tina and Lucia.

“30 Sept – We move to Pratolino, 12 km above Florence. Still nothing to do.”

“13 Oct – Move to Cafaggiolo 18 miles above Florence. Ambulances working all over Italy. Some are with 16th Evac, C.G.B & Co is evacuating the 2 platoons of 601.” I don’t know what C.G.B. is but something big he never explains happened for them to bug-out. I recall him telling a story once about returning to the hospital after being away for some reason, and it was gone—as in evacuated gone, leaving him behind. This must be that incident.

“17 Oct – Awarded the Army Plaque & Clasp by General Clark for outstanding service during June. We were with the French and evacuated every French casualty via air. The citation reads as follows:

“The 403rd Coll Co is awarded the 5thArmy Plaque & Clasp for exceptionally meritorious performance of duty during the month of June 1944. This unit was charged with the responsibilities of facilitating the airborne system of evacuating casualties. During the advances both south & north of Rome this organization maintained close contact with the constantly changing battle zone & was able to evacuate thousands of casualties without loss of a single patient’s life. Reliance is put upon the 403rd Coll Co to maintain its record in days that lie ahead. Mark W. Clark, Lt. Gen. U.S. Army – Commanding.”

This must have been a nice feather in the cap of the 403rd Collection Company commander, Capt. M.B. Casteix, Jr.

“2 Nov – Well, looks like my guess of the end on 26 Nov will fall short. Another winter in Italy is almost too much I can think of. It will be miserable … That old rumor of the 5thArmy going to India has cropped up again.” Evidently, he had predicted the surrender of Germany by late November?

“1 Dec – Operas in Florence, La Boheme, Manon, Barber. Good singing, excellent scenery.”

Continued…

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A Wartime Diary – Part 5

Part 1 here.

Part 2 here.

Part 3 here.

Part 4 here.

As we pick up the action in my dad’s wartime diary and picture album, we left our intrepid hero at Caserta, Italy with the 5thArmy on the road to Rome. They will soon encounter stiff resistance to that trip, a mountain top monastery called Monte Cassino.

On 26 January they moved up to Mignano with the 10thField (Hospital). Mignano is just southeast of Cassino. He mentions a “new landing at Netturno,” but there was no Netturno that I can find. There was a landing at Anzio in February 1944, and this may be what he is referring to if we assume he is not still in the 26 January entry. He mentions that the 95thEvacuation Hospital was bombed by the Germans. So much for honoring the red cross.

Another break from the war– “June Clyde, Louise Allbritton, Harry Barris give show & have lunch with us. Movie stars pooie (SIC)!” I guess he wasn’t impressed? I Googled them, and both women were real lookers, especially Louise. Evidently, looks aren’t everything…

The next entry says they got some R&R at Sorrento, which is down near Naples. He seems to focus on the hot water baths he got there and “modern bars” and a visit to Capri. They rode the Funiculare (Funicular), which is a cable car system used in mountains.

Another visit by a movie star, John Garfield. This one impressed him more. “Good show!”

Back to the war – “Squalor in most Italian villages: no sanitation & waste thrown in street. No one seems to have ambition to improve himself.”

I am noticing MB having a series of mood swings. Sometimes he speaks highly of Italy and its people and other times not. He has been overseas for almost two years at this point, and I am suspecting the war is wearing on him. I imagine he has seen his share of blood and gore by now with more to come. The USO shows seemed to help, but a man has his limits. This becomes more obvious later in his diary.

“Transferred to the 403rd Collection Company. Take command on 15 Mch 44. 403rdworking with the 38thEvac.”

“First day of spring! We’ve spent the winter in Italy – how much longer? Haven’t gotten very far but far enuf! 24 Mch: who said spring is here? It’s cold: saw first real snow of winter today!”

And then this happens: “Vesuvius erupts! One village buried. San Gregoio barely misses. Mountains of lava – still hot & smoking after 2 weeks. Dust on Capri.”

“15 Apr we move up to Mignano to support the 194th F. A. Gr. who are working with 8thArmy. Business should be slow.” This entry is confusing. There was a 194th Field Artillery Battalion in the area at this time. The 8thArmy is British not American. And what does the “Gr.” mean? The 194th was a National Guard unit, but then most units in the Army in WWII were NG. Another mystery… (UPDATE: I think 194th F. A. Gr might be the 194th French Auxiliary Goumiers? The “Goums” get mentioned below.)

“Apr 25 – Kraut artillery hits British ammo dump nearby. Like gigantic 4 July celebration. Flares, tracers, etc go up!”

He has learned that being a company commander has its drawbacks. “Running a company is a terrible headache: equipment problems, HQ always worrying you, inspections, etc.”

