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LTC Bob Thompson
Castner, Lawrence Varsi, COL USA(Ret).
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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
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.
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.