Los Angeles

Rudolph S. Tovar

By Nathan Beck

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, Rudolph Tovar was a halfback marching his football team down a Los Angeles football field toward the goal line. Captain of the Verdugo Knights, Tovar and his teammates were informed during a timeout on the sidelines that Pearl Harbor had been bombed early that morning by the Japanese.

The next day, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt had declared war on the Japanese and entered America into World War II, Tovar and his friend, William Rubalcava, traveled to downtown Los Angeles to the Federal Building, to enlist in the Marine Corps.

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.

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.

Santos Sandoval

By Melissa Sellers

Clad in a stiffly starched khaki dress shirt and pants that tent over his thin frame, Santos Sandoval calmly recalls his experiences in the South Pacific Theater during World War II.

Now retired in Los Angeles, the 82-year-old Sandoval enlisted in an infantry regiment at 18 because "it sounded good." He’d go on to receive numerous awards for significant heroic deeds during his tour of duty.

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.

Benigno Nevarez Diaz

By Veronica Olvera

Amid the horror of war in the European Theater, Benigno Diaz found himself in awe of the deadly efficiency of enemy forces, struck by "how accurate the German aviators were," he said.

Diaz served as a scout during World War II when he was just a teenager. He enlisted just shy of his 18th birthday and left his Los Angeles home for the frontlines of the war in Europe. While he managed to stay alive, he witnessed the fate of comrades who weren't as fortunate.

Frank Cordero

By Sarah Jackson

Drafted at 21, Frank Cordero endured hardships typical of most soldiers. But in telling his story, he prefers to dwell on the lighter side of war.

Born in 1921 in Alamogordo, N.M., Cordero was the youngest of five children born to Felix Cordero and Benjardina Gonzales Cordero. He joined the U.S. Army in 1942 and was sent to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, before being shipped out to Camp Gruber near Muskogee, Okla., for basic training. The "final exam" of the yearlong training was three months of maneuvers in the Louisiana swamps.

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