Kansas City

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.

Alex J. Hernandez

By Tarrah Miller

“Baby killer!” were the words Alex Hernandez heard when he returned to the United States after 19 months in Vietnam, and he remembered it was a small boy, about 4 or 5 years old, who yelled them.

The Army veteran recalled that the child, at an airport in San Francisco, pointed his finger at him as his parents lingered in the background, laughing and egging him on.

“[Until] this day I think they were waiting for me to do something to that child. All I did was stared down the boy’s parents, and they grabbed him and left in a hurry,” Hernandez said.

Roque John Riojas

By Maxx Scholten

Gunning down loose poultry with his military-issued M1 rifle just to savor the sweet taste of fried chicken and collecting cowpie patties to burn to keep away the nip of mosquitoes -- these are some of the memories Roque Riojas has of his time with the 135th Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, fighting in Africa and Italy during World War II.

Robert Soltero

By Courtney Mahaffey

Robert Soltero can barely remember details of the Depression, but his memories of discrimination during that era remain vivid.

"In those days, you couldn't even go downtown," said Soltero, who grew up in a west-side community of Kansas City, Mo., in the 1930s. "We [Latinos] had to stay in our own background."

Soltero's father, Luis Soltero, worked three jobs, including ones at the Cudahy Packing House and a hotel room service to help support Soltero, his older brother, Tony, and sister, Connie.

Joseph John Diaz

By Barbara Gibbon

Despite being in an infantry unit that saw some of the most fighting during World War II, Joseph Diaz takes it all in stride. His memory hasn't faded over the years, and neither have the realities of fighting a war.

Diaz was born August 11, 1918, in Kansas City, Mo., where his parents, Jose Juan Diaz and Maria Garcia had emigrated from Nayarit and Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

Amador Barbosa

By Meredith Stencil

Amador Barbosa seems so matter of fact about his wartime experiences -- almost too matter of fact when you consider his primary responsibility was to clear mines and unexploded devices, as well as trudge through combat lines with 30 pounds of dynamite strapped to his back.

Manuel Salazar Mejia

By Brooke West

World War II interrupted Manuel Salazar Mejia's academic endeavors when, as an 18-year-old high school sophomore, he enlisted in the Army in May of 1942.

One of five children born to immigrants from Zacatecas, Mexico, Mejia was raised in Kansas City, Kan. His father, Fidel Mejia, a butcher, and his mother, Ignacia Salazar Mejia, a housewife, struggled with finances. They depended on a large family-tended garden, in which they grew "corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, onions, peppers, some potatoes," Mejia said.

Subscribe to Kansas City