LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Simon Mendoza spent his early 20s digging holes in the ground to hide from enemy fire during World War II, the deadliest international conflict in history. But he never thought he’d make it to his 100th birthday.

Mendoza, of Doña Ana County, New Mexico, did just that on Friday.

Mendoza was born in 1922 in Anthony, New Mexico, the third of 12 children. He started working in the fields at a young age making 10 cents an hour. A friend who lived on a large farm started helping him cultivate his own small garden. It was the many hours spent in the fields where Mendoza said he started learning English.

He said he finished grade school at the age of 16 and started working at a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he made $20 a month.

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Mendoza was 18 when he met his wife, Josefina, who was a year younger. They married and soon had their first son, Henry, who was only a baby when  his father was drafted in 1943 at the age of 19.

In 1944, Mendoza completed various trainings with the U.S. Army before being sent to the Pacific Theatre, along with the 6th Infantry Division. He said interacting with his fellow soldiers in English furthered his grasp on the language.

Simon Mendoza, who turns 100 on Friday, Oct. 28, poses with the medals he received as an Army infantryman in World War II.

During the war, Mendoza spent 57 days in the jungles of New Guinea and 112 days in the Philippines.

“I made it for 112 days sleeping in foxholes,” Mendoza said. He added the soldiers had only crackers and cheese at times. “I went in at 160 (pounds). I came out at 116 pounds. Everybody, skinnies.”

The conditions were challenging at the best of times, Mendoza said.

In the Philippines in January 1945, he volunteered to take out a pillbox, or concrete fort dug in the ground, of Japanese snipers who were wounding American soldiers. He crawled 200 yards toward the enemy line with only a few grenades; he pulled the pin and ducked. It was a dangerous mission, but Mendoza was lucky to come away with only scratches on his arms.