John Chavez grew up as an orphan, moving from house to house, and later survived the bloodiest Pacific battle of World War II. After the war, he settled in Tucson, Ariz. So when he looked back, he realized: "My life turned out good."
Through his service during World War II, Edmundo Nieto learned about the hardships and horrors of war but also experienced different cultures, met a wide array of people, and participated in once-in-a-lifetime experiences that ultimately became part of history.
Just over 90 years old at the time of his interview, Nieto was all smiles and laughter when recounting those long gone days of his 20s.
Looking back on his childhood, Anthony D. Lopez chuckled to himself and said, “Yeah, I was a runaround kid.” Maybe it was all that running around that got him through years of combat leading up to the liberation of the Philippines during World War II.
In an interview in Denver, his hometown, Lopez described how his adventurous streak in his childhood became one of his strengths while he fought for his country. He re-enlisted twice while in the 82nd Airborne Division, and he later served in the U.S. Army Reserves until 1950.
It was Nov. 26, 1943, and Pvt. Raymond Alvarado played poker with his buddies on the HMT Rohna as it sailed along the coast of Algeria. The soldiers were relaxed. They chatted about their wives and girlfriends back home, about the smells of home-cooked Thanksgiving meals, about the comfort of a real bed.
Alvarado remembered he was dealt a good hand. “I had a dead man’s hand: aces and queens.” Little did he know that a few hours later the reality of death would be all around him.
At least once in his life, Fidel Vasquez considered himself to be really lucky. His U.S. Army construction unit shipped out ahead of the supply ship carrying the equipment for him and his fellow soldiers. They made it, but the supply ship was sunk by the Japanese.
Vasquez's hometown was Marfa, Texas, where he attended segregated schools with his four brothers and four sisters. Learning to get along in school and working as a farmhand contributed to his war experience.
Living in a small town named Casa Piedra, 42 miles outside of Marfa, Texas, Armando Faustino Vasquez lived and worked like many of the other young men in the area. He went to church every week, worked long days on his father's ranch in the summer, and listened to the radio with his family.
But "Mando" Vasquez's decision to go to high school would lead him to enlist in the military, and he would travel far beyond the warm, dry weather of West Texas.