World War II

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."

Derlin Rodriguez Loya

By Evelyn Ngugi

Four days after his eighteenth birthday, rookie soldier Derlin Loya set sail for Germany on May 18, 1946.

By that time, Germany and Japan had already surrendered to Allied Forces, so Loya never had to face day-to-day combat during his nearly three years as a truck driver in Europe. That’s not to say, however, that he and the rest of the First Infantry Division’s Headquarters Battery weren’t in a dangerous situation. For example, gun shots suddenly sounded one day when Loya was driving a jeep for a first lieutenant.

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.

Alejandro Paiz Garza

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

When Alejandro P. Garza got called up for the war, he was working in a Houston shipyard as a welder. Garza was 18, and, the year before, had dropped out of A.C. Jones High School in his hometown of Beeville, Texas, to help his family out.

Jessie Acuña

By Paul Brown

A trip across the Atlantic on the luxury ship the Queen Mary would seem like a dream come true for anyone, especially a teenager from a small West Texas town. But for Jessie Acuña, it was a trip into the unknown. The trek across the ocean would lead not to a vacation, but to war.

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.

Robert L. Cardenas

By Rachel Platis

In 1939, National Guard Pvt. Robert Cardenas was in the final stage of obtaining a full scholarship to the California Institute of Technology, having just completed two years of pre-engineering study at San Diego State College. In one hand, he held a letter regarding the scholarship; in the other, a letter from his commanding officer:

“Welcome, Private Cardenas, we are going to the Philippines,” Cardenas recalled the communiqué reading.

Jose M. Salas

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

On July 25, 1944, with 160 hours of B-24 Liberator tail-gunner training under his belt, but no combat-flying experience, Jose M. Salas was picked to fill in with a crew for a flight from a United States base near Torretta, Italy, to Linz Austria.

“It was a very rough mission. We had a lot of enemy planes hit us,” recalled Salas, who was still a teenager at the time. “There was about 50 or so airplanes shot down that day. … I had six fighters shooting at my tail.”

Manuel F. Calderon

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

Manuel Calderon’s crossed arms seemed to reflect his mood when asked if he was drafted into World War II.

“Of course,” replied Calderon, who served in the Army for four years.

Not happy about his afternoon routine at Ambrosio Guillen Texas State Veterans Home in El Paso, Texas, having been interrupted, he was reserved and answered reluctantly. For example, when asked if he was surprised when drafted in October of 1941, he said, “Never thought about it.”

So he was surprised?

“No, not really.”

Manuel Vera

By Eric Latcham

On Jan. 27, 1945, in freezing, blizzard-like conditions,, Sgt. Manuel Vera was wounded in action in Nennig, Germany, when an explosion sent shell fragments into his right leg.

Having grown up in Nebraska during the Great Depression, Vera understood how to survive. As a child, he said, his parents instilled in him the values of perseverence, discipline and a respect for others. These traits served him well during his time in Company K of the 302nd Infantry Regiment, 94th Infantry Division.