World War II

Ben Santillan


By Nicole Chisum

The turmoil of World War II was difficult for everyone who endured it, but perhaps even more so for people who felt left out of mainstream society.

People like Ben Santillan.

Santillan was born on Feb. 13, 1925, near Kansas City, Kan. When he was about 7 years old, his family moved to Argentine, a suburb of Kansas City, and lived in the Mexican part of the town known as el campo. It was far from luxurious, and it was segregated -- Mexicans and non-Mexicans.

Henry Segura


By Michael Broker

Henry Segura grew up during the Great Depression in the area known as the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Kan., in a family of 10 children to parents who were Mexican immigrants.

His father worked for the Armour Company, a slaughterhouse in the neighborhood, and his mother sewed dresses for women in the neighborhood. Although Segura said that his family did not struggle financially and that his father “seemed like he always had a job,” he would not agree that his family always had enough to live on.

John S Hernandez


By Allison Harris

Even at almost 90 years old, World War II veteran John S. Hernandez can recall the challenges facing him on his first day of kindergarten at Belvedere Elementary School in Los Angeles.

"My mother couldn't speak English, and I couldn't speak English because I was brought up by Mexican parents that had immigrated here in 1898," he said.

Gregorio D. Botello


By Patrick Lynch

The story of the Botello brothers – Crisantos, Gregorio, John, Simon and Trinidad, who all served during World War II – is one of honor and bravery. And thanks to another of the brothers, their tales of heroism won’t be lost to time.

Younger sibling Thomas D. Botello wrote a booklet called “Proud I Served” about his brothers’ service in WWII, also detailing his family’s struggles back home. The narratives included present a glimpse into history from the perspective of a Mexican American family during that era.

Ramon Sr. Villa


By Frank Trejo

Having grown up in rural South Texas during the Great Depression and having lost his mother when he was only 10, Ramón Villa Sr. knew hardship.

But he was unprepared for the struggles he faced in World War II as part of the U.S. Army’s 200th Coast Artillery Regiment, being captured by the Japanese and forced on the Bataan Death March. Villa endured more than three years as a prisoner of war.

Villa was born on Jan. 9, 1920 in Donna, Texas. His family moved a short time later to Yorktown, Texas.

Juan Baggio


By John Lee

Though he was never stationed on the battle front, the early portions of Juan Baggio’s life prepared him to serve his country on the home front during World War II.

“My dad died three months before I was born and my mom died when I was 12 years old, so [my childhood] wasn’t too good,” said Baggio, who grew up in hard economic times with his single mother scrambling to support him; his older brother, Bob; and two half-siblings.

Jesus Soto


By Bernice Chuang

About 14 months before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, Jesus “Joe” Soto, 20 years old, enlisted in the Marines as a private. His ship, the USS New Orleans, deployed for Pearl Harbor in October, just a few months before the attack.

Soto served proudly in the Marine Corps and said he found brotherhood and unity aboard his ship. While the war provided many frightening memories for Soto, he also found pride in his achievements as a Marine.

John Valls


By Bianca Krause

Dec. 8, 1941, forever changed his life.

Riding in a car on Market Street in Laredo, Texas, 16-year-old John Valls heard a speech that would shape his future. With his “Day of Infamy” speech, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan after the Pearl Harbor attacks and convinced Valls that his life’s mission was to serve his country.

Angel Zavala


By Andie Salazar

Between April 1944 and December 1945, Angel Zavala experienced everything from seeing the architecture of England and the islands of the South Pacific to nightly bombings and a searing sun at sea.

What was a 22-year-old from Coupland, Texas, who enjoyed softball and the song “Las Cuatro Milpas,” doing half a world away from home?

Fighting in World War II.

Raul P. Arreola