Felix R. Soto Jr.

By Tim Garlitz

To see the world, not to mention to avoid getting drafted into the Army, Felix Soto Jr. quickly signed up for the Coast Guard upon graduating from high school in June of 1942.

Three out of Soto’s four brothers soon followed his lead by enlisting in the Navy. (His youngest brother, Mario, was ineligible for service because of his young age.)

Moses Aleman

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

When Moses “Moe” Alemán’s parents emigrated from Mexico to Austin, Texas, as children, the horse and buggy was one of the most common modes of transportation and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport was a bunch of farmland.

That’s where Arturo Alemán and Antonia Garza first met, in the community encompassing the fields in which their parents both labored.

Alemán, an airport-security consultant in a post-9/11 world, brings this and other sweeping changes up when reflecting upon his life.

Enrique Rodriguez Falcon

By Jennifer Yee

Like many veterans coming home from World War II, Henry Falcon remembers having a difficult time adjusting to American society. His return to the peace of America was a stark contrast to his three years of fierce air combat as a gunner on bomber missions over Europe.

Philip James Benavides

By Rachna Sheth and Sandra Taylor

Philip James Benavides had a dream when he joined the United States Marine Corps in the summer of 1941: He wanted to make music. But within three and a half years, particularly after three months of torture in a Japanese prison camp, he’d lost those physical abilities that had made him a standout musician since childhood.

Julius Casarez

By Laura Radloff

As a young man, Julius Casarez didn’t know exactly what he was getting himself into when he enlisted in the Army.

"My brother told me that if I enlisted sooner rather than later, I could pick where I wanted to be stationed," said Casarez, 82, who now lives with his wife, Trinity Castruita Casarez, in Austin, Texas.

Little did he know that when he enlisted, the Japanese were only a few days away from bombing Pearl Harbor, and he’d be forced to go where the Army told him to go.

Martha Ortega Vidaurri

By Tammi Grais

Martha Ortega Vidaurri learned at a young age the hardships that life could serve up: During World War II, all five of her brothers and her husband would serve in the country's defense.

Her brothers; Samuel, Daniel, Benjamin, Abel, Ruben and Eliseo; were spread throughout Europe -- in France, England, Italy and Germany; in North Africa; and in the Pacific -- the Philippines, Japan and Korea. Her husband, Edelmiro, was stationed in Iceland.

Miguel Pineda

By Sandra Ibarra

Miguel Pineda recalls Gen. Douglas MacArthur trying to inspire him and the other inexperienced soldiers upon their arrival in Brisbane, Australia. Pineda, 21 at the time, remembers MacArthur saying: "You kill him or he'll kill you!"

That was the defining moment when the reality and hardship of war and death hit this young man.

Sam Casarez

By Stephen Stetson

For most of his life, Sam Casarez, an Austin, Texas, native who served as a Merchant Marine in World War II, wasn’t accorded the privileges and benefits of veterans.

Raymond Sanchez

By Rhonda Miller

World War II veteran Raymond Sanchez went bird hunting once with a Navy buddy in South Texas. The two friends, both Latinos, decided to stop for a beer at a little tavern on Highway 72 between Kennedy and Three Rivers.

"We came to this shed outside and all the Hispanics or Mexican Americans were drinking outside," Sanchez said. "I says, 'Hey man, it's September and it's hot, why don't we go inside?'

“He says, 'Raymond, we can't,' and I asked, 'Why?'

“He says, 'It's just the way it is, you know.'"

Eddie Sanchez

By Vicki Lamar

Eddie Sanchez was 17 years old when he saw the reality of war in Utine, Italy, in 1945. Horrified, he left camp without permission -- absent without leave, or AWOL. That act changed his life, as punishment was kitchen patrol duty. Before long he was running the kitchen and on his way to a distinguished 31-year Army career in Food Services.

Subscribe to Austin