If It Were Not For … Recalling Wartime Experiences

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The oral narratives collection offers compelling recollections of the Latino war experience. Felicitas Flores tells of serving in a precursor to the modern-day Women’s Army Corps. Apolonia Abarca served on the home front as a nurse in Corpus Christi, Texas. She would go on to become something of a pioneer, helping to win the first federal grant in the United States for family planning–a health-care milestone in 1964. Abarca’s older brother was sent to Europe as a gunner in the Air Force.

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Pete Gallego tells of returning from the war feeling victorious, only to have his spirits dampened when he saw his town of El Paso, Texas, still entrenched in discriminatory practices. Undeterred, he set out to fight for desegregation in local schools.

In a moving tribute to her family, Evelyn Jasso-Garc’a chronicles her descendants’ personal histories for the project. She has detailed the wartime contributions of four uncles and her father, Joe R. Jasso. All five brothers went to war, only to have their father die while they were away. Joe, the only one of the five still living, talks about his time as a surgical technician treating the wounded from the Philippine battles and Corregidor.

The son of a laborer, Lupe Hernandez first heard of the war as a sixteen-year-old, walking back home to Lubbock, Texas, after picking cotton with his father. He begged his parents to let him go to war, finally securing their permission a year later.

A track-and-field standout at his high school, Jesse Nava would see his athletic dreams evaporate during service in the 24th Infantry Division. He returned in another capacity–that of coach–rejoining the sports culture he so enjoyed in boyhood.

Wyoming native Joseph Ram’rez remembers how he used to sing Spanish lullabies and ballads to his U.S. Navy crewmates to help them sleep. The first-generation Mexican-American became a policeman after the war and later a politician.

With fight still left in him nearly sixty years after World War II, Dominick Tripodi marched to the recruiting station after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and volunteered for service in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army applauded the Los Angeles resident’s valor but politely declined the offer, noting his age of seventy-six.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Jose Zaragosa tells of training in the then-emerging and secretive field of long-range navigation–a specialty known by its acronym LORAN–to determine the geographical position of ships or airplanes in the South Pacific theater.

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A diminutive 5 feet 5 inches, Mexico-born Edward Albert Peniche of Kingwood, Texas, made giant contributions to the war effort even though he is not a U.S. citizen. In Longchamps, Belgium, Peniche would save fellow soldiers despite being wounded himself, earning him a pair of Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. A monument in Longchamps honoring those who fought in the decisive battle against German forces bears his name at its base.

Ruben Munguia would stay at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, throughout the war, running the printshop at headquarters command. That training enabled him to build a successful printing business, and he became something of a political kingmaker in local politics.

—-T.C.

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