b. 01/06/1912 Mission, Texas. d. 16/05/2005 San Antonio, Texas.
DATE OF MOH ACTION: 17/12/1944 near Krinkelt, Belgium.
López was raised by his mother Cándida López in the town of Santiago Ihuitlán Plumas, Oaxaca, Mexico. As a young boy, he and his mother moved to the city of Orizaba, where he helped his mother sell clothes that she made as a seamstress in the city. However, his mother died of tuberculosis when he was only eight years old. López then relocated to Brownsville, Texas, United States, to live with his uncle’s family.
While living in Brownsville, López began working various jobs to bring in income and never returned to school. As a young man, López caught the attention of a boxing promoter, and for seven years he traveled the country fighting a total of 55 fights in the lightweight division with the nickname of Kid Mendoza. In 1934, during a boxing match in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, he met a group of Merchant Marines and signed a contract with them. He was accepted in the union in 1936 and spent the next five years traveling the world.
He was en route to California from Hawaii on December 7, 1941, when he learned about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. When he arrived in Los Angeles, the authorities believed he was Japanese, and he was forced to prove otherwise.
López returned to Brownsville and, in 1942, married Emilia Herrera. That same year, he received his draft card and relocated to San Antonio, where he enlisted in the Army. López was first sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and then to Camp Roberts, California, where he received his basic training.
He served in the United States Army during World War II as a Sergeant in the 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery near Krinkelt, Belgium, on December 17, 1944.
López received an enthusiastic reception when his ship landed in New York City and he was greeted by New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. On a visit to Mexico City, he was greeted by the president of Mexico, Manuel Ávila Camacho, and awarded Mexico’s highest military commendation, la Condecoración del Mérito Militar.
He later moved his family to San Antonio, where he was hired as a contact representative with the Veterans Administration. Upon the outbreak of the Korean War, López was accidentally ordered to serve for his country and without hesitation was prepared to do so, until President Harry S. Truman, heard of and corrected the matter so that López could remain in the United States. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient and was one of fewer than 40 surviving World War II veterans with the honour.
Sergeant Jose M. Lopez (then Private First Class), 23rd Infantry, near Krinkelt, Belgium, on December 17, 1944, on his own initiative, he carried his heavy machine gun from Company K’s right flank to its left, in order to protect that flank, which was in danger of being overrun by advancing enemy infantry supported by tanks.
Occupying a shallow hole offering no protection above the 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 attempting to turn his flank. Glancing to his right, he saw a large number of infantry swarming in from the front. Although dazed and shaken from enemy artillery fire which had crashed into the ground only a few yards away, he realized that his position soon would be outflanked.
Again, alone, he carried his machine gun to a position to the right rear of the sector; enemy tanks and infantry were forcing a withdrawal. Blown over backwards by the concussion of enemy fire, he immediately reset his gun and continued his fire. Singlehanded 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 was exhausted. Still carrying his gun, he fell back with his small group to Krinkelt. 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.
BURIAL LOCATION: FORT SAM HOUSTON NATIONAL CEMETERY, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS.
SECTION AI, GRAVE 542.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: FAMILY.