Latinos and Latinas of the WWII "Greatest Generation" tell their personal stories, creating a vivid picture of Latino life in the 1930s and 1940s.
Since 1999, the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project at the University of Texas at Austin has captured the untold stories of this WWII generation. Altogether, the project videotaped more than five hundred interviews throughout the country and in Puerto Rico and Mexico.
This volume features summaries of the interviews and photographs of the individuals. Among the people included are Mexican American civil rights leaders such as Pete Tijerina and Albert Armendariz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and Virgilio Roel of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Others are community leaders such as Pete and Elena Gallego of Alpine, Texas, and military leaders such as Colonel Hank Cervantes and flying ace Richard Candelaria. Women who served in the military are also included. There are academic trailblazers, too, such as Frank Bonilla, who became a major figure in Puerto Rican studies. And there are a few Latinos who describe serving in segregated "colored" units during the war, as their physical features placed them in African American communities.
Overall, the vast majority of the men and women interviewed in A Legacy Greater Than Words led private lives, and their stories chronicle the everyday existence of Latinos in the 1930s and 1940s—stories that generally have been omitted from historical accounts of either the Great Depression or World War II.
- List of Illustrations
- Part One. U.S. Latinos and Latinas in the Military
- Chapter 1. The European Theater
- North Africa and Italy
- Fighting From the Air and the Sea
- The Battle of the Bulge
- Witnesses to the Nazi Concentration Camps
- Fighting into Germany
- Germany Surrenders
- Chapter 2. The Pacific Theater
- The U.S. Enters the War
- The Bataan Death March
- Battles in the South and Central Pacific
- Liberating the Philippines
- Mexican Squadron
- Invading Iwo Jima and Okinawa
- Ending the War
- Chapter 3. Beyond the Main Fronts
- The China-Burma-India Theater
- In the Pacific
- In Europe
- Chapter 4. Latinas in the Military
- Chapter 5. Brothers in Arms
- Chapter 1. The European Theater
- Part Two. Latinos and Latinas on the Home Front
- Chapter 6. Latina Civilians who Served
- Chapter 7. Everyday Lives of Latinos and Latinas during WWII
- Chapter 8. Mexican Civilians who Worked in the U.S. during WWII
- Part Three. Post-War Opportunities and Contributions
- Chapter 9. The Fight for Civil Rights
- Chapter 10. The Value of Education
- Chapter 11. Community Notables
- Chapter 12. Military Service Beyond WWII
- Selected References
- Original Interviewers
- Original Story Writers
Please note that this preface is a detailed explanation of our methodology, perhaps more than is common. Our intent is to offer our experience to any other similar oral history project that may wish to considerpublishing interviews as either news stories, as we have in the past, or in a book, as we do here. We have arrived at this point after taking our own guidance from many other oral history projects, credited in the acknowledgement section of this volume, as well as from much trial and error. If others can benefit from our experience, so much the better. —Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez
We have undertaken the work of publishing A Legacy Greater Than Words with two goals in mind: to provide interested readers summaries of our stories and to turn over to the repository, where the archives will be held, as much, and as accurate, information as possible. Our hope is that once the files reside at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, they will be available for public viewing as soon as possible, rather than require the time-consuming processing that would delay their use.
We have had, since the beginning of the U.S. Latino & Latina WWII Oral History Project, a way to demonstrate the richness of our interviews: a newspaper, Narratives, which was dedicated to the interviews. Eight issues of the newspaper were published between 1999 and 2004, courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman and the San Antonio Express-News. A Legacy Greater Than Words could not exist without the groundwork provided by Narratives. A Legacy Greater Than Words has followed the process developed through the publication of Narratives:
- The interview is conducted by a volunteer.
- A story is written by a journalism student, often not the person who conducted the interview.
- A side-by-side edit session is held with the student and a professional journalist. Additional questions for the Interview Subject are listed within the story.
- The story is sent via e-mail to two volunteer military historians, who verify military information, such as location of the person's military unit and dates.
- The story is sent to the Interview Subject, with any additional questions from the student writer, the editor and the military historians.
