Austin

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.

Gerard Roland Vela


By Araceli Jaime and Jasmin Sun

G. Roland Vela was an 11-year-old delivering newspapers when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to learn more about the bombing, and they swarmed Vela as he rode along his regular route.

“I sold all the papers I had[,] leaving me with none for my route customers,” he wrote later. “I was in serious trouble! But! Normally I sold 2 or 3 papers at 3 cents each; today people were paying a nickel -- I collected a pocketful of nickels.”

Conrado Ramirez


By Jeff Heimsath

Conrado P. Ramirez said that having served in World War II opened many doors for him and many other Latinos.

"We had the opportunity to go to college," Ramirez said. "We saw other parts of the world than just Alpine, Texas. To me, our opportunities expanded considerably, it was up to you to take advantage of it."

Ramirez did not always have such opportunities; his parents were immigrants from Mexico, and money was tight when he was growing up.

Isidro Ramos


By Rachel Vallejo

As his unit hit the beaches of Guadalcanal, a small island in the South Pacific, 18-year-old Isidro Ramos witnessed for the first time the bloody price of war: dump trucks full of Marines’ bodies “stacked up like wood,” Japanese soldiers littering the ground.

A moment of insight washed over the private first class that day in 1942 as he said to himself: “There really is a war.”

More than sixty years later, Ramos says he was glad to serve, but has mixed feelings about the experience. He notes differences between then and now in the tools of combat.

Joel C. Mojica


By Rachel Fleischman

Before he was 20 years old, Joel C. Mojica had fought in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, and had a Purple Heart medal to prove it.

Mojica was an Army sergeant during the war, and, like many young men of his generation, was drafted when he was only 18 years old. After he was called up on Oct. 29, 1943, Mojica was sent to Hampton, England, where he trained for battle on a daily basis. His role in the Army was as a replacement soldier; his unit sent personnel to companies needing men to take the place of wounded and dead soldiers.

Lita De Los Santos


By Brooke N. Miller

World War II flung Lita De Los Santos’ eight brothers across the world. The front room of the De Los Santos’ home in Eastland County, Texas, was dominated by a map of the world. De Los Santos and her mother, Angelita Guajardo, would run a finger across the smooth paper, pausing on foreign places with exotic-sounding names; places she’d never been, some of which she’d never even heard of.

Roberto De la Cruz


By Cheryl Smith Kemp

When military recruiters showed up at the local Post Office in early August of 1942, Roberto De la Cruz saw it as a ticket out of the Rio Grande Valley, an escape from a lonely laborious life in South Texas.

So when a recruiter asked the 15-year-old how old he was, De la Cruz said he had just turned 18 on August 5.

A day or two later, De la Cruz and one other San Benito guy, Jerry Tarwater, were on a train headed for Houston, to get their Navy physicals.

Frank Segura


By Cheryl Smith Kemp

"I have a letter from my Secretary of War that's saying that I'm a hero," said World War II veteran Frank Segura of an Oct. 31, 1945, statement about him by then-Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson.

"I think my buddies that didn't come back are my heroes," Segura added, noting that he doesn't consider himself special.