Fighting in one world war would be plenty for most people. One military branch too. But Aaron Mendoza is not like most people.
The 92-year-old Parkway Place independent living resident served in both the Navy and the Air Force Reserves during World War II and the Korean War. He served a total of four and a half years, working behind the scenes to assemble torpedoes for aircrafts and manage logistics as planes launched.
“This was kind of dangerous, but at that time it didn’t faze me at all,” laughed Mendoza. “I was even working with detonators and big warheads.”
Mendoza spent boot camp at the San Diego Naval Air Station. From there, he and his crew were sent to Hawaii, their base just miles from the devastated Pearl Harbor. The trip from the West Coast to the islands took eight days as crews zig-zagged across the sea to avoid potential enemy submarines.
Ironically, Mendoza never wanted to serve in the Navy.
The eager 19-year-old Houston native was chomping at the bit to join the Air Force, but when he enlisted in September 1943, just after graduating high school, the Navy needed sailors to man ships. He didn’t even know how to swim.
“They just said, ‘You’re going to go in the Navy,’” Mendoza remembers. “They had a big quota to fill. But in boot camp I was a qualified swimmer within a week.”
After his military experience, Mendoza sold military computers for General Precision. Through the G.I. Bill, he also earned his bachelor’s degree in marketing and management from St. Mary’s University. Then he worked for Control Data where he worked for 25 years and sold NASA their Skylab database for mission control.
“The country has changed tremendously,” Mendoza said, “and I’m just so proud to have been a part of it. The thing that amazes me is how far we’ve come in technology. It’s nice to have lived it, because when I was a teenager if we had a telephone it was party telephone. We didn’t have the communications we have now. It’s just incredible.”
Mendoza considers it a great honor to share his experiences with others, especially the younger generation. Every Veterans Day, he visits West Briar Middle School, across the street from Parkway Place, to speak to students about his experience and life in the military.
“My message has always been stressing the importance of education, freedom and patriotism,” Mendoza said. “These are things that are very important to me, and I think they are for everyone else.”