Elias Ramirez Chapa

By Manesh Upadhyaya

Watching war movies about battle ships as a child in Beeville, Texas, created a yearning in Elias Chapa to enlist in the Navy.

At the age of 17, Chapa still wasn’t old enough to sign up for the Navy. Having three older brothers already in the military, however, it wasn’t hard for him to see what he wanted to do after high school. He waited a year for his 18th birthday, and then enlisted in the Navy on Feb. 5, 1943. Along with close Beeville friend Ray Salazar, Chapa began his career in the United States Navy.

Berta Parra

By Rachel Taliaferro

Berta Parra’s memory is slipping away from her.

People, places, names, dates – as she sat in an armchair at the Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home, in her native city of El Paso, she worked through the gaps to tell her story. Despite the haze of a fading memory, a few images stood resilient in her mind – ironically, the images Parra had tried the hardest to forget.

Quirino Longoria

By Laura Carroll

Quirino Longoria recalls joining the long Navy tradition of being initiated – or, according to some, hazed – a “Shellback” upon his virgin crossing of the Equator in 1945. New seamen are designated “Polliwogs” until they complete the Equator crossing ceremony, at which time they become hardened “Shellbacks.”

Guadalupe R. Loya

By Andres Quintero

When Guadalupe "Lupe" Loya, Jr. was drafted into World War II, he was working at a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Wyoming.

Loya returned to his hometown of Beeville, Texas, before heading to San Antonio to meet with some recruiting officers, who told him he'd be a good fit for the Navy.

"I can't read and write as good as you guys," Loya responded, since he had gone to school only through the third grade. "They told me I'd be fine as long as I could shoot a rifle."

Joe Henry Lazarine

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

Joe Henry Lazarine’s interview is more of a conversation between two old friends than a question and answer session. After all, Lazarine was raised in Beeville, and so was interviewer Eloy Rodriguez, the son of one of Lazarine’s longtime compadres.

According to U.S. census data, Beeville’s population is approximately 12,680. It’s the largest city in Bee County, part of a region of South Texas rich in segregation history, so it’s not surprising these two Mexican Americans know each other well.

Manuel Juarez

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, 14-year-old Manuel Juarez was raring to go.

“I had been keeping up with the war in Europe, so I was more or less aware of what was going on,” recalled Juarez more than 60 years later.

His parents, Augustin Juarez, an orange- and lemon-grove laborer, and Belen Sanchez Juarez, a housewife, gave him permission to enlist, but not until he turned 17.

Emilio Torres

By Kristin LaFrate

When Emilio Torres enlisted in the Navy at the age of 18 on Sept. 18, 1942, little did he know he was beginning a more than 30-year military career spanning three wars.

Torres served in World War II and, later, in the Korean and Vietnam wars with the Army.

“We managed to get in with the ways of the people, and try to keep good relations with everybody,” said Torres of his interaction with civilians.

Luis Alfonso Diaz de León

By Julia Bulhon

“War is horrible, but it helps you grow,” said Navy veteran Luis Diaz de León, of witnessing conflict’s brutality first hand.

As if that weren’t enough, Diaz de León has also withstood racism, earned a master’s degree, raised a family and campaigned for a United States Senate seat within his lifetime.

Still a teenager, he entered the Navy on March 2, 1944. His rank: Quartermaster.

Gerard Roland Vela

By Araceli Jaime and Jasmin Sun

G. Roland Vela was an 11-year-old delivering newspapers when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to learn more about the bombing, and they swarmed Vela as he rode along his regular route.

“I sold all the papers I had[,] leaving me with none for my route customers,” he wrote later. “I was in serious trouble! But! Normally I sold 2 or 3 papers at 3 cents each; today people were paying a nickel -- I collected a pocketful of nickels.”

Guadalupe Rodriguez Flores

By Jeffrey McWhorter

Morning broke as the train rolled into Texarkana, Texas.

“Now don’t close your eyes,” the porter admonished a 22-year-old Bertha Flores, “because we’re getting close … and we’ll pass it real fast.”

For the past twenty-four hours, the eager young woman had asked the porter the same question every hour: “Where are we?” And each time she received the same patient reply, “Still in Texas.”