The Project put together an interviewer training manual and a video early on, to guide volunteers unfamiliar with oral history interviewing. That manual was later posted on the Project's Web site. Among the admonishments: record with external microphones where at all possible for the best audio, try to use ear phones attached to the camera so that you can hear what the camera is picking up, remember to ask for as much detail as possible, always use a tripod, and make sure to get a signed permission form from the Interview Subject—allowing the interview to become public. A list of guideline questions was included, as was, in the hard copy, chapters from helpful readings on oral history interviewing.
Interviews have been conducted by people with varying degrees of experience. For some, this interview represented a first time. For others, such as our journalist friends and college professors, as well as a small band of repeat volunteer interviewers, interviewing was familiar territory. A list of all our interviewers is available at the end of this volume.
To the extent that they could, we encouraged interviewers to help the Interview Subject fill out a pre-interview form, provide military discharge papers, photographs, and any other documentation to augment the Subject's file.
Interviews were generally about two hours long and were videotaped in a variety of formats: Hi-8 in the early days, mini-digital video later, with only a handful in professional beta format. A few, mostly those conducted by interviewers in connection with other research and later donated to the Project, were only audio recorded. And in a very few cases, there are only testimonials handwritten by Subjects. This Project also includes Tributes, information provided by loved ones of WWII-era people who have passed on and were not interviewed.
Housed within the University of Texas at Austin, School of Journalism, the Project has had access to journalism students who, as part of their training, must be able to synthesize large blocks of information and make it understandable, place it within its historical context and then write clearly and succinctly. Students time and again rose to the challenge of writing 800 to 1,000 word stories from interviews conducted by another. A list of the original story writers is available at the end of this volume.
Most stories were part of an assignment for a reporting class, J320D, taught by various journalism professors. All stories, however, were edited by Project editors in side-by-side edit sessions in front of a computer screen, a process that requires at least one hour per story. The editors were able to add, on top of the story file and throughout the story, questions not asked in the interview, or for clarification of unclear answers, or additional information not touched upon in the interview. The story would eventually be returned to the Interview Subject, who was asked to address the various additional questions.
The stories were then e-mailed to volunteer fact-checkers Richard Brito and Bill Davies, who added their questions and comments in red and blue type and sent them back to the Project. This procedure was adopted in the spring of 2001.
In Austin, the Project printed out the final version of the story and wrote a short note to the Interview Subject, asking him or her to answer the questions and make any and all corrections to the story and to mail the story back in the attached self-addressed stamped envelopes.
This procedure, of pre-publication review by the Interview Subject was adopted in the fall of 2000, at the recommendation of Interview Subject Virgilio Roel.
Interview Subjects' responses, and in some cases, a completely rewritten autobiography by the Subject, are included in the Subjects' files, to clearly delineate the "provenance" of the information, in the terms used by archivists: that is, to let future researchers understand where the information came from, particularly if it is information not included in the taped interview.
Finally, if the story wasn't returned promptly, students working for the Project often called the Interview Subjects to remind them to send in their corrections.
In publishing Narratives, the Project developed a simple system of spreadsheets and a new prefix for the electronic story file at the end of each of the steps.
In 2004, the Project published issue number 8 of Narratives. The newspaper had become a year-round production for the small Project Staff. The Project would turn attention to consolidating and processing the material already gathered. Interviews will continue to be conducted, as resources allow, and always accepted. But new interviews would be featured in the quarterly newsletter, Narratives Insider.
The Project had received numerous requests for all eight issues of the newspaper; as supplies of those older issues dwindled. It was apparent there was a demand for a publication that included all the stories. After considering several different models, we decided on a volume that summarizes the interviews, with the longer versions available on the Web, or on a CD or DVD later, as resources became available.
To get there, we would give all Interview Subjects an opportunity to make any and all corrections to their stories—from those that had been published in the first issue of Narratives until some of the more recent interviews. In a few cases, after the publication of their story in Narratives, we had heard back that there had been an error, but that the Subject chose not to correct it because they didn't want to hurt our feelings.
