San Diego

Armando Miguel Rodriguez

By Heather Anne Watkins

Dr. Armando Rodriguez knows what it's like to be oppressed, but with a strong will he rose to the top and is living a long, happy life. Immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico when he was six years old, growing up in a family of eight siblings and leading Latino organizations in high school that he said were deprived of opportunities given to white students were only a few of the obstacles Rodriguez had to overcome.

Carlos Guerra Samarron

By Cliff Despres

Three weeks after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Charles "Carlos" Guerra Samarron, of San Antonio, Texas, joined the fight and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, beginning a four-year stint in the military and opening the door for a lifetime of memories.

As part of the 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Amphibious Tractor Battalion, Samarron would survive perilous beach assaults on the islands of Guam and Iwo Jima, face down the possibility of invading Japan and exit the war in 1946 with a new perspective on life.

Jose Ramirez

By Will Potter

Jose Ramirez remembers his first job: selling newspapers in downtown San Diego. After walking two miles home at the end of his first day of work, he proudly told his parents he earned 3 cents.

He was only 8 years old.

By the time he was 12, he was paying for his own clothing and some other expenses, so his parents wouldn’t have to support him as much. He worked to ease the burden on his parents so they could support his 10 siblings, he said.

Tizoc Romero

By Dennis Robbins

Although he faced criticism from minorities for fighting in the war, Tizoc Romero, a veteran of World War II, feels his involvement in the war opened the doors to a lifetime of achievement.

During the 1930s, or Great Depression period, many Americans, especially minorities, faced the hardships of poverty, war, discrimination and an economy that excluded many of them. Romero witnessed a troubled country.

Elfren Solomon

By Marisela Maddox

At a time when many Mexican Americans were segregated from Anglo Americans by socioeconomic and educational standards, Elfren Solomon confesses he rarely, if ever, witnessed ethnic discrimination in the military: The focus for Solomon and his comrades was fighting a war and overcoming the horrors of war.

"When you come to face the reality, we were fighting for our lives. We weren't bringing any nationality into factor," he said. "The main thing is we were fighting for survival. You had to depend on your buddy because he was watching your back. …

John Rubalcava

By Alexandra Ritchie

Frigid nights out in the snow. Soldiers huddled together for warmth, exposed to the elements and at the mercy of German firepower. Mangled bodies of half-dead soldiers screaming, "Medic, medic!" into the dark. For more than 40 years, these memories have haunted John Rubalcava, who lost countless friends on the battlefield of Europe during World War II.

"You feel terrible when you see your friends get killed," Rubalcava said. "It's something that hits you in the stomach and stays with you."

Carlos Carrillo Quintana

By Yazmin Lazcano

There was once a possibility that Carlos Quintana would never be able to tell his own story. Wounds suffered in battle on the Pacific island of Saipan during World War II left him hardly able to speak or eat properly for six years.

But, when interviewed in 2000, Quintana was easily able to recount his belief in the importance and power of education in his life and that of future generations.

"The most important thing is to be educated," he said.

Lazaro Lupian

By Alison Kelley

Lazaro Lupian doesn't think his accomplishments during World War II were a big deal; the only true war heroes, he says, are the ones that don't come back.

Joe G. Lerma

By Chris Nay

Even before arriving at the European concentration camps in 1945, Joe Lerma of San Diego and his division could smell the dead.

"The sight and smell of human death is terrible," he said.

His division's job was to inform the camp survivors that the war had ended.

"The people were afraid to come out," he said, describing the difficulty in convincing the men and women that conditions were safe for them - that the nightmare was over.

The Americans were also instructed to leave quickly to prevent contracting disease.

Gilbert Castorena

By Christine Emmot

Growing up in the North Island neighborhood of San Diego, Ca., before World War II, Gilbert Castorena had a childhood filled with good memories of his family, friends and school days.

Those relaxing days changed in 1940 when Castorena signed up for the U.S. Navy. He was shipped out to fight, mostly in the Pacific Theatre, during World War II.