as Americans, can be very proud of the brave men and women serving in our military.
When we study the history of this great nation, we find that we have always had
such people protecting us – from the very beginning.
It seems that an individual
who is willing to fight and die to protect others has a unique quality that is
not always visible until the situation calls for it. In World
War II, people who were virtually uneducated and raised in poverty performed
many of these acts of heroism.
Take, for example, the story of Medal of
Honor recipient Jose Mendoza Lopez.
was born in Mission, Texas,
on July 10, 1910. When he was still quite young his mother, Candida, moved young
Jose to Veracruz, Mexico, where she earned money working as a seamstress to support
herself and the child. Lopez spent most of his time selling clothes that his mother
made. Sadly, there was no mention of the father in my research on Lopez.
The boy was not able to spend much time with his mother because she passed away
when he was only eight years old. He was taken to Brownsville,
Texas, where he lived with his uncle’s family. During this time he worked
odd jobs to make a living and never returned to school.
as a young man, Lopez was handy with his fists and traveled around the country
fighting a total of 55 fights in the lightweight division. He was known as “Kid
Mendoza.” After his boxing career was over, Lopez joined the Merchant Marines
and traveled the world for five years. But as was the case with many young Americans,
his life changed drastically on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl
Lopez married Emilia Herrera at Brownsville
in 1942, the same year that he received his draft card. He immediately moved to
San Antonio and enlisted in the
basic training, Lopez was assigned to the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division.
He eventually advanced to the rank of sergeant and December 1944 found Lopez in
a bloody conflict known as the Battle of the Bulge.
For his actions
on Dec. 17, 1944, near Krinkelt, Belgium, Lopez received the highest military
decoration for valor in combat – the Medal of Honor.
Following are some
quotes from Lopez’s Medal of Honor citation: “Occupying a shallow hole offering
no protection above his waist, he cut down a group of 10 Germans. Ignoring enemy
fire from an advancing tank, he held his position and cut down 25 more enemy infantry.
“Again, alone, he carried his machinegun to a position to the right rear of the
sector. Blown over backward by the concussion of enemy fire, he immediately reset
his gun and continued his fire. Single-handed he held off the German horde until
he was satisfied his company had effected its retirement.
“Again he loaded his gun on his back and in a hail of small arms fire he ran to
a point where a few of his comrades were attempting to set up another defense
against the onrushing enemy. He fired from this position until his ammunition
Lopez’s gallantry and intrepidity, on seemingly suicidal missions in which he
killed at least 100 of the enemy were almost solely responsible for allowing Company
K to avoid being enveloped.”
Lopez returned home, the mayor of New York City greeted him and when he traveled
to Mexico City, the president of Mexico presented him with that country’s highest
Texas, named a street and city park after him. In San Antonio, a middle school
was named in his honor. And at Brownsville
his statue stands in Veterans Park.
All of these accolades going to a
young man, with little education, who so courageously fought for his country.
We are indeed fortunate to have such people serving this country and we should
always respect and honor them.
As for Jose Mendoza Lopez, he and his wife
remained in San Antonio where he
worked as a contact representative for the Veterans Administration until he retired.
The gallant old soldier passed away on May 16, 2005.
© Murray Montgomery
April 19, 2010 Column
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