Palo Alto Online - Lasting Memories - JOHN MACK CASTERMAN's memorial

1941-Feb. 19, 2024
REDWOOD CITY, California

John Casterman left us peacefully on February 19, 2024. John was an intense and challenging man, and he was well-loved.

John grew up in Pittsburg, Kansas where his family ran the local Coca Cola Bottling Plant. He graduated from the University of Kansas with a Fine Arts degree. He volunteered for the Vietnam War and served three tours in combat with the 11th Armored Cavalry-- the legendary Blackhorse Regiment.

The Regiment did not have its own shoulder patch. While training his unit to ship to Vietnam, John used the library at Ft. Meade, Maryland to research the history of the Regiment and military heraldry and with that, he designed the now-famous Blackhorse patch. With the able assistance of men in his platoon, John got the patch officially adopted in 1967.

As a young tank commander in Vietnam, John earned the extreme loyalty and lifelong friendship of his soldiers by being brave and bold and by fiercely looking out for each of his men. John was severely wounded in action in 1967 and spent two years recuperating in Walter Reed Military Hospital in Maryland. Upon his release, John returned to Vietnam to his combat unit, M Company, 3rd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

John was a recipient of the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Parachute Badge, Army Ranger Tab, Bronze Star with “V” Device, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star, two Overseas Bars, Jungle Expert Badge, Bronze Star Medal (1st Oak Leaf Cluster), and the Purple Heart for Wounds Received in Combat. He completed the Armor School, Jungle Survival School, U.S. Army Infantry School, Jungle Operations Course, Army Ranger School, and Airborne Training. John was honorably discharged in 1971.

Even outside of combat, John had an extraordinary appetite for adventure. He skied the world, insisting on using his ragged, old-fashioned gear to descend infamous peaks. To decompress from the war, he acquired a barn-find 1935 Ford panel delivery truck and drove it through the United States and into Mexico, producing the kinds of stories one might imagine and then some. He later traveled the world as a Tour Manager, taking distinguished travelers to exotic destinations.

During John’s travels, he encountered Carol, then a stewardess for Pan Am Airlines. The effect Carol had on John caused him to manipulate his itinerary for several subsequent years, so he could frequently cross paths with her while they both traveled, as he would later shamelessly admit. He succeeded in marrying Carol and having two sons, in whose raising he found a new, unshakeable purpose. In lieu of conventional family vacations, John took his family on rugged wilderness trips, setting off from Kennedy Meadows Pack Station on horseback to spend weeks camping in the beautiful and remote Sierras.

When his sons started school, John focused on improving the entire district. In early days, when many local families did not have computers, John convinced Apple executives to donate rooms full of computers, so the students would not be left behind. He organized ski trips and ensured that all students who wanted to go would be sponsored. Those who knew John would agree he did not fit neatly into any ordinary personality boxes. He was confidently original, practical, and hyper-social. His sons recall that it took John a very long time to run errands, because he was interested in every person he saw and would stop to chat with each, whether it was the mayor, the janitor, the older lady down the street, or the police officer on the beat. He effortlessly related to people whom others did not see, and he believed that everyone had a story worth hearing.

John is survived by his beloved wife Carol Woodward Casterman, his sister Julie Newlin and her children and grandchildren, his son and daughter-in-law Mack and Sara Casterman and their daughters, his son David Casterman and Dave’s love Amanda Carpenter, his brother and sister-in-law Patrick and Joan O’Connell, his brother and sister-in-law Dr. Paul and Donna Woodward, and his brother-in-law Neil Woodward.

Those who went before him include his father and mother John Jules and Doris Catherine Casterman, his sister Leslie Cates, and his brother-in-law John Newlin.

There will be a Memorial Mass on March 6, 2024, at 11 a.m. at St. Charles Catholic Church, San Carlos, California. A Military Honors Ceremony and interment of ashes will take place March 7, 2024, at 11 a.m., at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella, California.

Tags: veteran, arts/media, business, public service

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Memorial service
Memorial Mass: Wednesday, March 6, 2024, 11am. St Charles Catholic Church, San Carlos, CA. Thursday, March 7, 2024, 11am: Military Honors Ceremony and interment of ashes San Joaquin Valley National VA Cemetery, Santa Nella, CA.

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