JOSE MENDOZA LOPEZ (1912 ~ 2005). Medal of Honor Recipient Jose Lopez was born in Santiago Ihuitlán Plumas, Oaxaca, on July 10, 1910 and was orphaned by the age of eight. With no one to care for him, he drifted north to the Rio Grande Valley town of Mission, Texas, where a family fed him and let him sleep in their shed. The U.S. Army records his place of birth as Mission, Texas.
Lopez drifted across the country hopping freight trains until he found himself in Atlanta, Georgia, at the age of 17. Standing at about five feet, five inches and weighing only 130 pounds, he won a fight started by a much larger man. A boxing promoter witnessed the fight and set Lopez up for a career as a boxer named "Kid Mendoza." During his career he won 52 fights and lost only three. In 1936, he joined the Merchant Marines. During his time as a sailor he was once stranded on a disabled ship at sea with nothing to eat but the cargo of bananas.
Lopez joined the Army during World War II and served as a Sergeant in the Weapons Platoon of Company M, Third Battalion, 23rd Infantry, Second Infantry Division. When he arrived in Normandy on June 7, 1944, the day after the D-Day invasion, an enemy bullet hit his belt, grazing his hip. Later in the war, on December 17, 1944, Lopez found himself near Krinkelt, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. Seeing an advancing German tank surrounded by 10 soldiers, Lopez moved to protect his unit's flank. He killed the enemy soldiers before the tank fired on his position. Although the shallow hole Lopez used as his machine gun nest offered no protection from the waist up, he remained there despite fire from the advancing tank. Before moving to another position, Lopez killed another 25 advancing enemy soldiers. He saw another large group of enemy soldiers attempting to out flank him to his right, and moved his machine gun to protect that flank. A shell fired from an enemy tank exploded near Lopez, which blew him off his feet and onto his back, but he immediately reset his machine gun and continued firing. He held back the German advance until he was sure that his unit had retreated and set up their next line of defense. Lopez's actions kept his company from being overrun by the enemy and he killed at least 100 of their number, and for that he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
He remained in the Army until the end of World War II and served in the Korean War. As a Sergeant First Class, Lopez fought in Korea until an officer heard that a Medal of Honor recipient was on the front line of combat. He was recalled from the front and was assigned the task of handling the remains of dead soldiers.
After the Korean War, he served as a recruiter, plowed snow, mowed lawns, and oversaw maintenance and personnel at a base motor pool until his retirement from the Army in 1973. Lopez jogged everyday until age 88 and saw a trainer three times a week. He died of cancer at his daughter's home in San Antonio on May 16, 2005. Emilia Herrera Lopez, his wife of 62 years, died in February 2004. They left five children, 19 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.
Bibliography: "Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor in Texas," Capitol Visitors Center, State Preservation Board of Texas. Bermudez, Fabian, "Our Hero! Jose Mendoza Lopez," Vista Magazine, http://www.vistamagazine.com/aprarmy.htm, October 10, 2005. Medal of Honor.com, http://www.medalofhonor.com/JoseLopez.htm, October 18, 2005.