Castner, Lawrence Varsi, COL

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Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
9301-Tactical Intelligence Staff Officer (G2, S2)
Last MOS Group
Military Intelligence (Officer)
Primary Unit
1941-1944, 9301, Alaskan Defense Command
Service Years
1923 - 1944



Two Overseas Service Bars

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by LTC Bob Thompson to remember Castner, Lawrence Varsi, COL USA(Ret).

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Contact Info
Home Town
San Francisco, California
Last Address
Oakland, California

Date of Passing
Dec 06, 1949
Location of Interment
San Francisco National Cemetery - San Francisco, California
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Plot: Section OS Row 98A Site 2

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US Army Retired (Pre-2007)

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 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
A 3d generation Soldier. Enlisted into military service on 12 June 1923, he rose through the Officer ranks & went where duty called. 

Stationed in Alaska, as an Intelligence Officer for the Alaska Defense Command, G2, when the front lines of the battlefield came knocking. It was Nov. 1941, and COL Castner was under the directive of General Simon Bolivar Buckner he was ordered by Buckner to create a fully functional unit that required minimal outfitting, COL Castner chose men skilled in surviving Alaskan conditions; these included native Aleuts & Eskimos, sourdough prospectors, hunters, trappers & fisherman . Men who could survive off the land by hunting & fishing regardless of the weather and to defend Alaska & our homeland from the invading Japanese. 

They were armed with a .22 caliber target pistol for small game & sniper rifles instead of standard military issued Springfield rifle or M1 Garand. Supplies were carried in Trapper Nelson packs which was lightweight & constructed of a wood frame & a canvas pack 24" in length. The men lived off of the land, using canoes to hunt salmon which they dried & stored for winter rations.

These men were the first to go ashore on every island occupied by allied forces during the Aleutian Campaign . The original group of scouts consisted of 66 men with nicknames such as ‘Bad Whiskey Red,' ‘Quicksilver', ‘Aleut Pete' & ‘Waterbucket Ben' , but officially recognized by the US Government as the 1st Combat Intelligence Platoon (Provisional) & by the rest of the world they were known as "Castner's Cutthroats". These scouts were responsible for conducting reconnaissance & intelligence gathering missions, & spearheading amphibious assaults during the campaign of the Aleutian Islands. 

In John Dwyer's "Remembering the Alaska Scouts," American Thinker, November 12, 2005: "In their first missions, Scouts reconnoitered several islands, then traveled north to the Pribilofs to provide Gen. Buckner with early warning of enemy movements. When plans were finalized for recapturing the Aleutians, Scouts led the way—back to Attu & Kiska, on to Adak & Amchitka, to Semichi & Agattu, then on up to the far Pribilofs." These gallants, who never wore uniforms but just their roughies, had to show the way to Special Forces. "The assault on Kiska in August 1943 was the Scouts' last mission. Ten thousand Japanese were reportedly on the island. Nobody really knew how many there were—if any. The Scouts led troops from the 1st Special Service Force ‘Devil's Brigade' onto the island."

The History Channel's documentary "Alaska: Dangerous Territory" on Castner's Cutthroats described how this band of scouts was able to save numerous Army Soldiers from starvation & frostbite. While preparations were being made to invade Attu, Agattu & Kiska, Castner's group warned the US Army about its use of tracked wheel vehicles & how their Soldiers should be outfitted to be able to survive. The Army chose to ignore the words of advice & Soldiers found themselves hungry & ravaged by the effects of frostbite &/or hypothermia. Castner's men showed the Soldiers how to hunt, fish, & provision what clothing they had into garments that were suitable for the weather conditions they were living in.

Castner's greatest success in Alaska's defense was in the building of an airfield on Adak Island. The Army fighter planes had to fly a great distance of over 1,200 miles in order to combat the Japanese, Castner's airfield shortened this distance in half. To build the airfield the men had the daunting task of finding a suitable location in a mountainous terrain. They instead opted to dam a lagoon & drain it to use its sandy bottom floor as their landing strip. The Army Engineer Corps later improved on this area. 

The band of scouts disbanded in 1946.


New York Times 8 Dec 1949, COL Castner Dies: Led Alaska Scouts; Army Officer Set up Combat Intelligence Platoon Known as ‘Castner's Cutthroats' read the headlines on the day COL Castner died. Castner had been wounded in the battle of Attu in 1944, which caused his early retirement from the Army & had eventually developed into the heart ailment that lead to his death in Oakland, California on 7 December 1949. 