The Project hired two journalism students who had done superb jobs writing stories for the Project in the past: Juliana Torres and Lindsay Fitzpatrick. Lindsay excelled at combing the files, finding what was missing in each and then customizing a form letter to each Interview Subject in our database, asking them to review their story and send us the material missing. After they wrote the stories, Sara Hernando, one of the Project's work-studies students, sent the packets out, complete with forms that would have to be filled out by the Subject. Sara also later made phone calls to the Subjects to answer questions that came up in summarizing their stories. She was assisted by journalism student Kathryn Gonzales, whose Spanish-speaking ability was key.
The corrected stories, 800 to 1,000 words long, were summarized into 250 words, seeking to emphasize the aspect of the story that related to the chapter it would be placed into. By early December, the Legacy Team included Juliana Torres, Lindsay Fitzpatrick, Sara Hernando, Kathryn Gonzales, Jenny Achilles (a journalism graduate student), Jaime Margolis, (a journalism undergraduate student), Tino Mauricio (a photojournalism graduate student), Melissa DiPiero-D'Sa, Richard Brito, Bill Davies, Guillermo Torres and myself, Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez.
Organizing the Book
How best to help readers understand the extent of Latino involvement in World War II? In Narratives, the only concern about organization was to find a compelling story and attractive photograph for the cover—not easy, considering that all of them were compelling—as well as trying to get married couples on facing pages. But now, combining all those stories, the decision was made to organize the stories around whatever most distinguished the story. The vast majority of the stories would center on the Subjects' activities during WWII: whether they were in the military or not. That helped to organize the first two parts of the book.
In a few instances, even when the Subject had a distinguished military service, it was what came after the war that seemed to identify them, to place them in Part Three, dealing with post-war activities.
There has been a great deal of judgment involved here: in many cases, the Subject fit into more than one category. Heads were put together to resolve any questions; there was not always unanimous agreement and there was occasional second-guessing.
Chapters were organized around various themes and individual stories in those chapters are generally, but not always in alphabetical order. In a few cases, the stories that focused on events as they unfolded, most especially the war years, the order was changed and stories were arranged chronologically.
Melissa DiPiero-D'Sa and Juliana Torres teamed up to create the system of manila folders and excel spreadsheets that were used repeatedly to keep track of chapters, lengths, interview subjects' names. Without that basic structure, we soon would have foundered, especially as we added more writers.
The old issues of Narratives were ripped up, placed into manila envelopes by chapter, or subchapter. A team of writers grew as the deadline for publication loomed. The conference table in the Project office became a mass of (borrowed) laptop computers, manila envelopes, printouts of stories, bags of pretzels and other snacks.
A Legacy Greater Than Words could not have been completed had it not been for an online database built by Ajit D'Sa, husband of Melissa DiPiero-D'Sa, so that all the writers could keep track of which stage the various stories were in, and what chapter they would fit into, and whether a photograph was available. It also could not have been completed without a secure computer network that allowed all the participants to access the 500-plus text files and the thousands of photo files necessary to complete the work, without worrying that outsiders might tamper with and destroy our work.
After the stories were written, there was often additional information needed. Sometimes, the Interview Subject had moved to a retirement home, or, in some cases, had passed away since the interview. To ensure a link to the next-of-kin, the Project had begun soliciting contact information from the Interview Subjects with a form that included the relationship of the Subject to the contact persons, the contact persons' telephone numbers and mailing addresses. These contacts were crucial as phone calls were placed throughout the two week period around Christmas-New Year's 2005-2006 season. The most common missing element were the discharge papers which would have complete information about military service, including in which unit the Subject served, where he or she served, what medals were awarded. In some instances, it was not possible to get the unit information, despite our best efforts. The units are crucial to verifying the location of military servicemen during the war; without that information, military historians Bill Davies and Richard Brito's efforts are hampered.
Finally, the stories were returned, corrected by Project Staff, and laid out in the book by Melissa DiPiero-D'Sa, and hand-delivered to UT Press.
Photos and Maps
Where possible, the stories include wartime head shots of each Subject. In some cases, those older photographs were unavailable we chose to use available contemporary photographs of the Subjects. In several instances, no photographs were available within the time needed.
