LaRed Latina of the Intermountain Southwest.

JOSE M. LOPEZ: WORLD WAR II HERO


Jose M. Lopez, 94, Medal of Honor recipient 


An invitation for a hero 
Web Posted: 01/17/2005 12:00 AM CST 

Scott Huddleston
Express-News Staff Writer 

He's known presidents, but for being the oldest Hispanic with the nation's 
utmost honor for valor he lives in virtual obscurity. 
 
Jose M. Lopez, 94, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, has been 
invited to attend President George W. Bush's second inauguration in 
Washington, D.C. 
 
He's been knighted by the Belgian government but is known to few in his 
home state. 

At 94, however, Jos Mendoza Lopez has something few people can put their 
hands on . an invitation to President Bush's inauguration. 

If there's one quality that merits his VIP status, it might be the iron 
will Lopez has had since he was a boy in Veracruz, Mexico. 

His mother, a seamstress, was too weak from tuberculosis to run her sewing 
machine. 

"I used to help her because ..." Lopez said, his voice trailing off. 

"I would help her push the pedals" with his hands, he said. 

With similar resolve today, he works out three times a week, though 
arthritis and time have drained his body of energy. 

Mysteries surround this World War II hero, who gunned down more than 100 
Germans on the second day of the monthlong Battle of the Bulge 60 years 
ago. But some say he has a story worth telling, replete with hardships and 
indignities. 

He hopped trains, picked cotton and labored on ships as a youth, and he 
became a promising boxer, with a 52-3 record. 

Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jose M. Lopez shakes hands with 
President John F. Kennedy in this undated photo. Lopez, 93, of San 
Antonio, is the oldest living Latino Medal of Honor recipient. 
 
What he wants most to be remembered for is the morning of Dec. 17, 1944.  
He heard a diesel engine in the distance, while manning a machine gun in
the woods near Krinkelt, Belgium. Spotting a German Tiger tank, he had
seconds to decide whether to fire, and risk death, or let the Germans
advance toward his infantry company.  He had been 8 when his dying mother
took him to live with relatives. Her last words to him were, "Your family
will take care of you, and someday I want you to take care of your
family."

Looking at the advancing Germans, Lopez thought of his wife and son, and
of soldiers who were his family in combat. To Lopez, a mature soldier at
34, the choice was simple.

He opened fire, and kept firing, and prayed to the Virgin of Guadalupe,
even as a shell blast knocked him over and bullets whizzed past. He saved
his unit, gave U.S. troops time to rally against the German drive and was
awarded the Medal of Honor.

In 1989, Lopez returned to the same spot with a PBS film crew. It was a 
quiet, green pasture. 

"I believe any man would do the same thing," Lopez told journalist Bill 
Moyers, when asked about his bravery. 

He's never been a big talker. After the war, he and his family were called
"dirty Mexicans" and refused service at a Brownsville restaurant. They
simply ate elsewhere.

Lopez didn't brag about his medal when he served in Korea, and he didn't 
share war stories with his family. 

Fernando Rey, a military historian and diversity consultant, is trying to 
raise $247,000 to develop a television screenplay on Lopez's life. 

"His values come from something that Americans here don't identify with,"  
said Rey, who hopes to put Lopez's story in DVD form, to show in schools.  
The only profits to be made locally, he said, would be $300,000 to Lopez's
family, for scholarships or other nonprofit uses.

Since he bought a false birth certificate in 1935 to join the Merchant 
Marine, Lopez's medal citation says he was born in Mission. His birthplace 
also has been reported as Veracruz. 

Through Mexican officials, Rey said he's learned Lopez was born in a 
remote mountain village south of Mexico City called Santiago Huitlan. 

Lopez lost his wife, Emilia, nearly a year ago but still can sing the love 
songs he would croon at her. He makes his bed, takes medication with 
breakfast and coffee, and sits outside, alone with his thoughts. 

He lives with a daughter and son-in-law who take him out for a drive at 
least once a day, and he relishes his workout sessions and weekly dinner 
outings with his granddaughter. 

And it's a thrill, for him, to return to the White House. He's seen 
inaugurations of Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush 
and will attend Thursday's festivities with two of his five grown children 
and several grandchildren. 

His only recognition in San Antonio, his home for 32 years, has been an 
honorary designation of a section of U.S. 90. 

Lopez deserves much more, Rey said. 

"His story is proof that nothing is impossible in life," Rey said. 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
shuddleston@express-news.net 

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