CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — When Claudia Cantu was born 100 years ago, you could buy a loaf of bread for 12 cents. A half gallon of milk was only 33 cents.
"Life was simple," recalled the Uvalde, Texas native.
It was also very difficult, too.
Her family lost their land during the Great Depression. They moved around and finally settled in Corpus Christi.
At 21, then-Claudia Ramirez made one of the biggest decisions in her life. It was 1942; the US was already fighting on two battlefronts during World War II. Her brothers entered the war, so she signed up, too.
She joined the Army Air Force and served from 1942 to the end of the war in 1945. She was one of the first women in the Women's Army Corps or WAC. It was a time when women mostly served on the home front, taking over important jobs so that men could fight overseas.
"Life wasn’t the way it is now," Claudia said.
Far from it.
There was a lot of curiosity surrounding this new group of women in military uniform.
"People used to line the streets when we marched on the street," she said. "People would be waiting for us. They had never seen women in the service, so it was quite something, yes."
After a month of her tour of duty, Claudia would be called up for one of the most important roles of her military career: recruiting. She called it 'publicity.'
Claudia became the face of the Army, being chosen for photo shoots in order to recruit more women to join the military.
Her legacy, along with other women in the military, is on display at the National Military Women’s Memorial in Washington.
Her service not only paved the way for fellow Hispanics and Latinos, but women, too. That's a point duly noted by Corpus Christi Mayor Paulette Guajardo, who recorded a special message that was played for Claudia during her 100th birthday party with family.
"Thank you for what you represent," Guajardo said. "Thank you for paving the road for me. Thank you for serving our community, and for our country. God bless you.”
After the war, Claudia’s next duty was making sure that her children could explore the world. She did that by encouraging them to read, and by cooking worldly dishes.
“I would tell my friends 'We ate crapes last night,' " said Claudia's daughter Chris Magill. "They were like 'What’s that? What are you even talking about?' I think she (Claudia) expanded our horizons.”
Claudia also worked for a family meat-processing plant, which actually delivered meat to Whataburger restaurants back in the day. She was also a bookkeeper for a local cotton gin. Her children joked about how it looked like she had snow in her hair when she returned home from work.
These days, Claudia remains active with her weekly poker buddies; close lady friends she has known for years.
"She always jokes with us," Cookie McBride said about her friend of 40 years. "Yeah, I admire her so much for all she’s done and all she is doing,"
Claudia has new friends, too. They sent her over 600 birthday cards at last count. She had asked for 100 to match her milestone birthday.
And what’s a century worth of birthdays without a parade? Dozens of vehicles lined her street right in front of her South Side Corpus Christi home on her birthday.
So what do you give a war hero, a hard working mother, and a pioneer for Hispanic women?
"I have everything I need," said Claudia, smiling.
Times may have changed in the past 100 years, but the laughter and kindness that Claudia Cantu shows each and every day is priceless. That's the treasured gift she keeps giving back to us.
"I’m glad that I still have her and we have each other," Magill said. "Love you mom."