Leo Ortega

By Jessica Propst

Pride runs through Leo Ortega’s veins. It was placed there by his mother, Rose Valdes Ortega, as a small boy in the 1930s amidst the backdrop of the Great Depression. Ortega watched her work day and night in Raton, N.M., to take care of her family.

“My mother was the nucleus of our family,” he said. “My dad was hardly ever home, poor guy.”

Gilberto S. Treviño

By Marjon Rostami

Gilbert Treviño was a 19-year old junior at Texas A&M College when he was drafted for the war. When Treviño went to San Antonio, Texas, for his physical, he expressed an interest in the Marines, and eight months later, he was in combat.

“They didn’t waste any time,” he said.

Treviño was born in Laredo and grew up speaking Spanish. By the end of the war, all three of his brothers had served in the military: one in the Marines, one in the Army and one in the Navy.

Hermenejildo Salas

By Shaun L. Swegman

Hermi Salas was an 18-year-old private in the Marine Corps when he boarded the ship that took him from his homeland and into the war. It was Dec. 6, 1943, almost two years to the day from the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into World War II.

Private Salas; who was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion of the 21st Marines, 3rd Marine Corps Division; waited on a ship for three weeks as backup for men fighting on Saipan. Then, three days after D-Day, July 21, 1944, the military sent him to his first campaign on Guam.

Willie Vila

By Lindsay Stafford

For Marine sniper Willie Vila, the only way to make it through World War II alive was to kill or be killed.

Vila used this advice, which he recalls getting from Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, to keep him going through four years in World War II with the United States Marine Corps.

“I had a telescope on my rifle and a single shot,” he said. “And then I got a tommy gun, a [45] caliber with 50 rounds, a hundred [rounds of extra ammunition] in my back and my canteen of water. I survived.”

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.

Fernando Bernacett

By Jenny White

When Fernando Bernacett came to New York City to find his father as a 6-year-old in 1929, he had no idea what an adventure he was beginning. By the time the Puerto Rico native retired in Miami, he’d witnessed the Great Depression, helped in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, guarded the atomic bomb, was quarantined for tuberculosis and watched the World Trade Center fall.

Edward Romero

By Elizabeth Egeland

Private First Class Edward Romero listened as his platoon was briefed on its next mission. He’d already fought with the Marines in the Marshall Islands and Saipan, but was about to embark on an even more dangerous operation -- the Battle of Iwo Jima.

"Tomorrow you will be landing and some of you men will be killed. I might even be killed," an officer told the second platoon of F Company, which would be in the first assault wave on Iwo Jima. "Some of you will be wounded and some of you will come back, but we have a job to do."

Antonio Trujillo

By Elizabeth Robertson

Despite the terror surrounding him on the mountainous Japanese island of Okinawa during World War II, Marine Cpl. Antonio Trujillo always found himself volunteering for missions that no one else wanted.

He’d been told repeatedly by fellow soldiers to hold back and not volunteer for dangerous assignments. But for Trujillo, volunteering was a matter of pride.

Guadalupe G. Ramirez


Guadalupe G. "Joe" Ramirez, a Marine who served in the South Pacific during World War II, was so affected by the experience that, to this day, he has nightmares and worries about wasting water.

Born in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, 1926, Ramirez faced many obstacles. His mother, Esther Guido Ramirez, died when he was 11 months old, leaving him, an older brother and three older half-sisters.

Manuel O. Rivas

By Unity Peterson

A self-described "little fighter" in grammar school, Manuel "Manny" Rivas often got himself and his twin brother, Sal, into trouble. Since the schoolteachers couldn't tell the boys apart, they were both punished with whacks across their behinds.

Years later, that fighting spirit helped the twins as Marines during World War II.