Puerto Rico

Juan Modesto Sanchez-Acevedo

By Melissa Macaya

One of the most vivid memories of the Vietnam War for Modesto Sanchez occurred moments before he boarded the ship that would take him to war and change his life forever.

“President Lyndon B. Johnson passed by to check on the troops and he asked me, ‘Where you from Sanchez?’ and I answered, ‘From Aguada, Puerto Rico, Mr. President,’” Sanchez said. “Meeting the president is one of the greatest things I could have experienced in the war.”

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.”

Jose Medina-Negron

By Erin Brady

Puerto Rican Jose Medina-Negrón put college on hold when he volunteered to join the United States Army on July 15, 1943. He simply wanted to do his part, and says he didn’t know he was on the road to his future career.

Medina-Negrón’s path to cryptology unfolded in stages, beginning with a single test.

Joaquin Amorós Santiago

By Jenny Achilles

Fighting alongside his fellow Puerto Ricans in the 65th Infantry Regiment during World War II, Joaquin Amorós Santiago left a heritage that touches the lives of all children and grandchildren of those of the “Greatest Generation.”

Amorós fought in WWII in the 65th Infantry from Puerto Rico. He says he fought for what he believed in and thanked the Lord when he returned home safely.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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