MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP >> Salvatore Castro smiled and waved as a parade of between 35 and 40 cars rolled past his front door on Highland Avenue Sunday morning.
The World War II veteran, proudly wearing his 32nd Infantry Division hat, turned 95 on Mother’s Day and the parade was a way for his friends from the Washington Crossing National Cemetery to celebrate his milestone in the age of social distancing.
Sirens split the late morning air as the Middletown Township Police Department led the parade of cars through the Highland Park section of Levittown.
People waved American flags as they passed Castro, a combat veteran who fought against the Japanese in the rainforests of the Philippines during World War II and was wounded by shrapnel in a grenade attack earning him the Purple Heart.
“What a surprise,” said Castro, as he watched the parade from his front yard, which was decorated with American flags and red, white and blue pinwheels, signs and banners. “I wasn’t expecting this,” he said. “It was all my friends from the cemetery. I guess they didn’t have anything else to do,” he laughed.
“I haven’t seen them for a couple of months and it was good to see everyone,” added Castro, who like everyone else has been hunkered down in his house since the middle of March as a result of the pandemic. “I’d like to thank them very much for being so thoughtful. I don’t know how I can thank them enough.”
The parade was organized by the Guardians of the National Cemetery, the official support committee for the Washington Crossing National Cemetery. Participants included members of the Guardians, volunteers and employees from the cemetery.
Castro is a member of the Guardians and continues to faithfully render honors to the deceased as a member of the honor guard during Monday interments at the cemetery.
“That’s the kind of person he is,” said Guardian’s President Richard Craven, who helped organize Sunday’s parade. “He's amazing. And the fact that he can still do the stuff that he’s doing at his age is terrific. He’s a very special guy.”
Craven said Castro very much deserved the special surprise birthday parade, not only for his dedication to the cemetery and his service to the nation, but because he's a good guy. “I thought it was an amazing turnout. And I could tell that he appreciated it.”
Castro, who is the oldest member of the Guardians, credited his long life to “good parents and good genes,” pointing to other members of his family who lived well into their 90s and his aunt who lived to 103.
“It’s the roll of the dice,” he said. “Of course I didn’t pick up the habit of smoking and I don’t drink.”
He did almost died twice during World War II, first after being hit by shrapnel in a grenade attack and then when he came down with jungle disease while being treated for his injuries.
“I got an infection that almost killed me. If it wasn’t for penicillin I wouldn’t have made it,” he said.
Castro has had quite a life, living through the Great Depression, fighting the Japanese during World War II and living to see such technological advances as Skype, which allows him to connect with family in California.
Among his earliest memories is being let out of school in Newark, New Jersey, in the 1930s to watch President Franklin Delano Roosevelt drive by in an open car.
Aside from his birthday parade excitement, the father of four spent a quiet birthday and Mother’s Day with his wife, Eleanor, and his family - along with plenty of birthday cake.
“I got so many cakes today,” he said. “My granddaughter made a cake. My daughter made a cake. My wife made a cake,” he laughed.
When asked what kind is his favorite, he said without hesitation, “Any kind of cake. I never met a cake I didn’t like.”
To read more about Corporal Salvatore Castro and his World War II experiences and his life, click here.