San Antonio

Leonard Vara Fuentes


BY LINDSAY FITZPATRICK

Even after flying several successful missions over Italy during WWII, Leonard Fuentes was prepared to continue serving his country, and remained in the military after the war, serving in Korea.

Fuentes graduated from high school and wanted to attend trade school, so he began working odd jobs near Kelly Field and began saving for his education. After Pearl Harbor, Fuentes was compelled to join the war effort.

Anastacio Tavarez Rodriguez


By Rebecca Fontenot

Anastacio Rodriguez spent four weeks in Cheyenne, Wyo., training with the Army for World War II, but he didn’t need to be taught how to roll with the punches. Rodriguez had been taking hardship in stride since he was a young boy.

“I can’t remember very good my mother, and my daddy I know a little,” Rodriguez said.

Flora Alicia Shank


By Maggie Sirakos

To Flora Alicia Shank, the war seemed like what we see in the movies today – a medley of sacrifice, tragedy, celebration, shock, heroes and fright.

Shank was a teenager in El Paso, Texas, when World War II broke out. She recalls many evenings spent dancing at the local United Service Organization, or USO, which she says soldiers still visit for recreation today. According to the USO homepage, its mission is to provide morale, welfare and recreational services to uniformed military personnel. Nearly 120 USO Centers dot the world today.

Belisario & Mrs. Flores


By J. Barrett Williams

Brigadier General Belisario Flores, who served his country for more than 40 years during three wars, retired from the Texas Air National Guard and the United States Air Force in the summer of 1986. Upon his retirement, then-Gov. Mark White gave him a one-rank, honorary promotion, making him a Major General in the Texas National Guard.

Epifanio Salazar


By Nilka Campos

Growing up during the Great Depression was difficult for Epifanio Salazar and his family. Like most others during the era, Salazar was unable to find work.

“We couldn’t make a living, so we would take whatever we could scratch – chicken, rabbits, deer,” he said.

So Salazar decided to join the Armed Forces and fight alongside thousands of other Americans in World War II. Though his father worried he could be killed, to Salazar, joining the Army was the only way to survive.

Joe Hernandez


By Caleb Pritchard

During his 22 months in the Army Air Forces, Joe Hernandez survived a remarkable 35 bombing missions in World War II Europe as the top turret gunner on a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber.

Hernandez remembered how he and other men in his unit, the 93rd Bombardment Group in the 8th Air Force became accustomed to the reverberations of exploding flak that would regularly meet them when they neared a target. On three different occasions, the flak damaged the aircraft enough to require Hernandez to make emergency landings in Allied territory.

Esequiel Zamudio


By Desirée Mata

By the time Esequiel Zamudio was drafted at age 21, he already knew hard work and hardship.

Zamudio started working as a young man for a government project called the National Youth Administration. As part of the NYA, he worked for four years building public works like San Antonio, Texas’, River Walk. After that, he labored as an auto mechanic, which he says he enjoyed.

“In those years, they didn’t have food stamps or Social Security. My dad didn’t have Social Security,” he said of his youth

Jesus Herrera


By Jennifer Lindgren

Jesus Herrera risked his life as a Navy corpsman in Okinawa in May of 1945, assisting wounded soldiers under heavy enemy fire and, twice, rescuing hurt Marines and helping them to safety – while still under fire.

For Herrera’s heroism, he earned a Bronze Star Medal, with a V for valor. He was still a baby-faced 18-year-old at the time. Today, he dismisses the importance of what he did back then.

"It was the job I was sent to do," Herrera said.

Agapito Casarez Gonzalez


By Erika L. Martinez

When Agapito Casarez Gonzalez was drafted into the Army on June 2, 1942, he never imagined the horrors and devastation his eyes would have to see.

"The draft got me," Gonzalez said.

And even though his memory fails him at times, he vividly remembers the day he saw the bodies of Mussolini and his mistress hanging in the town square of Milan, Italy, in April of 1945.

Aurora Gonzalez Castro


By Anna Zukowski

Aurora Gonzalez Castro's story isn't just about her; it’s also the story of two half-brothers, Caesar and Alfred Castro, both musicians in military bands during World War II, as well as accomplished musicians after the conflict.

Castro’s marriage to the older half-brother, Alfred, after the 1966 death of Caesar, seems to have been destined. Alfred married Aurora Gonzalez June 8, 1968, and a reception was held in her sister's house after their marriage.

"It was meant to be,” said Castro of how she ended up with two musicians.