Medal of Honor Winner Jose M. Lopez Dies at 94

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Jose M. Lopez, 94, a retired Army master sergeant who received the Medal of Honor for engaging in a series of "seemingly suicidal missions" during the Battle of the Bulge, died May 16 at a daughter's home in San Antonio. He had cancer.

Sgt. Lopez was born in Mexico, orphaned when he was 8 and worked in a series of subsistence jobs. A short but sinewy man, he boxed lightweight for many years in his youth. After a series of seafaring misadventures -- he once was stranded at sea for weeks on a cargo boat with nothing to eat but a cache of bananas -- he enlisted in the Army during World War II.

He landed at Normandy a day after the June 6, 1944, invasion, and a bullet smacked into his ammunition belt, grazing his hip.

"I was really very, very afraid,'' he told journalist Bill Moyers for a television special in 1990. "I wanted to cry, and we saw other people laying wounded and screaming and everything, and there's nothing you could do. We could see them groaning in the water, and we had to just keep walking.''

At dawn on Dec. 17, 1944, he and his men were outside Krinkelt, Belgium, shortly after the start of the German offensive through the Ardennes known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Lugging a heavy machine gun, Sgt. Lopez climbed into a shallow, snow-covered hole that left everything above his waist exposed. He heard the rumbling of a tank, which he figured was American; an Allied soldier a few hundreds yards away had failed to signal him of approaching danger.

When he saw the German Tiger tank come into sight and the horde of German foot soldiers around it, he thought of dozens of his men just a few hundred yards away. Aiming at the soldiers around the tank, he killed 10 of them. That prompted the Tiger tank to fire rather recklessly in his direction. It took three shell blasts to knock Sgt. Lopez over, and he suffered a concussion.

He nevertheless repositioned himself to prevent enemy soldiers from outflanking him, resetting his gun and killing 25 more Germans.

Allowing time for his comrades to retreat to a safer position, he then dashed through the dense and protective forest and avoided contact with a cascade of enemy small-arms fire.

Eventually, the Americans fell back to Krinkelt and held out through the night. The Germans bypassed the town.

A few months later, Gen. James A. Van Fleet presented Sgt. Lopez with the Medal of Honor. The citation recognized the "seemingly suicidal missions in which he killed at least 100 of the enemy . . . [and which] 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."

Jose Mendoza Lopez was born July 10, 1910. He never knew his exact birth town but was raised in Veracruz. His father was gone; his mother said he had drowned. She died of tuberculosis.

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