The Project used available maps. They were used to provide readers a general background of geographic locations during WWII. Our Interview Subjects may or may not be in the units shown on the various maps. Where we thought it appropriate and helpful, we have revised those maps to suit our specific needs. We hope we have maintained the integrity of the original map.
All but one of the photographs used through out the book, the one of Braceros—Chapter 8, are from the Project's own database, just a sample of the wealth of photographs available, perhaps for a later book.
We blended two different styles—the journalistic Associated Press style with the academic Chicago style—to create this book. Where it made sense to use Chicago, we did; where it made more sense to use AP, we went that route. In a few instances, we created our own individual style practice.
For the most part, we used the WWII-era identities of geographic locations and institutions: countries, military installations, colleges.
We also used the terms Hispanic and Latino interchangeably. In instances where the context was specific to an ethnic group, such as Mexican American or Cuban American or Puerto Rican, we included the nationality.
For Americans of the WWII generation, the attack on Pearl Harbor represents that quintessential common experience—they can tell you exactly where they were and where they were going when they first heard the news. In their innocence of what was to come, no one could have predicted how the United States' entry into the war would transform the nation and its people, if not the world.
When the war first began, it seemed so remote, so abstract. Soon, there were more than 12 million men and women serving in the military. Ernest Montoya, of Avondale, Colo., would later note that the war experience touched virtually all Americans.
"During World War II, everybody knew about the war," Montoya said. "Everybody had somebody in it!"
Before long, there were newsreels at the movie theaters and stories and photographs, as well as government posters, which helped Americans comprehend the magnitude of the U.S. involvement. The war seemed to make everything speed up, recalled Antonio Moreno, of Gulf, Texas. Moreno's small town, a company town that produced sulfur for various purposes, was now in overdrive. His father, who worked in the sulfur production, began putting in longer days, sometimes as long as 22 hours at a stretch.
"I started noticing that everything was in more of a hurry because of the war," Moreno said. Latinos and Latinas of this generation were part of those experiences, sometimes acted upon, sometimes exercising their own agency. In many ways, they were no different from their other American contemporaries, but at that time, in an era where people of color were not generally afforded many opportunities, WWII would represent an upheaval. Once they had enjoyed "a taste of equality," as WWII veteran Pete Moraga of Arizona would put it 60 years later, there was no turning back.
There was not only one type of life experience for these WWII Latinos and Latinas. Generally, the men's experiences were vastly different than that of women. And then there were the differences between the different ethnic groups that make up Latinos. And there were other differences between those from rural areas and those from cities.
Men and women interviewed on these pages often describe a childhood of poverty, of responsibilities, of hardship. They say that they matured early, far earlier than their children or grandchildren. And often, they say, they are grateful for that: those childhood challenges toughened them, made them able to withstand the vagaries of life later.
Some experiences they all lived through and which would define them:
- Most Latinos and Latinas of the WWII generation grew up poor during the Great Depression. Repeatedly, in interviews, they have said that they were poor, but didn't realize it: everyone around them was equally poor.
- Many lost one parent, or even both, during their childhood.
- Like many Americans, education was often a luxury and most got paying jobs in their teenage years or even earlier. The difference for many WWII-era Latinos was that they were schooled in segregated facilities, generally sub-par, compared to that of white children.
- Many grew up speaking Spanish as their first language, only learning English in school. It was commonplace to be punished for speaking Spanish at school.
- Many public facilities, such as swimming pools, toilets, movie theaters, were segregated and either did not allow Latinos in, or had separate, marked, areas for them.
- Many of the men enjoyed the benefits of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
- The war afforded them new opportunities for travel, for jobs and for a new worldview.
- In employment, some plum jobs were off-limits. For females, the white-collar secretarial jobs were reserved for Anglo women. For men, earning managerial or supervisory positions were similarly unrealistic expectations.
- The war experience imbued in them a sense of entitlement: they were Americans and no longer just Mexicans living on American soil.
In the late 20s and the 30s, America suffered its worst economic Depression. In Texas, most of the labor Mexicans did was in the fields. Living conditions were poor for these migrant workers of the era. Fred Davalos, of Clovis, N.M., recalled that families with many children had better prospects.
