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News From The Past

May 22, 2005



Flags Fly At Half Staff Saturday 
In Honor Of Texas Medal Of Honor Winner

Gov. Rick Perry ordered flags lowered to half-staff Saturday in honor of World War II hero and Congressional Medal of Honor winner Jose M. Lopez.

Lopez, 94, died Monday. Services were scheduled for Saturday at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.

Lopez, who was born in Mission, won the nation's highest military honor for his heroics during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. Officials say Lopez, as a sergeant, single-handedly killed more than 100 German soldiers in one skirmish to protect his unit.

Battle of the Bulge 
legend laid to rest 

Carmina Danini and Jerry Needham Express-News Staff Writers

Former Army Sgt. José Mendoza Lopez, San Antonio's last Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, was lauded Saturday as a soldier of uncommon valor.

"He was a giant of a man and a patriot who demonstrated on the battlefields of World War II that freedom is not free," Cornerstone Church Pastor John Hagee said at a memorial service in the church's Vada S. Hagee Prayer Chapel.

Lopez, 94, died of kidney cancer Monday.

In the foyer of the chapel, one of several large photographs on easels showed Lopez receiving the Medal of Honor from Maj. Gen. James A. Van Fleet, then commander of the U.S. Third Corps.

Lopez's funeral drew several Medal of Honor recipients, including retired Army Col. Robert Howard of San Antonio, who received the medal in Vietnam, and representatives from veterans organizations.

Hagee said Lopez's story is one of the greatest in U.S. military history.

Wounded at Normandy on D-Day plus 1, the Mexican-born Lopez declined treatment and evacuation to England to stay with his unit.

Mired in unrelenting combat during summer and fall 1944, he arrived in Belgium for the battle that would change his life.

With no assistance, Lopez, then a private, wiped out an elite Nazi unit at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 14, 1944.

By his engaging and killing more than 100 of the enemy, Lopez's Company K of the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division, survived the German attack.

After receiving the Medal of Honor four months later, Lopez was promoted to sergeant.

"He made military history by killing more soldiers in a single engagement — higher than Alvin York and Audie Murphy together," Hagee said.

One of Lopez's sons-in-law, Guy Wickwire of San Antonio, told in a letter read by Hagee how the elderly man cared for his wife, Emilia, who had dementia, during the last three years of her life.

Already in fragile health himself, Lopez helped her bathe and dress, and he took her to church.

Hagee recalled seeing Lopez, whom he said was like Superman, pushing his wife's wheelchair.

"Superman was a 5-foot-5, 135-pound Hispanic sitting in the front row of Cornerstone Church every Sunday," the pastor said. "This is a man all of America needs to know about."

Emilia Lopez died in February 2004.

About 75 people gathered at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery for the burial ceremony as the temperature hovered in the 90s.

Three soldiers on horseback accompanied the black steel caisson drawn by two horses. It carried the flag-draped, wood-sheathed casket to the outdoor pavilion where ceremonies were conducted.

The caisson at Fort Sam is used only for burial ceremonies involving Medal of Honor winners and general officers.

"I've known him for 43 years," said retired Army Maj. Gen. Alfred Valenzuela, who called Lopez "humble, focused and dedicated" in comments at the gravesite.

"What a great hero, what a man, a great smile, very compassionate and just had it right," Valenzuela said. "He just wanted to give back to the community, and that he's done."

After a three-volley rifle salute by a military honor guard and the sounding of taps, the family was presented the flag that had covered his coffin.

One of his daughters said he was an anchor and guiding light for generations — in the family and in the community.

"He never missed an opportunity to meet with young people, whether it be in elementary school, high school, college or university," said Beatrice Lopez Pedraza, a daughter who lives in Peru with her husband, who is with the U.S. diplomatic corps. "My father was always very ready to share his values with young people. He instilled in me a true love for this country."

Said John Arocha, 72, a neighbor of Lopez for the past 45 years: "He was a good man. You never heard him say a bad word about anybody. I was in the military and used to ask his advice. He'd tell me, 'Just do your best job and don't complain.'"

"José was a real gentleman," said Frank Perales, commander of American GI Forum's Region 3. "A nicer person you would never meet. I think that's what made him so unique."

© 2005, by San Antonio Express-News


Lasting Legacy
WWII hero laid to rest; 
statue keeps memory alive in Brownsville

From Staff and Wire Reports

SAN ANTONIO, May 22, 2005 — Brownsville native Jose Mendoza Lopez, the oldest living Hispanic recipient of the Medal of Honor, was buried with full military honors Saturday in San Antonio.

Lopez, 94, is well known throughout South Texas as a World War II hero who single-handedly repelled German infantry forces advancing on his U.S. Army unit near the start of the Battle of the Bulge.

"He was a great hero, a super guy and a super dad," said his son John Lopez.

Jose Lopez died Monday in San Antonio, a few weeks after returning from the hospital where he had been undergoing treatment for cancer that spread from his kidneys.

His burial was a mark of closure for some, but his memory will live on for generations in Brownsville, where a statue is modeled after him at the Veterans International Bridge.

The statue, unveiled in January 2003, depicts a grizzled, battle-worn soldier standing proudly above a plaque relating his heroic tale.

“I like it,” the sergeant told The Brownsville Herald during the unveiling ceremony at the bridge. “It is very good, but the gun is not the right one. I had the one you’d put in a tripod, a 30-caliber machine gun.”

On Dec. 17, 1944, Lopez, with the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division, fended off dozens of German troops and tanks trying to overrun his Company K near Krinkelt, Belgium. He lugged his .30-caliber weapon, jumped into a shallow hole and killed several German soldiers.

“I was doing my duty to stop the enemy,” Lopez recalled at the ceremony. “They gave me credit for killing 100 enemies and somebody recommended me for the Medal of Honor.”

His Medal of Honor citation states: “Sgt. 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, to withdraw successfully and to give other forces coming up in support time to build a line which repelled the enemy drive.”

Nearly 50 years after the battle, he returned to the site in Belgium with journalist Bill Moyers and a PBS documentary film crew. Questioned by Moyers about his bravery, the man who had prayed to the Virgin of Guadalupe as he fired at Germans replied, "I believe any man would do the same thing."

Though his medal citation and most biographies list his birthplace as Mission, Jose Lopez was born in Santiago Huitlan, Mexico. To join the Merchant Marine, he bought a false birth certificate in 1935.

Returning to the United States from Hawaii after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he almost was arrested. Authorities thought he was Japanese.

"I let them see my papers, that I was Mexican, and they let me go. They were going to put me in the prison," he told an interviewer for the U.S. Latinos and Latinas & World War II oral history project.

In 1942, Lopez enlisted in the Army. He received a minor wound but rejoined his unit after being treated.

Lopez also was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. But his Medal of Honor was what he cherished most among his many mementos.

His son reflected Monday on a man who lived a humble life.

"He was a hero, without being a hero around his family," John Lopez said.

Last Sunday, Jose Lopez had enough strength to squeeze relatives’ hands as they spoke to him, said June Pedraza, a granddaughter. Monday, he was unresponsive, she said.

"I told him, you’re really sick, grandpa. It’s OK if you go today," said Pedraza, 25.

A short time later, after family members dispersed for lunch, the sergeant died with only a nurse in the room, she said.

Pedraza said she doubted Lopez had any fear of dying because he’d always told her, "Fear is the one thing that will hold you back in life."

Herald reporter Kevin Garcia and San Antonio Express-News reporters Carmina Danini and Scott Huddleston contributed to this report

© 2005, by The Brownsville Herald



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