“April 28 – Shelled! Krauts put eight shells 75 yards from us during supper. Mess kits went flying!”

“May 8 – The big push to Rome is due any day now. Shortly after will come the invasion (I hope).” The invasion he is referring to is the Normandy Invasion on 6 June 1944. In a post a few lines down he predicts the date pretty close. Rome was taken about the time the D-Day landings in France took place, which overshadowed the news of the capture of Rome.

We have another break from the war – “Our British friends at Mignano. Bill Waller and Charlie Walker… The most amusing & generous characters I’ve met!”

Bill and Charlie in berets?

“An amazing war, this! Here we sit seeing movies right under the noses of the Krauts. We’re 5 ½ miles from the front. Easy gun range!”

“11 May 2300 hrs –This is it!! The big push to Rome and beyond is on. H-hour is at hand! Never has any force of comparable size had the striking power of this one. Firepower is terrific. We hold complete mastery of the air & everyone confident that we will not be stopped.”

And here he predicts the Normandy date, “The big channel show should start in 2-3 weeks from now. It’s the beginning of the end!!!” Using the 11 May date of the entry and adding 3 weeks gets us to 1 June. The invasion took place on 6 June. It was scheduled to be earlier, but weather forced a delay.

“18 May – The push continues. Tough rugged fighting, but we’re pushing ‘em back. Cassino finally fell!!!” It fell only after the Allies bombed it into rubble. The problem was the Germans made better use of the rubble than the buildings there before the bombing.

“23 May – We move to Rongolisi to evac 425th French Evac & 405th French Field Hosps. They’re keeping us busy. They’re set up in orchard, olive trees, grape vines, & cherry trees. Cherries good!” I am just a little surprised he didn’t take time to make some cherry bounce here.

MB’s company is supporting French units and will be involved in air evacuation of the wounded. They will excel at their jobs and get a commendation from HQ 5th Army as we shall see.

Chow where and when you can.

23 May Continued – “Beachhead begins push.” The Anzio beachhead most likely what he is referring to. Back in February, the Americans attempted a flanking movement and landed a large force at Anzio, which is between Cassino and Rome. The landing force remained bottled up around the town of Anzio until the big push for Rome in May. “It’s all over but the fighting! Watch for another landing above Rome as soon as we join the Anzio boys.”

“26 May – We move again! Can’t keep up with the front. We’re at Pico (the front lines two days ago).”

“31 May – Who says the Luftwaffe is dead? Bet the papers home don’t tell about German air activity here. All I hear over our radio is ‘no enemy planes were seen during the daylight yesterday.’ Yeah, what about nite? We’ve had raids almost every nite since the push started. They cover everything from the front to Naples, dropping bombs indiscriminately & strafing anything. They rarely cause much damage but the nuisance value is great. Seldom more than 20-30 planes.”

“The French are proving the point that they are good soldiers. Given good weapons, they will stack up against any soldier in the world. Their advance has been the most rapid & over some of the toughest terrain. They are holding about ½ of the front. The Goums are wonderful.”

He is referring to the Les Goumiers Marocains. The Moroccan Goumiers were indigenous soldiers who served in auxiliary units attached to the French army. While nominally in the service of the Sultan of Morocco,  they served under French officers. They were feared night fighters and preferred to use knives when possible.

Fifth Army commander Mark Clark had this to say about the Goumes, “In spite of the stiffening enemy resistance, the 2ndMoroccan penetrated the Gustave [sic] Line in less than two day’s fighting. The next 48 hours on the French front were decisive. The knife-wielding Goumiers swarmed over the hills, particularly at night, and General Juin’s entire force showed an aggressiveness hour after hour that the Germans could not withstand. Cerasola, San Giorgio, Mt. D’Oro, Ausonia, and were seized in one of the most brilliant and daring advances of the war in Italy… For this performance, which was to be a key to the success of the entire drive on Rome, I shall always be a grateful admirer of General Juin and his magnificent FEC.”

“4 June – We made it!!! We entered Rome this A.M.! The end of 9 months of bitter, backbreaking, disheartening fighting. We won’t stop here! Now we can think of the INVASION!” The Normandy landings were two days later.

North Africa, Sicily, and Italy were never intended to be a way to enter Germany. It was a compromise with Churchill’s demand to attack the “soft underbelly” of the Axis and drive Italy out of the war. It was also to take some pressure off the Russians on the eastern front who were demanding a second front to help them. It worked. Elsewhere I mentioned an incident when my father-in-law was shot down over Sicily. On his way back to North Africa on an LST, they picked up a German pilot who had been shot down the night before and was floating around in the Med. Bobby, my FIL, made friends with him during the voyage and was told by the German he had been on the eastern front and only recently transferred to Italy.

We will stop here for now. There is more here…

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