Navy

Guy Vasquez


By Laura Barganier

Becoming a doctor and helping others have a better life was Guy Vasquez’s dream growing up after witnessing his father die of a brain tumor.

Life worked out differently for Vasquez, however, as the United States drafted him into the Navy during his first year as a premedical student at The University of Tampa in 1944.

“[The war] interrupted my ambition, what I was preparing for,” he said.

Alfred Q. Valenzuela


By E.J. Urbanczyk

Alfred Valenzuela was an 18-year-old sailor in 1943 when he found his older brother in Hawaii.

Valenzuela recalled looking for Claudio, eight years his senior, at Schofield Barracks, a United States installation.

“He [Claudio] was very surprised when he saw me: this 18-year-old kid, the youngest one of the family, in front of his barracks … asking for him,” Valenzuela recalled.

Esteban R. Garcia


By Kristin Stanford

While still a teenager, Esteban R. "Steve" Garcia learned firsthand that destroyers -- unlike nerves or stomachs -- are made of nearly impervious steel.

As waves incessantly pounded the sides of the four-stacker destroyer he was on in the South Pacific -- a ship built six years before he’d been born -- he and other newly trained enlistees slumped over the sides, with crisp white uniforms and green faces. It was Dec. 18, 1941, and they were en route to Alaska on the USS Kennison.

Jack Greenberg


By Samantha Gallion

Jack Greenberg had been working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 17 years in 1966, when he received repeated requests from Mexican Americans and Native Americans.

“We had a great deal of success with civil rights cases, and people who we ordinarily didn’t represent came to us asking us to represent them,” Greenberg said.

Wilfred Navarro


By Brittany Wilson

After getting discharged from the Navy in 1948, Wilfred Navarro, Jr. returned to his hometown of Houston. He finished high school and decided he’d like to be a police officer. But first, he and other Latino veterans would have to overcome institutional racism.

Navarro was the third Latino officer hired by the Houston Police Department and would go on to serve for nearly five decades in many capacities, including high-level administration. His wife, influenced by her husband’s example, would later become a police officer.

William Raymond Wood


By Rosa Imelda Flores

William Wood was "born in space," his reference to the little mining town of Santa Rita, which was in the hilly terrain of southwestern New Mexico.

Santa Rita was excavated for the valuable copper ore lying under it until it was completely destroyed, Wood explains. And today, only "space" remains; the open-pit mine dominates.

"The mine gobbled down the town," Wood said.

Raymond Vega


By Israel Saenz

At the Vega home in East Chicago, Ind., during World War II, there were five blue stars in the window -- one for each of the sons serving in the military. Raymond Vega was one of them, serving aboard a ship as a hospital corpsman, tending to sick and wounded men. It was that experience that would lead him to devote his life to his faith, as a Roman Catholic priest.

Sailing in the South Pacific, aboard the USS Long Island, Vega had thoughts of being killed by a torpedo.

"When you have a thought like that for two years, you learn to pray," Vega said.

Antonio Rico


By Brandi Richey

If it wasn't for ice cream, Antonio Rico's experience in the Navy during World War II might have been even more tedious. Stationed in Guam in 1945, Rico remembers the long hours pulling guard duty on the island.

"Ice cream saved my life," Rico joked. "It was a lonely time, but the best part was that we could have all the ice cream we wanted."

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.

Robert Soltero


By Courtney Mahaffey

Robert Soltero can barely remember details of the Depression, but his memories of discrimination during that era remain vivid.

"In those days, you couldn't even go downtown," said Soltero, who grew up in a west-side community of Kansas City, Mo., in the 1930s. "We [Latinos] had to stay in our own background."

Soltero's father, Luis Soltero, worked three jobs, including ones at the Cudahy Packing House and a hotel room service to help support Soltero, his older brother, Tony, and sister, Connie.