A Wife Wonders If Her Marine Will Come Back

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At 29, May Castaneda says she is too young to remember the Vietnam War and finds the possibility of her husband engaged in combat almost surreal.

It was midweek when Miguel Castaneda, a Marine Corps sergeant at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, told his wife that he was headed for the Persian Gulf. But the news didn't really register until Saturday evening.

"I heard some of the helicopters flying overhead and my heart went to my mouth," May Castaneda said, recalling the moment that she comprehended the full meaning of his words.

"If we don't do something to control this loony-tune over there then the whole world suffers," said Castaneda, who served three years in the Army in the early 1980s. "It's easy for me to understand that, but as a wife it's hard to say my husband is going to go over there and he may come home OK and he may not.

"It's even harder to explain it to my children."

Making the separation especially painful, May Castaneda said, is the fact her husband only returned home to his wife and three young children last month after a six-month deployment in the Philippines.

And making it especially frightening, she said, is the potential for a sustained commitment of troops in the Middle East. The fear that this latest military crisis might become the most serious since the Vietnam War was echoed by many of the residents of this close-knit neighborhood of military housing, just behind the El Toro base.

Castaneda's husband was only days away from completing a tour in the Army when the United States invaded Grenada in 1983, she said. She recalled the fear of waiting, as a new mother with a 3-week old baby, to learn whether her husband would be called into battle.

Even that vigil, however, was not as frightening as today's uncertainity, she said, because there was not the same sense of a potentially long-term engagement.

This past weekend, the rumble of the helicopters flying out of the Marine Corps base in Tustin was only one of many signs of imminent deployment that have haunted the neighborhood. The local mini-market, for example, was busy until closing this Saturday with Marines in search of last-minute supplies, May Castaneda said. Among the hottest selling items was non-aerosol insect repellent. Canned bug spray, she explained, would be likely to explode in the torturous desert heat of Saudi Arabia.

May Castaneda sees one particularly frightening sign of the increasing tensions: A military police officer now boards each civilian bus as it enters the base and remains on the bus until it leaves.

Still, only her oldest daughter, 6-year-old Victoria, has any inkling of the crisis, Castaneda said. Victoria noticed Saturday night when her father packed a knife in a bag with his military gear. Then her father picked her up and put her on the kitchen counter to explain, as best he could, that everything would probably be all right, Castaneda said.

"She started crying and he swallowed hard," Castaneda said.

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