Tucson

Joseph F. Velasquez


By Kristina Beverly, Cal State Fullerton

When Joseph Velasquez joined the U.S. Navy on April 23, 1968, he received a card that asked where he would want to go if he were deployed.

He could have picked anywhere, but he wanted to be where the action was. Velasquez wanted to go to Vietnam.

"People would ask, 'Why do you want to go there?' Velasquez said. "But it would be like going to a wedding and not seeing the groom. I didn’t want to miss the action."

Benjamin "Ben" S. Rivera


By Blake Barber, California State University, Fullerton

Looking back on his experience while serving with the U.S. Marines in Vietnam, Ben Rivera evoked three years full of uncertainty about making it home, but also friendships that survived his lifetime.

Rivera was born Feb. 12, 1949, in Tucson, Arizona. His father, Benjamin Rivera, worked installing glass windows, and his mother, Connie Rivera, was a homemaker. Rivera recalled his parents as hard-working; they did the best they could to provide for their six children.

John Soltero


By Katherine Salinas

His hand mimicked the path of a B-17, recalling the spry 22-year-old that John Soltero had been all those years ago when he was dropping bombs onto Berlin. A confident smile was radiant beneath his shaded glasses and “Veteran” embroidered hat. Even though he was 86, it wasn't hard to imagine Soltero flying over Germany, in a freezing cockpit, with a burning engine and an alarm telling him to bail out.

Henry Oyama


By Lauren Harrity, California State University, Fullerton

After growing up in a Spanish-speaking Japanese-American family in Tucson, Arizona, Henry "Hank" Oyama went on to be a tireless supporter of bilingual education for American children.

Oyama always felt more Hispanic than Japanese-American. His mother, Mary Matsushima, was raised in Mexico and spoke primarily Spanish; his father, Henry Heihachiro Oyama, died shortly before he was born. His neighborhood friends were mostly Hispanic.

"Tucson was like a small Mexican town at this time," Oyama said.

John Chavez


By Amanda Stair

John Chavez grew up as an orphan, moving from house to house, and later survived the bloodiest Pacific battle of World War II. After the war, he settled in Tucson, Ariz. So when he looked back, he realized: "My life turned out good."

Ruben D Suarez


By Cameron Reed, California State University, Fullerton

Throughout his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II and for the rest of his life, Ruben Suarez had a strong understanding of diversity and the need to persevere to achieve his dreams.

Suarez remembered the difficulties of growing up during the Great Depression. High school teachers often urged Latinos to prepare for manual labor jobs, instead of college.

Betty Muñoz Medina


By Brian Goodman

During World War II, commissioned military officers would receive deployment orders by telegram, often believing they’d been called up for duty by their senator.

Little did they know that the assignments were actually issued at random by people like Betty Muñoz Medina, who got an entry-level job at the War Department (now the Department of the Army) when she was 20.

"I was filing 3- by 5-inch cards all day long," Muñoz Medina said.

Jess Medina


By Sarah Kleiner

Jess Medina witnessed death for the first time as a little boy when he saw a man get run over by a streetcar.

Because of this experience, Medina says he had no fear when he had to piece together bodies of fellow seamen after a kamikaze crashed into his ship.

Carmen Romero Phillips


By Rachel Howell

In late December, 1943, the United States had been fighting in World War II for more than two years, but for one Tucson nurse, the war was a brand new experience: that's when Carmen Romero, now Phillips, joined the Army.

Recruiters visiting St. Mary's Hospital School of Nursing College in Tucson, where Phillips was attending school, were looking for nurses.

"They asked if we would be interested in joining the military, so I said yes and they signed me up," Phillips said.

Beatrice Amado Kissinger


By Amanda Traphagan

World War II gave Beatrice Amado Kissinger a ticket out of her small-town life in southern Arizona and into the big city adventure of serving as a Navy nurse in San Francisco.

When the United States entered the war, Kissinger was a nursing student at a Catholic school -- and tired of the discipline.