By: Sandra Thompson
Dale was born in Limestone County, Alabama, in March of 1932. The Casteel family has a long history of military service beginning with his father, Marvin A. Casteel, who was stationed at Evac Hospital No. 27 in Koblenz, Germany, during WWI. His sister, Marion A. Casteel, joined the Navy and worked at the Correspondence Department in Washington, DC during WWII. Dale and his brother Jimmy were in the Army during the Korean War, and his younger brother Billy was in the Army during the Vietnam War. In 1948, at the age of 16, Dale and some other friends decided to join the Alabama National Guard after realizing there wasn’t much money in picking cotton; they were all assigned to Company B of the 1343rd Combat Engineering Battalion. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, the 1343rd was called to active duty. Dale says, “Although they would leave Athens, Alabama, as boys, they would become men in Korea, their love for their family and country would grow stronger.”
Dale had some unforgettable experiences in Korea, one notable was being part of the band called “The Alabama Ramblers.” When the 1343rd Battalion left for Korea, some of the men took their musical instruments with them for entertainment, and thanks to the persistence of Jerry McGivney, they started playing together. Jerry would wear many hats in the band, including manager, booking agent, driver, and master of ceremonies! The band would record their songs and mail them back to Bob Dunnavant to play on the radio station WJMW in Athens; this also gave the men a chance to record messages for their families.
One of Dale’s most emotional memories of Korea is the story of a little Korean girl they called “Sunny.” Dale and the other soldiers of Company B, found Sunny and her younger brother behind a hedgerow; they were both very ill and malnourished. The men took them in and tried to nurse them back to health. Sadly, the little boy passed away, but Sunny eventually thrived and was a little bright spot in the dark time. They all loved her like a daughter. Eventually, Sunny was strong enough to go to an orphanage in Pusan. Dale says that was probably his saddest day in Korea.
Dale feels that the leaders of Limestone County and Athens have been very good to the veterans, especially at a time when the public was not supportive of the Korean veterans. For this reason, he supports the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and, of course, he supports the Alabama Veterans Museum and is looking forward to its expansion.
After returning from the war, Dale says he took the GED and went right back to work. Dale has one adopted son, Marty, and two foster children, Liz and David. Dale has been married twice but has unfortunately lost both of his wives to illness.
Dale is also a noted author and poet with several books to his credit, The End of the Trail of Tears, The Trail That I Traveled, The Native People of Turtle Island, and Great Words of Wisdom from the First Native People. These books can be found at the Museum gift shop along with other places. Dale has also written countless short stories and poems.
By: Sandra Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans' Museum