NORFOLK, Va. — The U.S. Navy captain who led the successful effort to rescue a cargo-ship captain captured by Somali pirates says Catholic men can be heroes in everyday life through fatherhood and self-sacrifice.
“You don’t have to be a captain of a naval warship or the president of a company or anything else to be a hero,” Capt. Francis Castellano told the Knights of Columbus in an interview.
Castellano, 45, commanded the USS Bainbridge, a guided-missile destroyer, in the successful effort to rescue cargo-ship captain Richard Phillips from pirates off the coast of Somalia in 2009.
“Every day, we can do something, little by little: to go ahead and show heroic traits and just be who we are, be Catholic men of faith.”
“I think all fathers are heroes to their families,” he continued. “Their children and their spouses look up to them. I think our call to heroism every day in our lives is to be continuing members of the community, to stand up for what we believe in, to be role models as parents and role models in the community, helping the less fortunate and giving our time back.”
In April 2009, four pirates had attempted to hijack the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, but Phillips’ crew had retaken their vessel and captured one pirate. The remaining pirates took Phillips as a hostage and fled the ship on a lifeboat.
The Bainbridge pursued the pirates. After a tense standoff in which the pirates repeatedly threatened the cargo-ship captain’s life, U.S. Navy forces killed the pirates and freed Phillips on Easter Sunday.
The story of the pirate attack is dramatized in the new movie Captain Phillips, with actor Tom Hanks starring in the title role. Castellano’s part is played by Yul Vazquez.
Castellano, a former altar boy who now serves as an usher, lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion, said his faith helped him in the crisis.
“Being a Catholic is important to me. In terms of the rescue mission for Capt. Richard Phillips, my Catholic faith and being a Knight of Columbus played a big role in what I believed in: that we wanted to bring Capt. Phillips back home safely to his family and protect the greater good.”
Castellano grew up at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Patchogue, N.Y., where his great-uncle was a priest and pastor.
“My mother was the secretary at the parish, so, growing up, I spent a lot of time in the rectory and being raised around the Catholic church, and I think that has imbued me with positive values.”
His home parish is now St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Virginia Beach, Va.
He has been a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal charitable organization, for 27 years. He praised the organization’s “fraternity and its service” and its ability to provide a support network for its members.
Castellano has been married to his wife, Lisa, for 22 years, and they have two daughters.
“My wife has been very strong and supportive of the family, as I progressed in my career,” he said. “I have been on a lot of sea duty, which means long periods away from home, and my wife has raised our daughters a lot of times on her own, and they are now wonderful young ladies.
“We try as much as we can to all have dinner together when I am home and to discuss what we have done throughout our day, so that way we can spend that time together.”
Vision of Fatherhood
The Navy captain also shared his vision of fatherhood.
“Being a father is very important and comes with obligations to be a role model for your children, to go to church, show your faith, pray with your family and be there in their times of need. You want the best for your children, and the best way to do that is to be a great example for them.”
Castellano said he does not consider himself a hero for his role in the rescue. Rather, he praised the Maersk Alabama sailors, who were untrained for the situation yet still recaptured their ship. He also praised the Navy’s Special Forces.
“Those men are incredible. They are titans of our country, and we should be very, very proud that we have them on our side.”
He praised “the professionalism and the teamwork” of his crew and of everyone involved in the rescue operation.
“I am so proud of the team that was supporting me on board Bainbridge, that we could actually bring Capt. Richard Phillips home to his family.”