Sunday, March 24, 2013

Fort Bragg


If you follow my other blog, Self Evident Truths you may know the story of Ivan Castro-American Hero (  He is the focus of a documentary my son is doing for a class at UNC....and I got to tag along on a unique tour of Fort Bragg memorials.

We met at the North Carolina Veteran's Memorial on Bragg Blvd. It is adjacent to the 82nd Airborne Museum.  It is a special place...and was a day the FBWG will long remember.

The North Carolina Veterans Memorial is not only a tribute to members of the Armed Services who gave the ultimate sacrifice but it is designed as a tribute to veterans who survived the conflict and returned to live and work in our State.  "O Sons, who are about to live, Carolina salutes you"

We met Captain Castro at the "dog tag" exhibit. It is a simple but very compelling display of dog tags of every North Carolina soldier who died in conflict from WWII to the present day.
Captain Castro is a man who is blind but this does not mean he cannot see and he proved that to us many times that day....the setting he chose for the documentary was perfect.  The North Carolina Memorial is a garden.  We chose a distant part of the garden and found a George Washington quote that seemed to capture the essence of Captain Castros' life.  

David and Ivan immediately bonded and quickly developed a script for the theme of his documentary and while they did their thing the FBWG got to explore the memorial park.
"We shall go forth and be ready to sacrifice our lives and fortunes to secure her freedom and safety"

The garden contains many fountains and decorative walls with thoughtful inscriptions designed to remind veterans of the importance of their service.

One of the most moving elements of the park was the garden of hands.  Columns representing each county of the state were adorned with casts of the hands of war veterans.

Adjacent to the North Carolina Veterans Memorial Garden is the 82nd Airborne Museum.  It is a wonderful tribute to the history of this legendary Army Unit.  The museum is guarded by two large statues.... the common soldier is depicted by "Big Mike" and a special tribute is given to North Carolina's native son, General Hugh Shelton.  

Inside the museum is a wonderful display of the history of airborne soldiers and special operations forces. There is also an interactive theater giving you the experience of jumping out of an airplane just like an airborne soldier.

As we left the museum David and Ivan continued their work talking about the next venue.  As they did I captured a shot of them strolling past Big Mike.  Next stop....the Special Forces Memorial Wall...inside Fort Bragg.  Captain Castro rode shotgun and guided us from the museum to Fort Bragg....even telling me that I missed a I said he may be blind but the man can still see....he even pointed out his barber shop when we passed it!

The wall is guarded by a large statue of a Green Beret solider. The wall is adjacent to the Joint Special Forces Operation Command Headquarters.  As I helped position Ivan for the camera I asked if he knew any of the men memorialized on the wall.  He called out several names.  I found them and left Ivan as he traced their names with his mangled index finger. It was the first of two very moving moments of the trip, which brought home for me the reality of the service and sacrifice of men like Ivan Castro.  
We finished the day at a museum inside of Fort Bragg.  Outside there were a number of airplanes, artillery pieces and other equipment as well as memorials to fallen soldiers of the 82nd Airborne.
While completing the filming Ivan asked his wife to go to the newest memorial and find two names.  I recognized the names from our earlier conversations. These two soldiers were with Captain Castro when he was wounded.  Neither survived. On his wrist is a metal band inscribed with their names. 

As we walked to the parking lot, Captain Castro and his wife approached the stone memorial honoring those soldiers of the 82nd Airborne who died in Iraq.   She positioned his hand at the names of two men.  Private First Class Justin W. Dreese   and Staff Sergeant Ralph N Porras.

We left Ivan with his thoughts and watched in silence as he traced the names of his fallen comrades with his fingers.   I was reminded of something he told me the first time I met him about which I wrote in "American Hero".

"It's not just about me anymore," he told me. “I am running for those guys I served with, the guys who did not make it back, the guys still in those hospital beds. I want to be an advocate for them. I don’t want people to forget them. I want to show that given the right tools those of us who have been injured can do anything. I'm here to show people I'm just like you."
Sgt Ralph Porras

PFC Justin Dreese
We must have talked for over an hour. I was in awe of this man.  I was reminded of the debt as free people we owe the soldiers who protect us. I invited my wife to join the conversation. When my son called in from college on my cell phone, I made him speak to Ivan Castro. I felt better to have been in his presence.  I felt like I was being reminded of life’s most valuable lessons.  Be thankful.  Be loyal.  Don’t complain.  Set goals.  Don’t ever give up.

Ivan continues to run for those guys.  He will complete the Boston Marathon again this year and then spend the summer training for a trek with wounded warriors to the South Pole.
Captain Castro and Prince Harry at the London Press Conference for South Pole 2013

HRH Prince Harry and Captain Ivan Castro at the South Pole 2013

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