World War II

Felipe T. Roybal

By Mary Mejia

Felipe T. Roybal decided in June 1940 to help out his family financially and unwittingly began a military career that spanned more than 30 years.

Roybal's parents, Vicente and Isidra Roybal, were among the founding families of Las Cruces, New Mexico, the town where he was born. Before the Great Depression, his father and uncle owned a grocery store that brought in enough revenue to allow Roybal's mother to stay at home and raise Roybal, his two brothers and a sister.

"We played around. Baseball, softball, whatever," he said.

Arthur Muñoz

By Brenda Menchaca

“There are no barriers unless you make them yourself,” said Arthur Muñoz, who enlisted in the Marine Corps two weeks after Pearl Harbor.

While working as a Western Union messenger in Corpus Christi, Texas, he’d been delivering telegrams to the federal building where Armed Forces recruiting offices were located.

“[I] always thought Marines looked sharper in their blues,” so when the time came to choose a military branch, Muñoz recalled saying, “that’s for me, that’s where I’m going.”

Andrew Guzman

By David Muto

When Andrew E. Guzman tried to enlist in the Marines at 18, he was turned away and told to wait for the draft.

With remorse, Guzman said he’s fortunate he didn’t enlist on that day in 1944. Otherwise, he believed he likely would have been sent to the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, the site of one of World War II’s bloodiest battles.

“I was lucky that I wasn’t accepted,” he said.

Baldomero Estala

By David Muto

Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Baldomero Estala relied on quiet independence.

In junior high school – from which Estala withdrew for economic reasons before fighting in World War II – he kept to himself, he says.

“I tried to get along with people, and I learned how to read Spanish,” said Estala of his formal education. “I never belonged to a sports team. I wasn’t too much of a mixer with people in school.”

Alberto Z. Caballero

By Na Kyung Kim

General society’s prevailing atmosphere of racial discrimination couldn’t shake the strong comradeship present in the Army for Albert Caballero, who began his service in 1940 with the 36th Infantry Division. Though he initially enlisted to prepare himself for war, for him, the Army turned out to be primarily a place where he could interact and unite with others, rather than learn how to fight.

“When the combat started, we leaned how to respect each other,” Caballero said. “[It] was people from different parts of [the] country into one segment.”

Angela A. Vela

By Veronica Rosalez

Growing up in Austria, Angela Vela had a front-row seat to the effects Hitler and World War II had on Europe. But in a time when fear and turmoil plagued the country, Vela was fortunate enough to find something very different – love.

Abel Vela

By Valerie Harris

Most people hope to retire around age 65, but hard-working Abel Vela stayed busy well into his 70s.

After 27 years in the Army and more than 30 years of owning and operating a number of McDonald’s franchises throughout San Antonio, Texas, the 81‐year‐old Army Major says volunteering for the Purple Heart Association and at his church have taken the place of work.

“And in my free time, I work for a young lady. Her name is Angela Vela, and she keeps me very busy,” said Vela with a laugh.

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.

Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

By Nathan Batoon

Felipe Ortego was a high school dropout in 1943, but after joining the Marine Corps and serving in the Pacific Theater, he’d awakened a new passion: writing. And that passion would imbue him with a new identity.

“The Marine Corps helped me, changed me a lot,” Ortego said. “From having a sense of invisibility to how vulnerable we were as human beings.”

Ortego was born in Blue Island, Ill., as his parents were traveling between San Antonio, Texas, and the sugar beet fields of Minnesota. He failed first and fourth grade because of language.