POW (Prisoner Of War)

John S Hernandez

By Allison Harris

Even at almost 90 years old, World War II veteran John S. Hernandez can recall the challenges facing him on his first day of kindergarten at Belvedere Elementary School in Los Angeles.

"My mother couldn't speak English, and I couldn't speak English because I was brought up by Mexican parents that had immigrated here in 1898," he said.

Ramon Sr. Villa

By Frank Trejo

Having grown up in rural South Texas during the Great Depression and having lost his mother when he was only 10, Ramón Villa Sr. knew hardship.

But he was unprepared for the struggles he faced in World War II as part of the U.S. Army’s 200th Coast Artillery Regiment, being captured by the Japanese and forced on the Bataan Death March. Villa endured more than three years as a prisoner of war.

Villa was born on Jan. 9, 1920 in Donna, Texas. His family moved a short time later to Yorktown, Texas.

Anthony Acevedo

By Cathy Sze

It was 50 degrees below zero, one of the coldest winters Germany had seen in 50 years. A blanket of snow several feet high covered the ground.

Wearing only combat uniforms designed for warfare in the tropics, a group of about 40 Americans from the 275th Infantry Regiment trekked at gunpoint down to the bottom of Falkenberg Ridge, a rocky hill near Phillipsburg, where German army trucks awaited, recalled World War II veteran Anthony Acevedo.

These soldiers had been taken prisoner by the Germans, and 19-year-old Acevedo was one of them.

Jose M. Salas

By Cheryl Smith Kemp

On July 25, 1944, with 160 hours of B-24 Liberator tail-gunner training under his belt, but no combat-flying experience, Jose M. Salas was picked to fill in with a crew for a flight from a United States base near Torretta, Italy, to Linz Austria.

“It was a very rough mission. We had a lot of enemy planes hit us,” recalled Salas, who was still a teenager at the time. “There was about 50 or so airplanes shot down that day. … I had six fighters shooting at my tail.”

Baldomero Estala

By David Muto

Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Baldomero Estala relied on quiet independence.

In junior high school – from which Estala withdrew for economic reasons before fighting in World War II – he kept to himself, he says.

“I tried to get along with people, and I learned how to read Spanish,” said Estala of his formal education. “I never belonged to a sports team. I wasn’t too much of a mixer with people in school.”

Alex Rodriguez

As a little boy, Alex Rodriguez, Jr. never understood why so many people who know his father, Alex Rodriguez, treated him with the utmost respect.

Later in life, while reading his father’s accounts as an infantryman in the European Theater during World War II, and, later, a prisoner of war in a German camp, Alex began to understand.

Although Rodriguez Sr. passed away in 2006, his son knows he’d be glad his story will finally be known.

Willie Garcia Murillo

Willie Murillo was the third of five brothers who served in World War II.

Older brother David joined the Air Force; Gonzalo joined the Army; Mike and Mario, the two younger brothers, served in the Navy and Merchant Marines, respectively.

Before the brothers left for service, their father took them aside and said, “I hope you never find yourselves on the front line; but if you do, always remember one thing: The enemy fires the shots, God is the one who separates them.

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.

Andres Arredondo

By Valerie Venegas

Andres Arredondo dealt with adversity throughout his life. He overcome the death of his father at an early age and endured the torture of being a prisoner of war during World War II. Yet, through it all, he has managed to remain humble.

Arredondo’s POW memories are from the days he was forced to work in fields near Luxembourg in the middle of winter. He remembers the bitter cold and the pain he suffered in a cramped cell.

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