Navy

George Salmerón


By Rajesh Reddy

George Salmerón grew up hearing how his father was forced to serve in the Mexican Army at age 13 in the early 1900s.

"[My father] saw a bunch of soldiers coming around with a little drum, single-file. All of a sudden, they stopped in front of him. They made a circle completely around him, and they took him off to the Army," Salmerón said. "He was then officially recruited in the Army of Porfirio Diaz."

Rodolfo Saenz


By Lynn Maguire

Through the experiences of being a sharecropper, sailor, father, and landowner, Rodolfo "Rudolph" Saenz has learned the most about education, even though he never passed the sixth grade.

Saenz, along with his parents and five siblings, harvested from land that belonged to someone else.

"It wasn't easy, but it was the only way to survive," Saenz said.

Jess Medina


By Sarah Kleiner

Jess Medina witnessed death for the first time as a little boy when he saw a man get run over by a streetcar.

Because of this experience, Medina says he had no fear when he had to piece together bodies of fellow seamen after a kamikaze crashed into his ship.

Salvador S Leon


By Melanie Boehm

Salvador León had a choice during World War II: either take the automatic deferment provided for a family's last son not in the military, or serve his country.

Salvador went anyway.

"My mom said, 'This country has been good to us, so you do what you think is right,'" León said.

And he did.

Ignacio Guerrero


By Melanie Kudzia

"Go to school, and not only that, pay attention!"

This is one bit of advice Ignacio and Antonia Guerrero passed on to their children and grandchildren. They insist on their family attending school, working hard and succeeding.

Mexican Americans didn’t always have the opportunity to be equally educated. In fact, this was the pre-World War II reality for most Latinos in the United States.

Gilbert Garcia


By Meridith Kohut

There were ways to battle tedium in the long stretches at sea: poker games, movie nights and dishes of ice cream. But for Gilbert Garcia of Houston, Texas, it was mostly the poker winnings he relished.

At sea, Garcia was perhaps the best poker player on ship. He boasts being able to win hands despite other players sharing their cards with one another in an effort to beat him.

Manuel Espinoza


By Xochitl Salazar

Manuel Espinoza's father, Concepción, was struck by lightning in 1930 while working on railroad tracks in Colorado.

The older Espinoza's death had great repercussions: His young widow, Ventura Mendoza Espinoza, and their three sons moved to San Antonio, Texas, to stay with her parents. Ventura began working and her boys helped her out. In time, though, Espinoza would join the Navy and survive battles in the Philippines before returning to start a life of his own.

George Castruita


By Sparkie Anderson

George Castruita has lived a full life. He served in the Pacific in World War II, traveled abroad, witnessed apartheid in South Africa, was chased down by "Paisanos" and had a young woman turn cold when she discovered he was Mexican American.

Castruita was also a firefighter for Los Angeles County for 18 years, before retiring in 1966. He has been married since 1948 to Priscilla Martinez, and is the father of three children and grandfather of eight.

José María Burruel


By Laura Zvonek

As a child, José María Burruel's family lived in a shack on land that didn't belong them: They were, in essence, "squatters." And they were unwelcome. At night, the houses were pelted with stones.

"One morning, we got up, and there was a hole in the tent where the rock had come through the top of the tent and just barely missed my sister's head," Burruel recalled.

The other squatters living on Salt River Valley Project land in Arizona soon put a stop to the discrimination by blocking off both entrances to the territory.

Alberto Bosquez


By Jane O’Brien

Fourteen-year-old Alberto Bosquez grabbed his stack of newspapers in 1941, headed to downtown San Antonio and began dealing them out. "Extra! Extra!" he called out, "Japan bombs Pearl Harbor!"