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2 World War II vets buried at Fort Bliss

Fidel Torres was buried on Tuesday at Fort Bliss National Cemetery. So was Lauro Sanchez Sr.

The military burials were traditional -- except for one thing.

Both were World War II veterans, and their deaths are powerful reminders that not many remain.

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"We're losing them quickly e too quickly," said Jesus Bravo, who attended Torres' funeral and is a member of the Benavidez-Patterson "All-Airborne"

Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association.

"I respect that generation so much. They went from a Depression to a war without question. Nobody has done it like they did. My experience in Vietnam was nothing compared to what they went through with maybe a pair of boots and shoes in their hands," Bravo said.

Torres died Jan. 9 at 97.

He was a sergeant in the Army and participated in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in what some historians consider one of America's great military feats in the 20th century.

Part of the infantry, Torres helped fend off a heavy German counteroffensive that badly outnumbered American forces. Many Allied soldiers survived gruesome injuries and heavy artillery fire, though Torres

never shared much with his children, other than stories of how to stay warm and smoke in a tent.

"They're called the Greatest Generation for a reason," said Fidel Torres' great-grandson, Jesus Torres III, a staff sergeant in the Army. "They all inspire me. I can't imagine what they went through, and the strong character it must have taken. We have 10-month deployments and get to talk on Skype. Those guys served for three or four years and were lucky to get a letter."

Fidel Torres' experience during World War II helped shape his world view and actions, said his son, Jesus Torres Sr. For 35 years, Fidel Torres played Santa Claus at hospitals and the Segura McDonald VFW Post 5615.

Though he never graduated from Bowie High School, due to enlisting before he could earn his diploma, Fidel Torres managed to get a degree in human services from El Paso Community College. He later taught classes in citizenship.

"There wasn't anything he couldn't accomplish or help out on," Jesus Torres Sr. said. "He always taught that. I think that's something he learned from his military experience in World War II."

Not far away, Sanchez, 90, a veteran of the Navy, also died Jan. 9. His son Lauro Sanchez Jr. didn't know

where he served during World War II, but he recalled stories of Guam and being stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Lauro Sanchez Sr., raised on a farm, worked in submarines.

"He was all about discipline," Lauro Sanchez Jr. said. "He loved serving this country. He was so proud of it."

Sanchez and Torres represent the dwindling numbers of surviving World War II veterans.

No one knows the exact number of living World War II veterans in El Paso, though advocate Bill Stegall is trying to get most of the remaining honored and registered. The Benavidez-Patterson "All-Airborne" Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association used to have six World War II members just a few years ago, but lost three in the past year and are now down to two, Bravo said.

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans estimates the once 16 million World War II living veterans will drop to close to 1 million by the end of 2013.

"I don't think that it's time running out on them," Stegall said. "It's time running out on us to say thanks."

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