February 28, 2012

Jose Mendoza Lopez (1910-2005)

Jose Mendoza Lopez, Medal of Honor recipient, was born on July 10, 1910, the son of Cayetano and Candida Mendoza de Lopez. Although military records list his birthplace as Mission, Texas, he was born in Santiago Atitlán, Mexico. In 1935 he purchased a false birth certificate in order to join the United States Merchant Marines. His early years were difficult. Lopez never knew his father and had been told by his mother that he had drowned. After his mother’s death from tuberculosis when he was eight and with no way to support himself, the boy headed to the Rio Grande Valley. As a youngster, Lopez attended little school and worked in the cotton fields around Brownsville to support himself while living with an uncle or other friends. In his teens, Lopez hitched a ride on a freight train and ended up in Atlanta, Georgia. A local boxing promoter, impressed with Lopez’s athleticism, arranged some amateur fights for the youngster. Needing shoes, Lopez turned professional. From 1927 to 1934 Lopez, billed as “Kid Mendoza,” compiled a record of fifty-two wins and three losses in the lightweight division. Years later, he stated that the highlight of his boxing career was when he shook hands with Babe Ruth in Atlanta before a bout. From 1935 through 1941 Lopez found employment in the Merchant Marine working on ships and traveling the world. After a period of employment in Hawaii, he was on a ship headed to the United States when he heard of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

After his arrival in California, authorities wanted to arrest him until he convinced them he was Mexican not Japanese. In 1942 Lopez returned to Brownsville and married his girlfriend, Emilia Herrera; she was his wife of sixty-two years until her death in 2004. Together they had four daughters and a stepson from his wife’s previous marriage. With his wife’s support, he enlisted in the United States Army and spent a brief time at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio before going to Camp Roberts (California) for basic training. Assigned to Company K of the Twenty-third Infantry Regiment, Second Infantry Division, Lopez’s unit trained in Northern Ireland where it prepared for the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe: D-Day. Described as short and stocky, the five-foot-five, 130-pound Lopez excelled in combat. Assigned to a weapons platoon, he set foot in Normandy on June 7, 1944. Although wounded on D-Day plus 1, Lopez refused treatment and evacuation and was determined to remain with his unit. He participated in the hedgerow action near Saint-Lô, the fight to take Brest, and was involved in steady combat in France and Belgium for the rest of 1944. For his efforts, Lopez was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

On December 17, 1944, Sergeant Lopez witnessed the Germans launch their offensive in the Ardennes against Allied forces in the Battle of the Bulge. Situated with Company K near Krinkelt, Belgium, Lopez took action on his own. Holding a heavy machine gun, Lopez found cover in a shallow hole and positioned himself. Taking aim at the soldiers surrounding a German Tiger tank, he immediately fired and killed ten of the enemy. Despite enemy fire from the tank, Lopez held firm and killed twenty-five additional Germans who were attempting to outflank him. He avoided blasts from the tank until one landed close enough for the concussion to lift him off the ground and throw him backward. Lopez recovered quickly, avoided being outflanked by the Germans again, reset his weapon, and fired to protect Company K. Then, using the dense forest for cover and constantly on the move, Lopez continued to fire and kill Germans. Eventually he met up with a few of his fellow soldiers to establish another defense point, where he continued fire until his ammunition was exhausted. In an operation that lasted from 11:30 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., Lopez killed more than 100 enemy soldiers - more than any other American serviceman during World War II. His efforts stabilized the flank and provided time for his company to regroup which eventually caused the Germans to bypass Krinkelt.

