By Tony Aguilar,
Coachella, Calif. – As he does every year on the Fourth of July, Daniel Cervantez Castro joined his friends from American Legion Granados Post 739 to honor and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
But this year held special meaning for Castro.
Just days before, Castro was honored as Veteran of the Year for the 80th Assembly District by State Assemblyman Manuel Perez (D-Coachella).
“Mr. Castro is a proud veteran who is deserving of recognition not only for his service to our country, but also for his ongoing dedication to veterans and the communities of the Coachella Valley,” said Pérez, who is a member of the Assembly Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Castro and his wife of 41 years, Martha, along with their two adult children, Omar and Andrea, traveled to Sacramento to attend the Veterans Recognition Luncheon at the Sacramento Convention Center.
“I was nervous up there,” said Castro. “I met a lot of people with different uniforms and different colored medals from all the different branches of the armed forces at the ceremony. One man even told me that he was no hero, that the real heroes were the ones that died in combat for our freedom.”
His son added, “I was proud to hear that my father was being honored for his time served in Vietnam and the years of service to the American Legion.”
After receiving the honor, Castro and his wife returned to their home on Eighth Street. Displayed on the front porch is an American flag, which Castro makes sure is fit to fly at all times. Once it is worn and torn, he replaces the flag.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but there is a proper way for getting rid of you old flags,” said Castro. “We perform a special ceremony to retire and properly dispose of old flags at the American Legion.”
At night, he turns a light on the flag.
“You got to have a light on them,” said Castro of flags. “You can’t fly them in the dark.”
Castro served as an Army Specialist 5 in the U.S. Army, 11th Armored Division, from Sept. 17, 1969 – Sept 16, 1970. While stationed in South Vietnam, in an area known as I-Corp, he received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained while setting flares during a firefight. He also received a Bronze Star and a Good Conduct Medal.
When asked why he chose to join the military service he said, “I went for curiosity, I wanted to go. I wanted to know what it felt like.”
Castro comes from a military family where all but one of his four brothers joined the armed forces.
Castro wishes more of today’s young vets were aware of the veteran services that are available to them, explaining the contents of his Veterans Resource Handbook published by the state of California.
“There are a lot of services out there for our returning vets, from the Veterans Hospital to college tuition waivers, and I wish more of our vets knew about these services because they deserve it,” said Castro. “They also need to join an organization where they can talk to people to relieve the psychological stress that can come from the traumas of military service.”
“The Veterans Memorial at the Coachella (Valley) Cemetery is a perfect example of the respect we need to pay to our veterans. It was the result of the combined effort of several organizations including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.”
After his return from Vietnam he dove into volunteerism. Castro served as a volunteer fire fighter for over 22 years. After becoming paralyzed at the age of 40, he continued volunteering at Granados Post 739 of the American Legion, the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, committed to mentoring youth and sponsorship of wholesome programs in communities.