A marker on the east side of Bayshore Hwy, across from the former NAVAFAC complex states: On August 28, 1942, the U.S. Naval submarines, SS Triton & SS Tuna, surfaced 4 miles due east of this beach & disembarked a 37-man U.S. Army intelligence gathering unit lead by Colonel Lawrence V. Castner. The unit was known as "The Alaska Scout," or more affectionately as "Castner's Cutthroats." Their mission was to gather information about the Japanese troop strength on Adak & to report their findings to the landing force already on its way from Dutch Harbor. No enemy troops were found, & on August 30, a 17-ship landing force with 4,500 men & tons of heavy equipment arrived. Their mission: to build an airstrip & troop staging area in preparation for the retaking of the enemy-occupied Aleutian Islands of Attu & Kiska.   
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Command and General Staff College (CGSC) Resident Course

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McFarland, Andrew, BG, (1915-1947) IN Colonel
Thompson, John Bellinger, BG, (1914-1946) Colonel
Anderson, John, MG, (1914-1946) IM 2520 Lieutenant Colonel
Chase, William Curtis, MG, (1913-1955) Lieutenant Colonel
Church, John Huston, MG, (1917-1952) Lieutenant Colonel
Cook, Gilbert, MG, (1912-1948) Lieutenant Colonel
Cota, Norman Daniel, MG, (1917-1946) Lieutenant Colonel
Doe, Jens Anderson, MG, (1914-1949) Lieutenant Colonel
Gilbreath, Frederick, MG, (1911-1946) 2011 Lieutenant Colonel
Haislip, Wade, GEN, (1912-1951) Lieutenant Colonel
Johns, Dwight, BG, (1916-1949) EN Lieutenant Colonel
Johns, Dwight, BG, (1916-1949) EN Lieutenant Colonel
Lawrence, Thompson, MG, (1907-1946) IM 2520 Lieutenant Colonel
McBride, Horace Logan, LTG, (1916-1954) Lieutenant Colonel
Meyer, George, MG, (1911-1946) CAC Lieutenant Colonel
Milburn, Frank, MG, (1914-1952) IM 2520 Lieutenant Colonel
Mueller, Paul John, MG, (1915-1956) IM 2520 Lieutenant Colonel
Oliver, Lunsford, MG, (1913-1948) Lieutenant Colonel
Porter, Ray, MG, (1917-1953) Lieutenant Colonel
Ridgway, Matthew Bunker, GEN, (1917-1955) Lieutenant Colonel
Thompson, John B., BG, (1914-1946) IM 2622 Lieutenant Colonel
Warnock, Alan, BG, (1916-1946) IM 2622 Lieutenant Colonel
Weart, Douglas Lafayette, MG, (1915-1951) Lieutenant Colonel
White, Miller, MG, (1917-1955) IM 0006 Lieutenant Colonel
Back, George, MG, (1917-1955) IM 0006 Major
Black, Frederick, BG, (1917-1950) IM 0006 Major
Blackmore, Philip Guillou, BG, (1911-1950) IM 0006 Major
Boudinot, Truman Everett, MG, (1917-1945) Major
Brittingham, James, BG, (1916-1954) Major
Brooks, Edward, LTG, (1917-1953) IM 2520 Major
Bullene, Egbert, MG, (1917-1954) IM 0006 Major
Canine, Ralph, LTG, (1917-1957) IM 0006 Major
Chapman, Elbridge, MG, (1917-1946) IM 0006 Major
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Eyster, George, BG, (1917-1950) IM 0006 Major
Farrell, Francis William, LTG, (1920-1960) Major
Ferenbaugh, Claude Birkett, LTG, (1918-1958) Major
Fielder, Kendall, BG, (1917-1953) Major
Fox, Alonzo, LTG, (1917-1957) IM 0006 Major
Grogan, Stanley, COL, (1917-1951) IN Major
Gruenther, Alfred, GEN, (1918-1956) Major
Haney, Harold, BG, (1911-1953) IN 11A Major
Harris, Charles, BG, (1917-1953) AD 14A Major
Haynes, Loyal, BG, (1917-1954) IM 0006 Major
Holdrigde, Herbert, BG, (1917-1944) IM 0006 Major
Hull, John, GEN, (1917-1955) Major
Hutchings, Henry, BG, (1908-1949) IM 0006 Major
Hyssong, Clyde, MG, (1916-1949) IM 0006 Major
Jenkins, Reuben, LTG, (1917-1954) IN Major
Karlstad, Charles, BG, (1917-1953) IM 2520 Major
Keerans, Charles Leslie Jr., BG, (1919-1943) Major
Keiser, Laurence, MG, (1917-1952) IM 0006 Major
Keiser, Laurence, MG, (1917-1953) IN Major
Kingman, Allen, BG, (1916-1953) IN Major
Kramer, Herman, MG, (1910-1946) IN Major
Lauer, Walter, MG, (1917-1946) IM 0006 Major
Leavey, Edmond, MG, (1917-1949) EN Major
Lerch, Archer Lynn, MG, (1917-1947) IN Major
Maddocks, Ray, MG, (1917-1951) CV Major

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