Air Forces

Miguel Encinias

By Sonia Nezamzadeh

Miguel Encinias lived what he calls a "child's paradise." Born the youngest of 16 children -- 11 sisters and four brothers -- to Benito Encinias and Manuelia Lopez Encinias, he grew up enjoying photography, music and sports and attended church regularly with his family in New Mexico. In addition to being a student, Encinias delivered the Las Vegas Daily Optic newspaper. His father taught himself English and writing, and worked as a foreman on the second-largest ranch in the nation, in order to provide for his family.

Narciso Garcia

By Scott Reister

To become an Air Cadet in the Army's World War II training program, one had to display physical and mental superiority. Cadets had to be the best of the best, and follow a path of intense training in preparation for military service. Former Staff Sgt. Narciso Garcia knew he had what it took, including the ability to remain humble.

"Cadets were treated like ultra-special people," Garcia said. "Our superiors ... constantly built us up and told us how great we were. Some guys really believed it, but I never let it get to me."

Reynaldo Perez Gallardo

By Lucy Guevara

As the son of a Mexican Army general and an aficionado of airplanes since childhood, Reynaldo Perez Gallardo was a perfect candidate to join Mexico's Fighter Squadron 201, the only combat unit from that country to actively participate in World War II. This little-known squadron was made up 300 Mexican volunteers, including 38 fighter pilots such as Gallardo, who fought the Japanese in the Philippines.

Tomás Z. Cantú

By Bettina Luis

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas -- Standing at attention, his thumbs aligned with the seam of the trouser, his heels together at a 45-degree angle. Thomas Cantu Jr. looked straight ahead as he was awarded the Air Medal in 1943 for completing 150 combat flying hours.

Joseph Marion Autobee

By Joseph Money

Joe Autobee, of Publo, Colorado, grew accustomed to the taste of whiskey during his WWII service. As an Air Corps gunner pilot during World War II, he was given a sandwich and a glass of whiskey at the end of every raid.

While Autobee wasn't sure how the service had made their choice of refreshments, he took it just the same.

"I think whiskey's good for your nerves," Autobee guessed.

Rudy Acosta

By Frank Trejo

Growing up in Southern California, Rudy Acosta was like countless of other young boys. He escaped each week to the movies and watched the likes of Errol Flynn and John Wayne triumph over the bad guys.

Little did he know that just a few years later, World War II would propel him into the midst of one of the biggest confrontations the world has seen. Acosta, the son of Mexican immigrants, would find himself in the center of numerous heroic escapades.

"In my case, I lived that... We lived that experience," he said.