Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to WWII hero - KMSP-TV

Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously awarded to WWII hero

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Manuel Mendoza Manuel Mendoza
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MESA, Ariz. -

Imagine you're at home, the phone rings and it's the President of the United States.

That's what happened to a Mesa woman.  She got a call from the White House to say her husband was going to receive the nation's highest honor: the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Manuel Mendoza lived in Mesa until he died several years ago.  His wife Alice and children are still living, mostly in the Mesa-Gilbert area.

On March 18, he will be awarded the medal.

It was on October 4, 1944 -- the Americans had landed in Italy and begun to push north.  This is four months after D-Day.  American troops were pushing toward the heart of Nazi Germany -- Berlin.  Russian troops had come across through Ukraine and Poland.  By opening a front to the south in Italy, the Americans forced Adolph Hitler to concentrate on this area.

At Mt. Battaglia, Italy, some of the most intense fighting in all of the country happened there.  It's up in the Apennine Mountains, on a line between Florence and Venice.  The Americans had success taking this ridge, but on October 4, the Germans tried to take retake it.

Master Sgt. Mendoza was not going to let that happen.

The Germans were advancing up the hill and Mendoza was shot twice.  But he grabbed a sub machine gun and ran to the top of the hill, where he saw hundreds of enemy troops coming up the slope -- and they were armed with guns, grenades and flame throwers.

And Mendoza alone fought them off in a fierce fight, hitting 10 German soldiers.  One of the Germans had almost reached the crest of the hill with his flame thrower when Mendoza took him down too.

Eventually, Mendoza's gun jammed, so he took out grenades, aiming them towards the remaining German troops and with that, they finally scattered.  He then ran down the hill, gathered the guns they'd left behind and captured one wounded enemy soldier.

Mendoza's daughter Sylvia Nandin is so proud that her father is finally receiving this honor.  She says he rarely talked of that day.

"Because he did not share much information with me, I did have to do a lot of research.. in fact the first time I heard his story was when I was about 12.  One of my cousins had a book called Among the Valiant that chronicled many Hispanic Americans' contributions to the war.. and my father was in that book.. so when I read about it.. that was the first time I had any details about what happened.  That resulted in him getting the Distinguished Service Cross," she said.

And that Distinguished Service Cross is going to be upgraded to the Medal of Honor Tuesday.

He was also awarded a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a World War II Victory Medal and many, many other honors.

And you know, he didn't stop serving his country with the end of World War II. He also served in the Korean War.

You know what they called him in the military? The "Arizona Kid."  He represented our entire state.

We are so proud of him in Mesa, but there's also a real sense of pride up in Miami, Arizona. He was born and raised in the mining town, east of the valley.

 

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