Guy Vasquez

By Laura Barganier

Becoming a doctor and helping others have a better life was Guy Vasquez’s dream growing up after witnessing his father die of a brain tumor.

Life worked out differently for Vasquez, however, as the United States drafted him into the Navy during his first year as a premedical student at The University of Tampa in 1944.

“[The war] interrupted my ambition, what I was preparing for,” he said.

Willie Vila

By Lindsay Stafford

For Marine sniper Willie Vila, the only way to make it through World War II alive was to kill or be killed.

Vila used this advice, which he recalls getting from Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, to keep him going through four years in World War II with the United States Marine Corps.

“I had a telescope on my rifle and a single shot,” he said. “And then I got a tommy gun, a [45] caliber with 50 rounds, a hundred [rounds of extra ammunition] in my back and my canteen of water. I survived.”

Albert Nieto

By Angel Flores

From a cardboard box, Albert Nieto rummages through old newspapers, postcards and other keepsakes that bring back memories from his days of service in the Army. One of the artifacts he pulls from the box is a sightseeing guide of the “Playground of the Orient” in the Philippines.

Braulio Alonso

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

Of the many memories Braulio Alonso has of World War II, none stick out more than those tied to the liberation of Italy’s capital.

After Allied forces flooded Rome on June 4, 1945, some members of the 328th Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 85th Infantry Division, traveled from slightly south of Rome into the city.

“We took our driver and went into Rome,” said Alonso, who was Captain of Battery A.

Raymond Vega

By Israel Saenz

At the Vega home in East Chicago, Ind., during World War II, there were five blue stars in the window -- one for each of the sons serving in the military. Raymond Vega was one of them, serving aboard a ship as a hospital corpsman, tending to sick and wounded men. It was that experience that would lead him to devote his life to his faith, as a Roman Catholic priest.

Sailing in the South Pacific, aboard the USS Long Island, Vega had thoughts of being killed by a torpedo.

"When you have a thought like that for two years, you learn to pray," Vega said.

Louis Angel Ramirez

By Jennifer Nalewicki

Luis Angel Ramirez has many memories of World War II.

But his strongest recollection is the camaraderie soldiers shared in his platoon, which helped Ramirez stay grounded while battling German soldiers on the front lines.

Ramirez considered the men in his platoon, the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, his family; especially since they were together from the time they began military training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and Fort Jackson in South Carolina in 1941 until the war's end in 1945.

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.

Raul Rios Rodriguez

By D'Arcy Kerschen

Life wasn't easy for Raul Rios-Rodriguez, who grew up on the mean streets of New York City throughout most of World War II. You had to fight for respect to survive, he says, and he learned that lesson at 14 upon arriving from Puerto Rico at the onset of the war.

Rios and his four brothers and four sisters moved to Spanish Harlem in New York in 1941. An older sister was the head of the household while Rios' parents remained in Puerto Rico, where his dad grew crops he sold at market.

Norberto M Gonzalez

By Catherine Mathieson

Contrasts have defined Norberto Gonzalez's life.

Gonzalez appreciates the opportunities the United States has offered him; he came here because he saw none in the tiny Cuban village where he was born.

While serving in the Philippines after World War II, Gonzalez, who grew up poor, watched in pity as Filipinos waited to eat his table scraps.

And even though the United States introduced so many positive experiences into his life, he recognizes the discrimination that confronted him in his adopted country and isn’t shy about pointing it out.

Carmen Conteras Bozak

By Katie Kennon

Carmen Bozak's only memory of Dec. 7, 1941 -- the day Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese -- is of a good friend and co-worker being stranded after her date heard about the attack on the car radio. The woman's date stopped the car in the middle of nowhere and told her to get out because he had to return to his base.

A policeman picked up Bozak's friend from a rural Virginia road and drove her to a nearby Salvation Army office, where she was given a bus ticket home to Washington, D.C.

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