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Bridge dedicated to WWII Veteran Wendell Casto

Suzette Lowe
Reporter
Bill and Joe Casto with their father's WWII uniform, awards, and flag that draped his coffin.

To anyone who knew him, Wendell Casto was a good neighbor, a man of honor whose handshake was his word, a hardworking farmer, a father of two fine sons. Few were aware of his valor during World War II.

According to his son, Bill Casto, if anyone did know, it wasn’t because his father volunteered the information.

“Dad just didn’t talk about the war,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in history, so I would pump him for details. I might get a little bit, but never very much.”

That quiet service got some well-deserved recognition at a bridge dedication on Aug. 7.

Family and friends from Tug Fork and beyond came together for the ceremony designating the Tug Fork Box Beam Bridge as the “U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Wendell Otho Casto Memorial Bridge.”

Delegate Steve Westfall who sponsored the resolution necessary to rename a bridge, led the ceremony. Other sponsors of House Concurrent Resolution 14 were Delegates Rick Atkinson, Josh Higginbotham, Tom Azinger, and Scott Cadle.

Wendell Casto enlisted in the United States Army 1st Armored Division on June 8, 1944, and served in the Italian Campaign. It was always believed, even though as a full-time farmer he had a deferment, he joined when his dad and favorite brother died within six days of each other. He was honorably discharged on April 20, 1946.

As a private, he took part in two incidents in 1945 that earned him the Bronze Star and the first oak leaf cluster to the Bronze Star.

He, along with members of his machine gun crew, volunteered to extract a wounded comrade from an unswept minefield. They then carried him on a litter back over the Italian mountains, doing so a few feet at a time. After a grueling 15 hour and 45-minute trek, they reached the battalion aid station.

A month later, he and his battalion faced the Germans in the Po River Valley. These men helped account for 1,000 prisoners and other casualties. They battled into Parma, Italy, where they set up a roadblock at the main escape route for the Germans into the mountains. The battle went behind enemy lines where Wendell’s whereabouts were unknown for 29 days. One more day and his mother would have received notice that he was missing in action.

Both Bill and Joe Casto shared a few thoughts about their father during the ceremony.

“Dad never wanted to talk about human loss,” Bill said. “Being a farmer, he did talk about the animals. He mentioned the beautiful Belgian horses that were casualties of war because they were killed pulling German tanks that had run out of gas. He also spoke about the pack donkeys who would be taking ammunition and supplies up the mountain and would occasionally fall over the hillside. That always bothered him.”

Being a farmer is all his dad wanted to do, Joe Casto said.

“When he came back from the war, even though he had a chance to stay in the army, he just wanted to farm on Tug Fork,” he said. “He was also proud of being one of the original signers and members of the Board of Directors for the Jackson County Junior Fair.”

If might be expected that a farm boy who hunted would be a natural to be a gunner. Bill Casto said his dad described it as “dumb luck.”

“Dad said the farm boys didn’t take the shooting test seriously,” Bill said. “He told about the boy from Brooklyn who watched the experts and then scored the highest. Dad must have paid good attention.”

The Bronze Stars were always kept in a box in a drawer while the uniform simply hung in the closet.

“Dad never made a big deal about them,” Bill said. “They’re preserved now for our kids.”

As for why someone who was essential in providing food for the war effort, and thus could have stayed safely at home, would choose to enlist, both Casto brothers can only speculate.

Joe said his father “knew his duty.” Bill agreed saying, “He saw his country was in trouble and we can only guess that he felt he needed to help.”

Wendell Casto reached the rank of staff sergeant in the two years he served. He and his wife Marie raised two sons who stayed connected to farming. Bill is with the USDA Veterinary Services and Joe retired from Farm Credit of the Virginias. They both own land that has been in the Casto family for generations, with two designated Century Farms (see related story). Wendell retired from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture as a livestock expert.

Joe Casto told the crowd attending the dedication that his father would have appreciated the honor of having a bridge named for him.

“He would have said this is real nice,” Joe said. “Then he’d say ‘but I need to get back to work.’ He also would have said there are a lot of other veterans on Tug Fork.”

As the ceremony wound down, a 21-gun salute was given by the Jackson County Honor Guard, followed by the playing of “Taps.”

For Bill, the placement of the bridge sign has particular meaning.

“The way it’s angled, it looks towards the home and land he and mom lived on,” he said. “I live there now and it’s special to know that it faces the place he loved.”

Bill Casto shared memories of his father, Wendell Casto.