CORONA, CA, USA U.S. Army CPL, 73D ENGINEER COMPANY, 25TH INFANTRY DIVISION, FORT LEWIS, WA MOSUL, IRAQ 12/21/2004
I’m okay. Still on the face of the earth, if you know what I mean.”
Army Specialist Jonathan Castro, 21, of Corona, Calif., wrote those words to former high school classmate and friend Denise Pineda weeks before he was killed Dec. 21, 2004. A suicide bomber dressed in an Iraqi military uniform walked into a mess tent in Mosul and detonated an explosive. Twenty-two people, including Castro, died in what was the war’s deadliest attack on a U.S. installation.
Castro, a combat engineer, joined the Army for the college tuition after declining his parents’ offer to pay for his schooling. He had a gift for technical innovation and creativity and wanted a future in engineering. Working with shop teachers in high school, he had built an electric guitar and designed and constructed a full-size electric car.
He had arrived in Iraq about 10 weeks before his death, and in his clipped, candid e-mails to friends at home, he talked about his missions into Iraq’s interior and about the stubborn insurgency.
“It seems like if you kill one, 20 more come out,” he wrote to Pineda in November. “I tell you what, it makes you really appreciate life.”
Castro’s mother, Vickie, sees the written words of her only child in e-mails as bittersweet treasures she can keep forever. “As I read it, I can hear his voice, because he writes just like he talks,” she says. “Phone conversations were wonderful, because I actually heard his voice. But now they’re just my memories.”
In an e-mail to one of his favorite high school shop teachers, Kent Galloway, just three days before the bomb blast, the young soldier joked about the ratio of women to men in the Army and reflected on the malevolence of his world there.
“As for Iraq itself, it’s beautiful except for the whole war thing. The people are nuts. Every last one of them feel that they have to stare you down. Getting shot at definitely sucks. The worst part is they usually shoot and run.”
The proximity of the U.S. base to hostile urban areas in Mosul was a factor in the ease with which the suicide bomber sneaked inside undetected, Army officials later surmised.
Castro took note of it shortly before he died. “My FOB (forward operating base) is right outside the city of Mosul. I can literally spit over the fence and hit a city street.”