Many of the children born to first-generation Mexican immigrants in Iowa and its surrounding states came of age as the U.S. entered World War II. Enlisting in high numbers and drafted, at times regardless of citizenship status, they served in all branches of the armed forces and came from longstanding Mexican American neighborhoods across Iowa - in Mason City, Council Bluffs, Fort Madison, Des Moines, the Quad Cities, and nearby Silvis, Illinois.
Antonio Navarro learned first-hand that citizenship was not a requirement for military service. A native of Durango, Mexico, who had grown up in Holy City in Bettendorf, Navarro was working at Riverside Foundry in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was drafted into the military, unaware that he was not a U.S. citizen until he was sworn in along with several other foreign-born G.I.s.
In many Mexican American families, multiple sons served simultaneously. From the Mexican barrio of Cook's Point in Davenport, all five of Esperanza Martinez's sons served at the same time. From the same two-acre barrio in Davenport, two of Mary Vasquez's brothers and all three of Henry Vargas's older brothers served in the military. On Second Street in Silvis, Illinois, six sons came from one family; seven from another. From this one unpaved street, 78 Mexican Americans from 35 households served during World War II and in the Korean conflict that followed.
Mexican Americans from Iowa and western Illinois fought as gunners and paratroopers in combat planes. They helped carve the Burma Road through the jungles of present day Myanmar in the China-Burma-India Theater. They fought in the battle of Normandy and in the fields of France and Germany on the road to Berlin. And they fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Throughout the war, troops and families kept in touch through Victory Mail, commonly known as V-Mail (not to be confused with today's email). The system of V-Mail expedited mail service to U.S. forces overseas by using standardized stationary and microfilming it to further reduce its bulk and weight. All V-Mail was censored by military officials.