Austin

Fernando & Mrs. Gloria Rodriguez


By Joseph Muller

Unlike many U.S. military veterans who served in Southeast Asia during the 1960s, Fernando Rodriguez did not see a Vietnamese battlefield, even though he volunteered to fight more than once.

The closest that the Defense Intelligence Agency veteran got to the Southeast Asian nation was Nakhon Phanom, in Thailand, as part of the many international travels he made during a distinguished 26-year career in the Air Force.

"I did really want to go," said Rodriguez of going to the Vietnam War, "to see what it was all about."

Richard Brito


By Priscilla Pelli

Missing the birth of his two daughters was one of the many sacrifices Richard Brito had to make when he saw that a war threatened the national security of the United States in 1965.

While Vietnam spurred controversy among many Americans throughout the 1960s, Brito said he saw it as a calling to help protect the security of the nation during a time of distress and turmoil.

“I loved the military,” Brito said. “That's what I wanted to do all my life.”

Gabriel Garcia


By Ruben Espinoza

When Gabriel Garcia left his family’s home in Mercedes for Army basic training in the summer of 1952, it was the first time he had ever been away from South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

California’s Camp Roberts was very different from his father's farm fields, where he could soak in the dense, warm Texas evenings. But he was excited to see other parts of the world.

Pete Castillo


By Lynda Gonzalez

Pedro “Pete” Castillo used his snow-white mustache as a tool in telling his wartime tale, one of the significant chapters of his life.

A sergeant and World War II veteran was in charge of Castillo’s Army company during the Korean War, and he demanded Castillo and his Latino friend shave off their mustaches because, he said, the Army did not like facial hair, Castillo recalled.

Neftali L. Zendejas


By Layne Victoria Lynch

As 80-year-old Neftali L. Zendejas looked back on the memories of his childhood before his service in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, he reminisced about how he knew he wanted to work with aircrafts at an early age.

Way back when his father was working the farm of a Japanese family that had been sent to an internment camp during World War II, Zendejas said he ventured into a nearby airfield, to admire a Lockheed P-38 Lightning aircraft.

Luis J. Landin


By Brett Alexander

"When you get ambushed, you're supposed to get killed."

That's what the Army tells every soldier during training, Luis Landin said.

"But for me," he added, "my life consisted of events that weren't normal, so I knew what I had to do when the chips were down."

Odilon De Leon


By Jonathan Damrich

Odilon De Leon wore his Purple Heart in the middle of his cap, right below the spot where it read “Okinawa 1945.”

“I’m proud and happy that I served my country,” De Leon said, “even though I was disabled at the ripe old age of 17.”

The World War II veteran was badly burned May 3, 1945, when a Japanese plane flew into the port side of his ship, the USS LSMR-195, approximately 100 miles away from Okinawa.

The ship was carrying about 465 rockets, he said, which combined with the gasoline in the plane to create a “hellacious explosion.”

Raul Munoz Escobar


By David Muto

Raul Escobar hesitates while recalling memories of bodies lying on the sands of Iwo Jima. He bows his head before continuing, repositioning a cap reading: “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”

“I used to get so many flashbacks,” said the 82-year-old Escobar, breaking the silence that lingered after he recounted the story of a fellow Marine dying from a shot to the head.

Felipe de Ortego y Gasca


By Nathan Batoon

Felipe Ortego was a high school dropout in 1943, but after joining the Marine Corps and serving in the Pacific Theater, he’d awakened a new passion: writing. And that passion would imbue him with a new identity.

“The Marine Corps helped me, changed me a lot,” Ortego said. “From having a sense of invisibility to how vulnerable we were as human beings.”

Ortego was born in Blue Island, Ill., as his parents were traveling between San Antonio, Texas, and the sugar beet fields of Minnesota. He failed first and fourth grade because of language.

Joe Vargas


By Eva Hernandez

The air is rife with the sounds of men preparing for battle on the front lines. This is the real deal, and Private Joe Vargas is ready. He lumbers off the back of the Army truck – just barely – and moves forward.

Two bandoliers of M1 clips are strapped to his chest and he is armed with as many grenades as he can carry. The first lieutenant meets him with a critical eye.