Joe V. Lopez

By Ronnie Zamora

Joe Lopez can recall a time when serving in the military was the furthest thing from his mind. The idea of firing a rifle at an enemy was only a part of the childhood games he used to play with his brothers.

Lopez never imagined he’d find himself in Italy, engaged in a life-and-death firefight against German troops in a skirmish that would eventually earn him a Bronze Star for his heroism on the battlefield.

"Me and my brothers used to play cowboys and Indians, but we never thought about the military," Lopez said.

Salvador S Leon

By Melanie Boehm

Salvador León had a choice during World War II: either take the automatic deferment provided for a family's last son not in the military, or serve his country.

Salvador went anyway.

"My mom said, 'This country has been good to us, so you do what you think is right,'" León said.

And he did.

Richard Dominguez

By Courtney Stoutmire

Richard Dominguez counts his "blessings" every day when he remembers his time in World War II. The best part: It was short and sweet.

Dominguez was drafted in June of 1943, but he wasn’t sent into combat until more than a year later, only a month before the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

George Castruita

By Sparkie Anderson

George Castruita has lived a full life. He served in the Pacific in World War II, traveled abroad, witnessed apartheid in South Africa, was chased down by "Paisanos" and had a young woman turn cold when she discovered he was Mexican American.

Castruita was also a firefighter for Los Angeles County for 18 years, before retiring in 1966. He has been married since 1948 to Priscilla Martinez, and is the father of three children and grandfather of eight.

Guadalupe G. Ramirez


Guadalupe G. "Joe" Ramirez, a Marine who served in the South Pacific during World War II, was so affected by the experience that, to this day, he has nightmares and worries about wasting water.

Born in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, 1926, Ramirez faced many obstacles. His mother, Esther Guido Ramirez, died when he was 11 months old, leaving him, an older brother and three older half-sisters.

Dominick Tripodi

By Jose Araiza

While many were in shock after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Domínick Tripodi unhesitatingly volunteered to fight terrorism abroad. The U.S. Army applauded his initiative and loyalty but denied his petition. Although a seasoned war veteran, Tripodi is 76 years old.

Tripodi's sense of patriotism began at 17 when he lied about his age to fight for his country. This patriotism continues to help him come to terms with the psychological effects of war and the subsequent challenges he currently faces.

Xavier Pelaez

By Gina Ross

World War II gave Xavier Pelaez many gruesome experiences -- from witnessing the horror of a concentration camp to the pain of being wounded in battle.

Pelaez was born in Los Angeles in 1925, his parents having moved from Nogales, Mexico, before he was born. His mother, Graciela Preciado, was a homemaker and his namesake father did various jobs wherever he could find work.

Pelaez graduated from Fremont High School in 1943, but knew his immediate future was with the service.

Jesse D Nava

By Kristina Radke

Before World War II, Jesse Nava led a simple life in California, swimming in the Los Angeles River and gaining a strong work ethic from his immigrant father. But since the war, that carefree life has been elusive.

To help his father support the family, Nava was forced at age 17 to drop out of the predominantly Latino Roosevelt High School, where he was successful in breaking track and field records. In addition to his parents, Nava's family consisted of two brothers and two sisters.

Gilbert Lopez

By Ismael Martinez

Gilbert Lopez was born Sept. 30, 1919, in Azusa, northeast of Los Angeles. His father, Victorio Jose Lopez, worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as a stonemason. Lopez' mother, Dephene Lopez, was a homemaker, raising the couple's eight children.

During the Depression years, Lopez remembers growing up in poverty and attending Irwindale School without shoes. As a small boy, official segregation forced Latinos to sit in separate sections of public buildings, such as movie theaters.

Armando E. Gonzales

By Dionicia Rivera

Lying in a cold stream with a bullet wound to his chest, Armando E. Gonzales felt his body getting weaker. Surrounded by the enemy in the Aleutian Islands, Gonzales had been shot by a sniper; he thought his life was over.

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