Air Forces

Ramiro G. Cortez

By Camri Hinkie

On August 6, 1944, United States Air Force gunner Ramiro Cortez was about to board a plane bound for Berlin, Germany, which would have been his sixth mission, had he gone through with it.

Cortez wasn’t originally assigned to this mission, but he agreed to go in place of his friend, another gunner named Kenneth Law. At the last minute, however, Kenneth changed his mind and took on the assignment instead of Cortez.

John Fernandez

By Spencer Hamilton

A simple announcement for aviation cadet training at a camp in Washburn Island, Mass., piqued John Fernandez’s interest, so he applied.

He just never expected to make it.

But to the El Paso, Texas, native’s surprise, he did, and was quickly assigned to Army Air Corps pre-flight training at Lafayette College in Easton, Penn. Fernandez successfully completed advanced aviation training and went on to fly dangerous daily missions with the 345th Bomb Group in the South Pacific during World War II.

Nemesio Mena

By Danielle Flahrity

As his B-24 bomber turned to begin its bombing run, radio operator Nemesio Mena would carefully stand on the catwalk over the bomb bay and take pictures of the damage below.

After the bomb run, he would have to make sure no bombs were hanging in the bomb bay. If one of the highly explosive bombs was still in the plane, he would have to “trick” it into dropping by kicking it, as a B-24 can’t land with a bomb hanging from its bomb bay.

Alberto Rede

By Barrett Williams

Flying at full speed above Australia in a C-47 during WWII, radioman Alberto Rede heard bullets ripping through the plane, followed by a sputtering engine.

His mind raced: If power to the engines is lost, the plane will become a gliding, uncontrollable mass that could drop out of the sky.

Richard Ortiz

By Julie Flowers

Richard Ortiz was a senior at San Antonio Technical Vocational School in 1941 when he heard a fellow classmate discussing plans to go to college. At that moment, Ortiz realized that pursuing a higher education was an option for him, too.

“Man, if you can go to college, I can go to college,” Ortiz recalled saying to himself.

With aspirations of becoming a pharmacist, he knew he needed more education. He also knew he didn’t have the money for tuition.

Hector Santa Anna

By Scott Allison

Say the name "Santa Anna" to most American military historians -- and just about any Texan -- and it's linked to the Mexican general who opposed the Texas Revolution and conquered the Alamo.

So it’s somewhat ironic that Hector Santa Anna, the great-great nephew of the Mexican general, enlisted in the Army during World War II, flew 35 missions as a B-17 bomber pilot over Europe, later taught hundreds of pilots how to fly and eventually rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during a 22-year military career.

Caesar Catalino Castro

As a young man in San Antonio, Caesar Castro was an accomplished pianist.

His talent caught the attention of a group of famed California musicians who wanted Caesar to move west with them, so that they could mold him.

Castro didn't take the offer; but even so, his musical skills continued to grow.

Castro was born on Oct. 27, 1924, in San Antonio, Texas. He had a half-brother, Alfred, and a half-sister, Margaret, from his father's first marriage. And he had two more siblings born to his father and his mother, Maria Villarreal Castro.

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.

Ralph Amado Chavarria

By Erin Dean

Everything is "beautiful" to Ralph Chavarria, an 88-year-old World War II veteran of the Pacific Theater, who is, to this day, a well-known musician in the Phoenix, Ariz., area.

Chavarria survived a tough childhood full of discrimination and segregation and was drafted at the age of 27, by which point he was already a husband and a father. But he describes nearly everything in his life as beautiful.

"It was very interesting and beautiful, but it's war and it's dangerous, ok," he said about his missions as a firefighter in the Air Force.

August R. Segura

By Unity Peterson

Even though August R. Segura spent World War II stationed in Laredo, Texas, working on aircraft, he says he came away from the experience a skilled mechanic and "a better man."

Segura was born Feb. 11, 1922, in San Antonio to parents Augustin Segura and Leonor Rodriguez Segura. He grew up in the inner city as the firstborn of a close-knit family that included four sisters. He also was close to his grandparents, who helped raise him and his siblings.