By David Muto
Juana Flores holds up a photograph her husband sent her while at war more than 60 years ago.
“For my dear wife, Juana,” script on the back of the picture reads. “The love I have for you is unforgettable.”
Depicting the couple in their youth, the black-and-white photo, which Flores’ husband, Espiridion Contreras Flores, sent while fighting in Europe during World War II, is one of the memories Flores holds onto of her late husband, whom she describes as, above all, a “decent” man who was deeply proud of his national service.
Juana Dueñez Flores grew up in El Paso, Texas, with her mother, father and three siblings. Her father, a railroad worker who had moved the family to Texas from Flores’ birth state of Oklahoma, died when she was young. Her two sisters helped their mother, a housewife, care for Flores and her younger brother.
Flores and Espiridion, who was born in Kansas, met in El Paso when she was about 20, through a friend of her father’s, she says. Espiridion, or “Piri,” as she calls him now, worked in a bowling alley to help support his family. The two became fast friends, and after Flores discovered she was pregnant (their first daughter, Mary, was born August 2, 1937), Espiridion was sent to basic training. The couple married in 1941.
“I felt sad [to see him in uniform] because I loved him a lot and he was a good guy,” said Flores, adding that she also enjoyed that he was “young and good-looking.”
Flores says she received a letter from Espiridion every day while he was away; he would check up on her and describe his travels and Europe in general.
Flores was enamored with her husband, she says, but his time away from her was a hardship.
“I cried,” she said, adding that women around her in similar situations were “proud” – often reluctant to discuss their shared pain. “I felt sad because I was pregnant and alone.”
Still, Flores would respond to the letters, at times sending her husband a lipstick kiss on stationery, which she recalls him very much enjoying. She also took up knitting to pass the time.
Reuniting with his wife and child, Espiridion returned from the war with a Bronze Star medal, a decoration for heroic service. Flores says that as a Spanish-speaking Mexican American, her husband looked back on his service as having granted him a place in American society.
“He didn’t feel Mexican,” Flores said. “He said he was like all the others [in the military].”
After his Army service, Espiridion helped raise the couple’s nine children while involved with Veterans of Foreign Wars, a leading U.S. organization for veterans. He worked in a bakery for many years after the war and enjoyed listening to music, Flores says.
But his period in the military defined much of his life, and made him “very happy,” Flores said.
“He was very proud of having served his country,” she said.
Juana Flores was interviewed in El Paso, Texas, on September 1, 2007, by Armando Segouia.