World War II

Ismael Nevarez

By Paul Brown

Ismael Nevarez was headed west across the Pacific Ocean aboard a troopship in early August of 1945. Countless other United States Navy vessels surrounded him as far as the eye could see, and they were all headed in the same direction.

With the Port of Seattle out of sight, this 19-year-old from a tiny village in Puerto Rico received the official word: He and his fellow soldiers were to take part in the invasion of Japan.

Mary Espiritu

By Rebecca Millner

In more than 40 years of service, Mary Espiritu De Leon received at least 45 awards and honors, recognizing her commitment to San Antonio's Latino community, and especially its women.

Her role as a spokeswoman and advocate grew out of her own struggle to succeed as a professional Latina at a time when her ethnicity and gender were considered strikes against her.

"I always wanted better for myself than just being a mother and a housewife," Espiritu said. "I wanted a good job, to move ahead and improve myself, regardless of whether I was a Latina."

Juan Antonio Baez

By David Muto

Juan Antonio Báez remembers sitting with two fellow soldiers on a hillside, singing their favorite Puerto Rican songs. World War II had taken them far from their homeland, a nation, for Báez, of poverty and hardship.

“Terrible,” said Báez, describing the Puerto Rico of his youth. “I didn’t have anything.”

Ricardo Garcia

By Caitlynn Taylor

“It was the worst thing to happen,” Ricardo Garcia said of his time in the 5th Marine Division in Okinawa.

Garcia spent 10 days on the front lines, waiting in the daylight and fighting and surviving bombings at night. It was on his 10th night, May 16, 1945, when the Japanese bombs got too close–an attack that proved fatal for many men.

Raul Munoz Escobar

By David Muto

Raul Escobar hesitates while recalling memories of bodies lying on the sands of Iwo Jima. He bows his head before continuing, repositioning a cap reading: “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”

“I used to get so many flashbacks,” said the 82-year-old Escobar, breaking the silence that lingered after he recounted the story of a fellow Marine dying from a shot to the head.

Erasmo G. Lopez

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

Erasmo G. Lopez spent a good chunk of his twenties on the front lines of battle, both in World War II and the Korean War.

Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Lopez was drafted into the Army in 1942 at the age of 20.

“If I hadn’t of gone, they would have taken me,” he half-joked in Spanish.

In Germany, where Uncle Sam sent Lopez’s regiment, the 335th Infantry, part of the 84th Division, after maneuvers training in Lake Charles, La., Lopez was in, among other fights, the Battle of the Bulge.

Quirino Longoria

By Laura Carroll

Quirino Longoria recalls joining the long Navy tradition of being initiated – or, according to some, hazed – a “Shellback” upon his virgin crossing of the Equator in 1945. New seamen are designated “Polliwogs” until they complete the Equator crossing ceremony, at which time they become hardened “Shellbacks.”

Martin C. Sanchez

By David Muto

Martin Sanchez was told after he returned from the war that he’d be welcome anywhere if he wore his military uniform out of the house.

Sanchez laughs while recalling this advice.

“We don’t serve no Mexicans here,” he said in the voice of a shop owner who denied him access to his store, even while Sanchez was dressed in the attire he’d received after enlisting. “You gotta go up by the railroad track up there.”

Jose S. Sanchez

By Jeff Jurica

Jose Sanchez spent his life working hard in America's trenches. After serving in the Army during World War II, he returned home to start a plumbing business.

"All white people ... out of 500 soldiers I was the only Mexicano in that outfit," Sanchez said of his Army experience. "There were 10 Mexicanos when we were here at basic training. When we went across I was the only one." Despite cultural differences, Sanchez got along very well with fellow soldiers. "I remained good friends with several for life," he said.

Concepción Garcia Moron

By Yolande Yip

A self-described “simple country boy” who served in World War II’s European Theater alongside other men from humble backgrounds, Concepción Garcia Morón said a lack of self-awareness led to a friendly-fire death one February within his company.

“It was our buddies shelling us because . . . like I said, line infantry doesn’t know anything . . . you hold that ground regardless,” said Morón, of the Luxembourg-area incident. “You don’t know where you’re at. Just, ‘Be ready in five minutes. Be ready in 10 minutes.’”