El Paso

Manuel Camarillo

By Kayla Young

Peering through the door he’d just kicked in with his combat boots, the Manuel Camarillo serving on the front lines of World War II Germany was a different man from the one he’d been back in South El Paso. Back then, he’d started fights just for fun.

“I spent my time fighting. I wanted to fight anybody,” said Camarillo of his early teen years. “My oldest brother would get two or three guys in the morning. He would get them so I could fight with them. I went in [the alley] and I gave them a good whipping.”

Rafael Q. Torres

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

Ninety-year-old Rafael Torres doesn’t have the mind he had back when he was growing up in El Paso, Texas, nor when he began penning his memories of World War II, but he still seems to remember quite clearly the torture of the head injury that eventually brought him home from the war.

Torres recalls going down Mount Rotondo near San Pietro, Italy, with the rest of his platoon on Dec. 15, 1943. Being assigned to rear guard duty, no one was behind him.

Alberto Rede

By Barrett Williams

Flying at full speed above Australia in a C-47 during WWII, radioman Alberto Rede heard bullets ripping through the plane, followed by a sputtering engine.

His mind raced: If power to the engines is lost, the plane will become a gliding, uncontrollable mass that could drop out of the sky.

Maria De La Paz Torres

By Maria Torres

Maria Torres was only 12 years old when the war began, yet she was old enough to remember the profound impact it had on her life and family in El Paso, Texas.

“When my brothers left, it just seemed like something that belonged to my parents had been taken, and they didn’t know if they were going to have that something back at home again,” recalled Torres, whose four brothers – Alfonso, Jose, Maurice and Alejandro Holguin – served in the war.

Rafael Fíerro

By Lynn Maguire

Rafael Fierro graduated from a small Texas high school in May of 1939, hoping to go to college on a basketball scholarship; but rather than donning a basketball jersey, he put on the uniform of a U.S. soldier.

"I went to the Sanderson [,Texas,] courthouse and signed up as a volunteer," wrote Fierro in comments to the Project. "On February 20th, 1941, I received orders to report to Ft. Bliss [in] Texas ... for boot camp."

Angel F. Esparza

By Bianca Camaño

Education was always important in the Esparza home. So from an early age, Angel Esparza expected he and his six siblings would graduate from high school and go on to college.

Esparza attributes his high educational goals to his mother, Guadalupe Vega Esparza.

"My mother was pro-education like you won't believe," said Esparza, who was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1922. "We were all going to get all the education possible, so we did."

Santiago Brito Craver

By Alyssa Armentrout

As U.S. Army medic Santiago Craver drove his ambulance up to the pick-up site in Northern Africa, one of the wounded men glanced up at him from below.

He had a familiar face.

"It was one of my friends who used to work with me at William Beaumont Hospital," Craver said. "It was Leo. His fingers had been cut off."

When someone else got in the driver's seat, Craver went back to care for the wounds of the old friend. As a member of the Medical Corps in Northern Africa during World War II, it was a familiar scene for him.

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.

Robert Salcído

By J. Myers Vasquez

Robert Salcído recalls vividly his time behind enemy lines. The winter of 1944 saw him and his Army reconnaissance unit temporarily encamped in German-held territory. Wandering off by himself, Salcído came across a bomb crater that held a cruel reminder of the brutality of war.

At the far end of the crater, lay the naked body of an unknown soldier. The corpse had been cut in half at the waist, leaving only the lower half.

"I saw that thing and then I went back to camp and couldn't sleep for about three or four days," Salcído said.

Manuel O. Rivas

By Unity Peterson

A self-described "little fighter" in grammar school, Manuel "Manny" Rivas often got himself and his twin brother, Sal, into trouble. Since the schoolteachers couldn't tell the boys apart, they were both punished with whacks across their behinds.

Years later, that fighting spirit helped the twins as Marines during World War II.

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