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Tampa family honors Army officer son who 'died a hero' in Afghanistan

TAMPA

When Carlos del Castillo opened his front door to an Army captain and chaplain on Sunday, he knew.

His son, 1st Lt. Dimitri A. del Castillo, 24, was killed by enemy fire in a ferocious battle in Afghanistan's Kunar Province a day earlier.

The officer told his father Friday he'd be going on a mission.

"I said, 'Be safe and I'll talk to you soon,'  " Carlos del Castillo remembers.

The 2009 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point served as rifle platoon leader, 1st Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

The dangers were apparent to del Castillo even before his deployment in April to Afghanistan.

"He said, 'I'm going to put this in God's hands. … I'm going to focus on my men,' " recalled his father, who lives in South Tampa.

The unit came under small-arms fire Saturday, and del Castillo continued to radio for support even after he was wounded, said his father-in-law, retired Lt. Col. Nate Pulliam of Conyers, Ga.

"He died with the microphone in his hands," Pulliam said. "He died a hero."

Del Castillo was born in North Carolina and spent time in Texas — attending high school there — and spent some summers in Tampa after his parents moved here about five years ago.

Del Castillo met Pulliam's daughter, Katie, at West Point in 2006 when they were cadets, and the couple got engaged while stationed in Hawaii.

They were married in a civil ceremony in December in Tampa and were making plans for a church wedding in July 2012, Pulliam said.

"She loved him madly," her father said. "We loved him as our own son."

Katie del Castillo was able to visit her husband and deliver a birthday cake to him on June 9 in Afghanistan. Both were deployed, but on bases 30 minutes apart, Pulliam said.

"These guys have so little out there and they don't complain. And here he was getting a birthday treat. He loved it," Carlos del Castillo said.

He also loved sports.

Carlos del Castillo said his son loved biking, basketball, soccer and most things outdoors.

Dimitri del Castillo played soccer wing on an all-district champion team while in high school and played fly-half on West Point's rugby team.

He even persuaded his father to cliff dive with him in Hawaii.

"He was just fun-loving," his dad said.

Dimitri del Castillo was ambitious. He became interested in the military after meeting an uncle who was a 1993 graduate of West Point. He applied and was accepted. After arriving, he felt he was in the right place.

The lieutenant graduated from Army Ranger school and submitted an application to join special forces, but understood he would need combat experience to build his military resume.

His deployment to Afghanistan was just the beginning to his plan of a long military career. At the end, he wanted to call Tampa home, Carlos del Castillo said.

"He was just enamored with everything here," he said.

Instead, he will be buried at West Point where friends and classmates can visit his grave and where his body can be near a dear friend he lost in February.

His family — including his father, mother Catherine, brother Carlos Andres and sister Anna Catherine — was at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Monday when his remains arrived.

"We're so glad we did it. It would have been so tragic not have anybody there to tell him howdy when he got home," his father said.

A memorial Mass is being planned for Tampa.

In lieu of flowers, the del Castillos ask that donations be made to the Wounded Warrior Project at woundedwarriorproject.org.

"We want to honor him," Carlos del Castillo said. "It's what he would have wanted."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Tampa family honors Army officer son who 'died a hero' in Afghanistan 06/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 12:57am]

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