Puerto Rico

Gonzalo Villanueva


By Doralís Perez-Soto

The only time Gonzalo Villanueva has been away for any extended period from his neighborhood in Arecibo, Puerto, Rico, was during World War II, when he served in North Africa, France, Italy and Germany. He even jokes he’ll live in his hometown until he goes to the grave.

Before going off to war, he went to school in his neighborhood, Dominguito, until the seventh grade. He couldn’t get into the eighth grade because of his father’s politics.

José A. Rivera


By Melissa Ayala

A devastating bomb on the other side of the Pacific Ocean and, the war was over for Jose Rivera and the rest of the world.

When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, destroying that Japanese city, Rivera was stationed in the Galapagos Islands as a driver with U.S. Special Services. It was near the end of his two years of service during World War II.

The youngest of three sons, Rivera was born in Lares, Puerto Rico, in the mountainous western interior of the Caribbean island, on March 1, 1920.

Louis Angel Ramirez


By Jennifer Nalewicki

Luis Angel Ramirez has many memories of World War II.

But his strongest recollection is the camaraderie soldiers shared in his platoon, which helped Ramirez stay grounded while battling German soldiers on the front lines.

Ramirez considered the men in his platoon, the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, his family; especially since they were together from the time they began military training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and Fort Jackson in South Carolina in 1941 until the war's end in 1945.

Octavio Negrón


By Juan De La Cruz

En route to Africa on a ship with more than 5,000 soldiers, Octavio Negrón knew he needed to leave home, even if it meant going off to fight.

Fernando I. Pagan


By Juan De La Cruz

Fernando Pagan was a jack of all trades during his childhood in Puerto Rico.

At the age of 12, Pagan shined shoes every Sunday in Carolina, Puerto Rico; on Saturdays, he sold clothes for a wage of $2 and breakfast. Later, he worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant.

Fernando Bernacett


By Jenny White

When Fernando Bernacett came to New York City to find his father as a 6-year-old in 1929, he had no idea what an adventure he was beginning. By the time the Puerto Rico native retired in Miami, he’d witnessed the Great Depression, helped in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, guarded the atomic bomb, was quarantined for tuberculosis and watched the World Trade Center fall.

Raul Rios Rodriguez


By D'Arcy Kerschen

Life wasn't easy for Raul Rios-Rodriguez, who grew up on the mean streets of New York City throughout most of World War II. You had to fight for respect to survive, he says, and he learned that lesson at 14 upon arriving from Puerto Rico at the onset of the war.

Rios and his four brothers and four sisters moved to Spanish Harlem in New York in 1941. An older sister was the head of the household while Rios' parents remained in Puerto Rico, where his dad grew crops he sold at market.

Felix Angel Lopez - Santos


By Juan de la Cruz

Felix López-Santos's early memories of his native Puerto Rico include watching everything float away from his front porch during the big San Felipe storm of 1928. After his Barrio Ceiba was washed away, his family moved to another town, San Lorenzo, where his mother became ill.

Moving to Connecticut seven years later was difficult for López--Santos, but he adapted to the new environment fairly quickly. He attended a predominantly Anglo school and learned English in his classes, where he was the only Latino student.

Angel Antonio Velazquez


By Ernie Garrido

Before he joined the Army in World War II, Angel Antonio Velázquez taught English at a junior high school in his hometown of Yabucoa, in the southeastern part of Puerto Rico. During the war, in the Panama Canal, his students were soldiers and his lessons revolved around the safety of handling tear gas.

Whether as a military instructor or as a private in the 346th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, 345th Search Light Battalion, Battery B, the war experience for Velázquez was about protecting American infrastructure -- both human and territorial.

Carmen Conteras Bozak


By Katie Kennon

Carmen Bozak's only memory of Dec. 7, 1941 -- the day Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese -- is of a good friend and co-worker being stranded after her date heard about the attack on the car radio. The woman's date stopped the car in the middle of nowhere and told her to get out because he had to return to his base.

A policeman picked up Bozak's friend from a rural Virginia road and drove her to a nearby Salvation Army office, where she was given a bus ticket home to Washington, D.C.