El Paso

Manuel O. Rivas

By Unity Peterson

A self-described "little fighter" in grammar school, Manuel "Manny" Rivas often got himself and his twin brother, Sal, into trouble. Since the schoolteachers couldn't tell the boys apart, they were both punished with whacks across their behinds.

Years later, that fighting spirit helped the twins as Marines during World War II.

Estanislado Reyna

By Donetta Nagle

Estanislado "Stanley" Reyna braved enemy fire in the Philippines in a daring attempt to save the life of his sergeant in 1945.

"His arm had been blown off, and his left side was shot," Reyna said.

After repeated tries, the young soldier finally succeeded in summoning medics to the sergeant's side, and assisted emergency personnel in transferring the sergeant onto a stretcher. Despite their efforts, the sergeant succumbed to his injuries and later died. Reyna says he still thinks often of his fallen comrade.

Manuel Provencio

By Cheryl Smith

Much like the proverbial elder who trudged long distances to school in the snow, wind and rain, Manuel Provencio trekked a couple of miles a day from school to his uncle Juan Galceran's shoe repair shop, where he pulled in a whopping 10 cents a day.

"They got an easy life now. ... Now they don't drive, they don't go to work," the still-fit 77-year-old said.

Epimenio Caraveo

By Celina Moreno

World War II veteran Epigmenio Caraveo valiantly served his country as a paratrooper in the legendary 101st Airborne Division, overcoming the sting of discrimination and poverty of his youth.

As a young boy growing up in the West Texas town of Van Horn -- near his birthplace of Candelaria -- Caraveo labored for a few nickels a day, chopping cotton at a nearby farm. At age 11, he lived "a cowboy life," branding cattle and greasing the windmills for a ranch in Van Horn, 120 miles from El Paso.

Nicanor Aguilar

By Claudia Farias

Nicanor Aguilar is something of a renaissance man, both as a musician and, at an age when most people would be slowing down, an athlete.

But Aguilar’s proudest accomplishment involves his efforts to end discrimination in his West Texas hometown after returning from the war.

Born Jan. 10, 1917, in Grand Falls in rural Texas, he spent most of his time helping his father, a tenant cotton farmer. The family of three brothers and two sisters helped pick cotton on 100 acres of land.

Elena Peña Gallego

By Lindsay Peyton

While scores of Latinos valiantly served their country amid discrimination during World War II, many -- such as Elena Gallego of Fort Stockton, Texas -- fought social battles on the homefront.

The wife of a WWII veteran, Gallego remembers prejudice in her hometown: Among other restrictions, the public swimming pool and certain sections of the park and library were off limits to Hispanics, signs in restaurants reading: "No Dogs Allowed" applied to Latinos, and they were only allowed on the upper balcony of the movie theater.

Gilberto Ornelas

By Ismael Martinez

Gilberto Ornelas saw the aftermath of one of the most important yet horrific inventions of the 20th Century. His experience almost killed him but granted him many opportunities.

Juan Martinez


Juan Martinez smiled as he remembered receiving letters from proud siblings while he was stationed in the Philippines, telling him he was in their prayers.

"Thanks to God that their prayers went up to heaven," Martinez said.

Born in 1923, he grew up in La Gruya, Texas, between the cities of Mission and Rio Grande City, living with his grandmother until the age of 9 because of his parents' divorce. Unlike many families, his did not struggle economically by virtue of his father's successful bakery and Mexican food restaurant.

Robert Leyva

By Andrea R. Williams

In the midst of conflict, Robert Leyva sometimes would think the enemy troops killed in World War II could have been among his friends in another time and place. This kind of love of mankind is a mainstay in Leyva's life.

Leyva was born into poverty in Chihuahua, Mexico, on May 10, 1915, to parents who were poor farm laborers. At age three, he's been told, Leyva's father, Jesus, left the family. At the age of five, his mother, Justina Ovalles Leyva, took his brother, Jesus, and sister, Justina, to El Paso, Texas.

Pete A. Gallego

By Leslie McLain

When Pete A. Gallego returned from World War II after having helped changed the course of history, he found his hometown hadn’t undergone such dramatic transformation. Instead, the population in Alpine, Texas, had stabilized, a stagnant class system remained entrenched and the same urban ills of before were endemic.