"Those were tough times," Davalos said. "In those years, the more people you had in your family, the more work you did. And the more work you did, the more income you got."
Eliséo Lopez of Ganado, Texas, was the middle child in a family of 13. His hard-working parents were self-sufficient.
"We raised our own cattle, we raised a lot of vegetables," he said. "Sometimes I think that a lot of people would be better off in the country now, than in town, 'cause every time we turn around, you have to take your hand out of your pocket to pay for something."
Alvino Mendoza's family lived in the fields. "Sometimes we would build a fire, next to a tree, and sleep on our bags of cotton we had filled the day before. No shack, just under a tree," he said. Another man who recalled the harsh, dehumanizing working conditions was Joseph Alcoser of Melvin, Texas, a small town in Central Texas. "Some [employers] would not supply clean water. The barrels they used to bring water were rusty and dirty. They were also placed far from the field where we were working. We had to walk a long way to get a drink of water," Alcoser recalled. "By the time we walked back to where we were working we were already thirsty again." Although their childhoods were often poor, they would say, they witnessed the generosity and compassion of their own parents. Growing up in New Mexico, Delfina Josepha Lujan Cuellar recalled people coming to her family's door, asking for a handout.
"There were some people who had a very hard time," she said. "Once in a while people would come and ask Mother for a cup of this and a cup of that. My mom would help people that needed food and whatever."
They grew up at a time of poverty, a difficult educational system, in which it was commonplace for young people to leave school before graduating from high school.
It was commonplace for these WWII-era men and women to lose one, or even both parents in their youth. Sixty years later, those men and women considered that one of the great tragedies of their lives.
Joe Arambula was the second oldest of six children. His mother died when he was 15. "I've always said that the mother is always the backbone of the family," Arambula said. "And my family is a perfect example of that. ... After that [his mother's death] my oldest brother went off to work, and I went to live with one of my aunts, and my brother and sister went to live with another aunt. And that broke up the family."
Federal Work Programs
For Joe Arambula and other men, two federal programs, the National Youth Administration (NYA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) would play major roles in their youth. The CCC camps, in particular, gave the raw young men the discipline they would need later in the military. President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted both federal works programs after he began his first term in office in March 1933, seeking to provide income and industry to the estimated 13 million unemployed Americans.
The NYA funded part-time jobs for high school and college students, with the intention of keeping them in school. The CCC was another program, which took on public works in parks facilities and forests, and became a sort of intermediary step for the Latino men who later served in the military.
Roberto Chapa, of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940 and went to Colorado for his training. He would work in soil conservation.
"The training that they gave me ... getting up at 4 in the morning ... it's just like being in the Army," Chapa said.
Pablo Segura, of El Paso, and the members of Company E, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division, went to combat training at Camp Bowie near Brownwood, Texas.
"We went to Brownwood, and it was just cantonments, tents that were half wood and half canvas," Segura said. "We had to go through six weeks of basic training. Those of us who had been in the CCC didn't have any trouble adjusting to Army life."
Besides the discipline, the men in the CCC also met young men from other parts of the country. Roberto Chapa, for instance, befriended young men from around the country.
When he went to Camp Adair, Oregon, for his Army basic training he had already developed more confidence and a better sense of himself, which would be key during his time on the front lines.
The war afforded many of WWII-era Latinos and Latinas unprecedented opportunity. For Latina women, who could hardly aspire to a profession and few to higher education, new jobs opened up—making much higher salaries than they had ever made before.
Henrietta Lopez Rivas, of San Antonio, Texas, failed first grade because she spoke little English. But later Spanish became an asset when Civil Defense was in need of Spanish speaking interpreters. Rivas went from making $1.50 a week to $90 a month. Despite its many hardships, the war had given her something that she had not experienced before: a sense of equality. She was valuable because she was able to offer services that "Anglos" could not. She was valuable because of her heritage.
"It made me feel equal, more intelligent because what I did, very few Anglos could do," Rivas said.