In a ceremony in Nuremberg, Maj, Gen. James A. Van Fleet presented Jose Mendoza Lopez the Medal of Honor on June 18, 1945, for his “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 in support time to build a line which repelled the enemy drive.” With the end of the war in Europe, Lopez returned to Texas and worked for the Veterans Administration in San Antonio. Shortly after the war, upon a visit to Mexico City, he was honored with la Condecoracion de Merito Militar, Mexico’s highest award for military valor, by Mexican President Manuel Ávila Camacho. Lopez also took great pride when Mexican President Miguel Alemán Valdés invited him to Mexico City and honored him with the Order of the Aztec Eagle in 1948. In 1949 he reenlisted in the United States Army and was assigned to the Second Infantry Division. At the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Sergeant Lopez returned to combat until a ranking officer, learning he was a Medal of Honor recipient, ordered him to the rear. For several months, he retrieved bodies and registered them for burial until being reassigned to Japan. Lopez remained in the military serving as a recruiter and working in a motor pool where he was responsible for its maintenance operations and crew. In 1973 he retired with the rank of master sergeant.

In retirement, Lopez remained active and spent time with his wife, children, and grandchildren in San Antonio. The Mexican-born Lopez also took the opportunity to talk with young people about his love for America. He found civilian employment, sometimes holding two jobs at a time. To stay in shape, Lopez jogged until he was eighty-eight and met with a physical trainer three times a week until early 2005. In January 2004 Lopez attended the inauguration of President George W. Bush; having attended earlier ones for: John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush. In his final years, Lopez was hindered by frail health and used a walker. Before his wife’s death in 2004, he devoted much effort to taking care of her. On May 16, 2005, he died of cancer at the home of his daughter, Maggie Wickwire, in San Antonio. At the time he had been the oldest surviving Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient in the United States. Lopez, a Catholic, was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. Jose M. Lopez Middle School in San Antonio and Jose M. Lopez Park in Mission were named in his honor. A statue of Lopez also commemorates the veteran in Veterans Park in Brownsville. Source 

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 his 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 backward by the concussion of enemy fire, he immediately reset his gun and continued his fire. Single-handed 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.

29° 28.579
-098° 25.976

Section AI
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery
San Antonio

February 21, 2012

Isaac Payton Sweat (1945-1990)

Isaac Payton Sweat, singer and instrumentalist, was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on July 19, 1945. Ike was born into a musical family. His father, Dawdie Sweat, had played with his three brothers for many dances and events in Pineville, Louisiana, in the 1920s and 1930s. Dawdie's brother, Charly Sweat, had moved to Jefferson County, Texas, to work in the refineries. Dawdie's family joined him there. Ike grew up hearing his father and uncle playing either together or with their friends. Sweat began playing instruments at an early age, beginning with the banjo and then learning guitar and bass. He played in rock bands while attending Nederland High School and, after graduation, enrolled as a pre-med student at Lamar University, where he planned to minor in music. The conflict of musical nights with educational days led him to drop out of school in order to concentrate on music. In the 1960s he became the bass player for the nationally-renowned blues musician Johnny Winter. Sweat continued to play for Winter's bands (first the Crystaliers, later renamed the Coastaleers) occasionally in the 1970s and 1980s. A product of the times, Sweat dabbled with psychedelic rock before returning to country music, a genre he found nearest to his heart. Although he played ably in other genres, whenever he sang, he sang country music. He had his first major success in the early 1980s with a vocal cover of Al Dean's instrumental standard, Cotton-Eyed Joe. The song was popular, especially where people performed the eponymous dance. It was so popular, in fact, that Sweat became known as "Mr. Cotton-Eyed Joe." He performed regularly until his death. After returning from a show in Houston, Sweat was found shot dead in his garage in Richmond, Texas, on June 23, 1990. The case is still unsolved. Sweat is honored in the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur. Source

29° 44.383
-095° 36.524

Section 407
Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery

February 14, 2012

William Sumter Murphy (1796?-1844)

