AZ

Samuel Padilla Echeveste


By Hayley Stern, Rutgers University

An elementary school teacher told Samuel Echeveste he would one day be defending his country.

The young boy sitting in that classroom in Miami, Arizona (about 70 miles east of Phoenix), would fulfill that prophecy, finishing basic training and being sent to the Korean War before his 20th birthday.

Echeveste never saw himself becoming a decorated war veteran serving the U.S. during a time when he was not accepted by his fellow Americans.

John Soltero


By Katherine Salinas

His hand mimicked the path of a B-17, recalling the spry 22-year-old that John Soltero had been all those years ago when he was dropping bombs onto Berlin. A confident smile was radiant beneath his shaded glasses and “Veteran” embroidered hat. Even though he was 86, it wasn't hard to imagine Soltero flying over Germany, in a freezing cockpit, with a burning engine and an alarm telling him to bail out.

Ramon Vasquez Lugo


By Mary Gould

When Ramon Lugo reminisces about his life, he speaks of hard work on farm fields as a child and on battlefields as a young man.

Once the Lugo children got old enough, they worked in the fields, picking cotton, carrots and cantaloupe during the summers in their hometown, Glendale, Arizona.

“I guess you’d call it child labor now. It was rough,” he said.

The family lived in the barrio on the other side of the railroad tracks from Anglos. "The tracks were like a divider: 'You guys belong there,' " he said.

Henry Oyama


By Lauren Harrity, California State University, Fullerton

After growing up in a Spanish-speaking Japanese-American family in Tucson, Arizona, Henry "Hank" Oyama went on to be a tireless supporter of bilingual education for American children.

Oyama always felt more Hispanic than Japanese-American. His mother, Mary Matsushima, was raised in Mexico and spoke primarily Spanish; his father, Henry Heihachiro Oyama, died shortly before he was born. His neighborhood friends were mostly Hispanic.

"Tucson was like a small Mexican town at this time," Oyama said.

Moses F. Diaz


By Trina Berberet

He may have been only 16 at the time, but Moses Diaz decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy because, as he recalled: “I didn’t want to miss out on the war.”

It was 1945, near the end of the World War II, and Diaz completed his basic training in San Diego.

It was his first time away from home and he often wrote letters home to see which of his family and friends had enlisted. His mother, Martina Diaz, had five sons serving in the military during World War II.

Ruben D Suarez


By Cameron Reed, California State University, Fullerton

Throughout his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II and for the rest of his life, Ruben Suarez had a strong understanding of diversity and the need to persevere to achieve his dreams.

Suarez remembered the difficulties of growing up during the Great Depression. High school teachers often urged Latinos to prepare for manual labor jobs, instead of college.

Rita Abeytia Brock-Perini


By Ben Wermund

As a captain in the U.S. Air Force Nursing Corps, Rita Brock-Perini provided care to thousands of soldiers, as well as guidance to hundreds of nurses in the largest Air Force hospital in the United States during the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War.

Some of the soldiers, who were often drafted right out of high school, had suffered severe physical and psychological wounds. Caring for them took a toll on the younger nurses at the hospital, Brock-Perini recalled.

Jesus Esparza Muñoz


By David Pearl, Cal State Fullerton

Jesus "Jess" Esparza Muñoz emerged from a fragmented and impoverished family to live a version of the American Dream, including a stint in the U.S. Navy that allowed him to travel the world.

Rudolph Lopez


By Stephanie De Luna

Growing up in Phoenix, Rudolph “Rudy” Lopez knew that he was destined to serve in the military. Born in 1946, Lopez grew up in a close-knit family with a long line of military war heroes.

“We were very much an all-American family. The military was just something that you do. That’s all there was to it,” Lopez said.

Lopez’s father was a member of the Army military police during World War II in France.

Henry Soza


By Jonathan Woo

The horrors of the Vietnam War remained so etched in his mind that for decades, Henry Soza Jr., continued to be haunted by what he had seen and heard.

As a U.S. Army Combat Medic supporting Troop B, 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), Soza saw more than his share of pain and death. His actions so distinguished Soza that he was twice awarded the Silver Star, one of the nation’s highest military decorations for valor, as well as a Bronze Star.

But the futility of the war drained him.