Service in World War II/University of Texas

After graduating from Raymond and Tirza Martin High School in May 1943, Vasquez joined the United States Air Force, and trained to be an Aerial Nose Gunner in a B-24 Bomber. He also volunteered to be a typist, when on non-combat duty for the officers. 

On May 29, 1944, while Arturo was training in Idaho, his older brother, Fito, was seriously injured while stationed as an Army soldier in New Guinea. A hand grenade was thrown nearby where the soldiers were sleeping in their foxholes. Fito picked up the grenade with his left hand and held it straight up in the air. The grenade exploded, causing him to lose his hand. With his right hand, he took his Our Lady of Guadalupe scarf his mother gave him, out of his pocket, and wrapped it around his injury to stop the bleeding. - Nadine (Vasquez) Hefner

The next day, Vasquez received word that their mother died from complications after surgery, while in a Nuevo Laredo, Mexico hospital. Vasquez had been supporting his mother and two younger siblings with his military pay. After his mother's death, he continued to support his siblings while in the service. 

On October 6, 1944, the plane Vasquez and the crew flew was hit by German antiaircraft fire. While the crew was in position, with Vasquez in the nose gun turret, his friend the radioman, Willard Price, was hit by a projectile and killed. Vasquez named his oldest daughter, Nadine, after his friend's fiancé.

On March 30, 1945, Vasquez completed 35 bombing missions, ending his tour of duty over enemy territory.  His commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Therman D. Brown, stated in a letter, His general performance of duty, while a member of my command, has been of an excellent nature. His courage, devotion to duty, attitude, and soldierly conduct have been exemplary.” Vasquez was awarded the Air Medal, and five Oak Leaf Clusters, EAME (European-African-Middle Eastern) Theater Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, and an Aerial Gunner Badge.

Brothers, Arturo and Rodolfo “Fito” Vasquez, Jr., walking on the streets of Mexico City, Mexico. Fito is wearing a glove over his wounded left hand. Black and white photograph.

Brothers, Arturo and Rodolfo “Fito” Vasquez, Jr., walking on the streets of Mexico City, Mexico. Fito is wearing a glove over his wounded left hand, circa 1945.

Rodolfo “Fito” Vasquez, Jr., in Army uniform.

Rodolfo “Fito” Vasquez, Jr., in Army uniform, circa 1943. 

Arturo Vasquez in his Army uniform posing with his mother and siblings.

Arturo Vasquez in his Army uniform posing with his mother and siblings, Laredo, Texas, circa 1943.

WWII, 330th Bomb Squadron, 93rd Bombardment Group: Arturo Vasquez with officers, and air crewmen, in front of a B24 Liberator. Black and white photograph.

WWII, 330th Bomb Squadron, 93rd Bombardment Group: Arturo Vasquez with officers, and air crewmen, in front of a B24 Liberator, circa 1944.

Arturo Vasquez, and air crewmen, at Hardwick Airfield.

Arturo Vasquez, and air crewmen, at Hardwick Airfield, England, circa 1945. (Missing in the photo is the radioman, who died on October 6, 1944.)

University of Texas at Austin on the GI Bill

Returning home to Laredo, Vasquez and his veteran buddies enrolled at the University of Texas, in Austin, on the GI Bill.  He knew early on he had a mind for figures, and chose accounting as his field of study.  He worked part time as a typist at UT, and began to expand his friendships, and interests, by joining the newly formed campus organizations, the Laredo Club, and the Alba Club.  It was at UT that Vasquez first met Dr. Hector P. Garcia.

Dr. Garcia, along with Dr. George I. Sánchez, and Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda, professors of Latin American studies, would have a profound effect on Vasquez, and the other Mexican American veterans.  The young men were infused with a passion, and desire to pursue social justice, and equal economic, educational, and political rights for Texas Latino communities.  Many of Vasquez’s Laredo/UT friends became civil rights lawyers, and some became judges: Arnulfo D. Azios, Eduardo Idar, Jr., Oscar M. Laurel, Sr., Honore Ligardo, Virgilio G. Roel, Robert (Bob) Sanchez, and Pedro (Pete)Tijerina.

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