Latina women had different strictures than their brothers. In many cases, Latinas of the WWII generation who served in defense plants far from their homes note that they were only permitted to do so because they would be accompanied by one of their sisters. Such was the case of María Isabel Solis Thomas and her sister, Elvia Solis, of Brownsville, Texas. The two young women got jobs for a ship building plant in Richmond, Calif. The Cooremans sisters of San Antonio, Delfina and Wilhelmina, would also leave home; these two young women traveled to Seattle to work for Boeing.
Discrimination and bigotry against other groups was also present. In Los Angeles, Richard Dominguez watched as Japanese-American classmates were taken away to detention camps.
"It was my first close-up experience with racial discrimination, although at the time, I guess I didn't recognize it as such, since it didn't happen to me," Dominguez said.
For Mexican Americans in the Southwest where there were few blacks, they saw prejudice in a different light. Betty Muñoz Medina, of Arizona, was working for the U.S. Army in Washington, D.C. When her supervisor called her on the carpet for assigning a black officer to a white unit, she realized that race would need special consideration.
"I didn't know anything about discrimination. This was the first time I had heard the word," she said.
This book is organized in three parts: the military experience, the home front experience and post-war. Part One of this book examines the WWII military experiences of Latinos and Latinas looking at each theater of war. Most notably the Pacific Theater, European Theater and other areas, beyond the main fronts, that may have garnered few headlines, but were essential nonetheless.
It also includes the role of Latinas in the military, many of whom served as nurses, but also in other capacities.
In the fifth chapter, Brothers in Arms, discusses only a few of the examples of several brothers serving in the military during the war. Those stories of families contributing several sons to the effort can be found throughout this volume.
Part Two looks at the home front experience: civilian women who served at military defense plants, younger men and women who viewed the war effort in a more youthful way, as well as that of Mexicans who came to the U.S. to bolster the sagging labor pool. This group included skilled workers, such as aircraft mechanic Abraham Moreno in Brownsville, Texas, as well as the thousands of braceros—laborers who became "soldiers of the furrows," by planting and harvesting in the agricultural fields, as well as in the railways.
Part Three includes the stories of individuals whose fives after the war were particularly compelling. Some became involved in civil rights, especially in desegregating public institutions in the Southwest. Among that group are men like Ed Idar, Jr., Pete Tijerina, Jr., and Albert Armendariz. Others made their changes on a smaller, but no less significant scale, by working to desegregate their own home town schools, or '. by filing protests against racist businesses.
It is fitting to include a chapter on education, as many of the Latinos and Latinas of this generation aggressively pursued educations and thus were able to secure better jobs, more ways to contribute to society. Not noted here is that many of the Latinas postponed their entry into education only after raising their own children. As Felicitas Cerda Flores would say, "If I went to college at the age of 52, you can too." The most common bit of advice proferred by these men and women to younger generations is to get as much education as possible.
Chapter 11 on community notables includes individuals who made their marks in a variety of ways: by being ordained into the priesthood, by becoming active in veterans affairs, by becoming successful businessmen, or judges. It must be noted that many others whose stories are included elsewhere in this book, could have also fit into this chapter.
Finally, Chapter 12 features interviews with men who served in the military beyond WWII, many in Korea and then, later, in Vietnam. We even have one man, Julius V. Joseph, of Monterrey, Mexico, who served in WWI, WWII and Korea. Later, during the Vietnam war, Joseph would try to volunteer again.
When his grandson joined the Army in 2001, Moises Garza told him that he had fought in the Battle of the Bulge. The veteran had avoided discussing the war and though his family always considered him a war hero, the comment renewed their interest in his experiences.
"Now everybody knows," he said. "They made copies of my discharge and the telegram sent to my mother about my wounds. Now they know what happened to me."
On June 14, 1942, Garza left his simple farm life in La Joya, Texas, and—without telling his parents—enlisted in the Army. His first mission, at the end of August 1944, was to back up the infantry already in Normandy, France. Allied forces pushed the Germans from France and into the Netherlands. Garza and his unit fought from there to Belgium and finally into Germany, where he stood in the stadium where Adolf Hitler once delivered speeches.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Garza was wounded in his wrist. He was sent to a hospital in Southampton, England, in February 1945. There, he learned that one of his cousins had been killed. He yearned to avenge his death, but as the war was coming to an end, he never returned to battle.
Back in the States after his discharge, Garza was angered to see posted signs that banned minorities from using buses, public bathrooms and swimming pools.
"They did not have any appreciation for what we did," he said.
Within six months of his return Garza earned his high school diploma. He worked a number of different jobs, including 33 years with the U.S. Postal Service. He married Emma Guerra on Sept. 20, 1951 and they had 10 children: Rosana, Martha, Alma, Emma, José, Moises, Orlando, Nelda, Jesús and Minerva. Garza was a member of the Disabled American Veterans, VFW and the Catholic War Veterans.
Date of Birth
4 September 1925
La Joya, TX
Interviewed by Yudith Vargas
6 April 2002
WWII Military Unit
Battery B, 755th Field Artillery Battalion
Flores, Ramón C.
At the start of the Persian Gulf War, Ramón Flores had already celebrated his 64th birthday. Still confident in his combat skills and unable to contain his patriotism, he marched to his local recruitment office and tried to re-enlist.
He was turned away because of his age, but the incident is a testament to his unwavering devotion to his country, a devotion that began with his service in WWII. Flores was drafted in July 1944, and trained at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Camp Roberts, Calif. He left for the Philippines from California, first landing in New Guinea and, after a brief three-day stay, traveled to Manila.
The humid, rainy Philippines were a striking contrast to the dry heat of El Paso, Texas.
"Water would be pouring all over the food and there was nothing you could do about it," he said. Our daily ration of little yellow AtabrineTM tablets for malaria would have to be swallowed as soon is they were passed out, because they would melt in the rainwater in our hand."
As a rifleman, Flores patrolled the shores of the island and narrowly escaped an ambush because of his position. He was chosen to stand guard while the rest of his squad was shipped to a different island; those who had been sent off were all ambushed and killed.
He survived the rest of his tour of duty without injury and was discharged on August 12, 1946. He returned to his young wife, Olga Delgado, and their first son.
He began working as a baker at a local hospital, and he eventually served his delicacies to then Commander-in-Chief Lyndon B. Johnson.
"When President Johnson came to El Paso, I made the cake for him," Flores said. "It was a pyramid and I was on television."
He and his wife had six children: Ramón Jr., Elena, Ruth, Elvia, Sandra and David.
Date of Birth
2 April 1926
El Paso, TX
Interviewed by Andrea Williams
2 February 2002
El Paso, TX
WWII Military Unit
Company C, 136th Infantry Regiment, 33d Infantry Division
Salazar, María Sally.
At 19, Maria Sally Salazar was two years shy of the age required for women to enlist without parental consent. So Salazar snuck off—150 miles from Laredo, Texas, to San Antonio—with her older sister's birth certificate, under the guise of visiting her sister.
She managed to keep her enlistment a secret until her parents intercepted her acceptance letter. Her mother, fearing the legal repercussions of assuming another's identity, dissuaded her father from reporting Salazar. She went by her sister's name, Amelia, during the war. When she left the service she had to hire a lawyer to correct the discharges so she could have her own name and age.
With the Women's Army Corps, Salazar was sent to New Guinea and then the Philippines, to help with the invasion in October 1944. She was assigned to work specifically for the Surgeon General's office. "Anywhere they needed us we worked, but mostly in the medical field," she said.
Under high stress and with fewer nutrients in her diet, Salazar fell ill but worked on. By the end of the war, Salazar was hospitalized in Manila, Philippines, with several illnesses, including malaria, hepatitis and diarrhea. She would continue to suffer from five service-related illnesses, including chronic hepatitis and amoebic dysentery, even decades after the war. She received a medical discharge but re-entered the service to pay her medical bills. After the war, she finished high school and attended a junior college. She married in 1974 and put her three step-children through college on her benefits. She later divorced.
Although the war brought her continued physical and mental ailments, Salazar does not regret her service.
"To me it was an experience I would not change for anything in the world, because not just anybody can have that," she said. "And my nightmares are with me, and my dreams are with me."
Date of Birth
23 September 1923
Interviewed by Nicole Muñoz
28 September 2002
WWII Military Unit
Stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines, Women's Army Corps