William Sumter Murphy, United States diplomat, was born in South Carolina about 1796 and moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1818. There he established a legal practice and, in 1821, married Lucinda Sterret. His powers of oratory were such that he came to be called the "Patrick Henry of the West." Politically, Murphy was at first a Democrat but later supported Whig candidates William Henry Harrison and John Tyler. He was greatly interested in military affairs and was appointed a brigadier general in the Ohio state militia. In 1843 President John Tyler appointed Murphy minister extraordinary to Central America and chargé d'affaires to the Republic of Texas, in which office he replaced Joseph Eve. From his ministry in Galveston Murphy worked diligently toward the annexation of Texas to the United States. When, in February 1844, annexation appeared imminent, Murphy, without authorization from his government, acceded to President Sam Houston's request for United States warships to patrol the Gulf of Mexico to protect Texas ports and harbors. For this action the chargé received the reprimand of his superiors and was given to understand that his appointment would not be confirmed by the Senate. This report caused Houston to write to Murphy on March 30, 1844, of his "regret that anything should at this time withdraw you from this Government, until the work which you have been instrumental in commencing should be terminated either by annexation, or rejection of Texas by the U[nited] States." The treaty of annexation, signed by the Texas government on April 11, 1844, was rejected by the United States Senate, and Murphy was recalled to Washington. "The tail went with the hide," as he summed up the situation. Murphy died of yellow fever in Galveston only a few weeks later, on July 12, 1844, and was buried there the following day. He was the third United States minister to Texas to die at his post since 1840. Source

29° 17.613
-094° 48.672

Trinity Episcopal Cemetery

February 7, 2012

Robert McAlpin Williamson (1806-1859)

Robert McAlpin Williamson, son of Peter B. and Ann (McAlpin) Williamson, was born in Georgia in 1804 or 1806. When he was fifteen years old, his school career was terminated by an illness which confined him to his home for two years and left him disabled for life. His right leg was drawn back at the knee; the wooden leg which he wore from the knee to the ground resulted in his widely-known title of "Three Legged Willie." Williamson read much during his illness, was admitted to the bar around the age of nineteen, and may have practiced law in Georgia for over a year. In the late 1820s he migrated to Texas and settled at San Felipe de Austin. In 1829, in association with Godwin B. Cotten, he established a newspaper called the Cotton Plant, which he edited from 1829 to 1831. For a short time Williamson edited the Texas Gazette and the Mexican Citizen. He made an early appeal for the Texas colonists to resist Mexican tyranny. He was sent as a delegate from Mina (Bastrop) to the Consultation, and the provisional government established there commissioned him major on November 29, 1835, and ordered him to organize a corps of rangers. He participated in the battle of San Jacinto in William H. Smith's cavalry company, his name appearing on the original muster roll, through error, as W. W. Williamson. He received 640 acres for participating in the battle of San Jacinto.

On December 16, 1836, the First Congress of the republic elected Williamson judge of the Third Judicial District, automatically making him a member of the Supreme Court. The town of Columbus had been burned during the Runaway Scrape, and as there was no suitable structure to hold court proceedings, the first term of District Court, Republic of Texas, was convened by the Honorable R. M. Williamson, under a large oak tree next to the lot where the Colorado County Courthouse was later built in April 1837. In 1840 he was elected to represent Washington County in Congress. He served in the House in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Congress, in the Senate in the Eighth Congress, and in the House again in the Ninth Congress. His Senate seat in the Eighth Congress was contested, and he eventually lost the seat. After annexation, which he had advocated so strongly that he even named one of his sons Annexus, he served in the Senate of the first two legislatures, retiring in March 1850. As judge and lawmaker Williamson became the subject of numerous legends inspired by his personal characteristics, his unique decisions, his adroitness as a campaigner, his amusing legislative manipulations, and the succinctness of his oratory. Williamson married Mary Jane Edwards, daughter of Gustavus E. Edwards of Austin County, on April 21, 1837. They were parents of seven children. After his defeat in the race for Congress in 1850, he retired to his farm near Independence and devoted himself to the education of his children and preparations of materials for writing a history of events in Texas leading up to the Texas Revolution. He was an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in 1851. In 1857 an attack of illness affected his mental brilliance, which was further impaired by the death of his wife in 1858. From these combined shocks his mind never entirely recovered. He died at the home of his father-in-law in Wharton on December 22, 1859. Williamson County, established in 1848, was named for R. M. Williamson. In 1930, when his body was reinterred in the State Cemetery, the state of Texas erected a monument at his grave. The Texas Centennial Commission, in 1936, marked the site where he died. Source 

30° 15.933
-097° 43.632

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery