Valor Friday

| July 9, 2021

In the history of the Medal of Honor there have been only two instances in which the action for which the medal was earned were caught on camera. Colonel Joe Jackson (USAF), who we’ve talked about before, had earned his MoH in Vietnam (after serving in both WWII and Korea) for bringing his C-123 Provider onto an overrun airfield to rescue three airmen who had been left behind at a US Army Special Forces camp. This act was caught on photographic film from one of the other aircraft circling overhead.

More recently, Technical Sergeant (posthumously promoted to Master Sergeant) John Chapman, in the early months of the War in Afghanistan, had his actions for which he received a posthumous Medal of Honor, get captured on video from an overhead surveillance drone. We’ve talked about Chapman’s absolutely insane one-man last stand before as well.

There is a third Medal of Honor action that was very nearly caught on camera. During the Korean War, there was a US Marine Corps officer who was photographed leading his men over the seawall at Inchon. Moments later he would die, while saving the lives of some of his men.

Lopez was born to Spanish immigrants in the Tampa, Florida area in 1925. While attending high school, Lopez had served in the school’s Junior ROTC program, becoming a regimental commander.

With World War II roaring, Lopez enlisted into the US Navy days after graduating High School in 1943. At Hillsborough High School he was named brightest, most bashful, and most representative of his graduating class. He would serve with the Navy for almost a year before securing appointment to the US Naval Academy. With the war ongoing, Lopez and his classmates were placed on a three-year accelerated program. Starting at Annapolis in 1944, he graduated in 1947.

He apparently did well at the Academy. He graduated as part of the last of the wartime accelerated classes in Class 1948-A. This means he was in the upper half of his class academically, as those in the lower half were given another year of instruction and graduated as Class 1948-B in 1948.

From the 1948 Lucky Bag (the USNA’s annual year book) describes Lopez thusly;

Being one of the biggest hearted, best-natured fellows in the brigade has won Lobo a vast number of friends. Even the Executive Department seemed to take a liking to him for he very seldom spent his free time under their martial supervision, and anyone in trouble with a week-end watch was always able to find him willing to help out. A ready partner for any type of athletics, Lobo didn’t favor social life, but was always willing to discuss the merits of a prospective drag. The Marines have captured Lobo’s heart, and we know that he will be a successful officer.

1st Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez

Lopez elected to commission into the Marine Corps. After attending the additional training required of new Marine officers, he was sent to China in 1948 as a mortar section commander. He was made a rifle platoon commander before his return to the states a year later. While serving at Camp Pendleton he was promoted to first lieutenant in 1950, days before the Korean War broke out in June. Lopez immediately volunteered to serve in combat.

Lopez’s wish was granted. He was made a platoon commander in Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. The storied 5th Marines had already distinguished themselves repeatedly. During World War I they were some of the first troops of the American Expeditionary Force to arrive in France and to see combat. They would serve in the Aisne, Aisen-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Toulon-Troyon, Chateau-Thierry, Marabache, and Limey campaigns. The 5th Marines were one of two US Marine regiments to be honored with the French Croix de Guerre, which they wear as a fourragere to this day. In World War II they fought at Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Peleliu, and Okinawa. Korea would again see the 5th Marines lead the charge. At the front of Company A was Lieutenant Lopez.

Lopez and his Marines were part of the relief force sent to land at Inchon. This was to be the key battle that turned the tide of the war in favor of the South Koreans and their allies at the United Nations (of which the largest contingent was the US). By September 1950, the surprise invasion of South Korea by the North had pushed all the Allied troops on the south of the Korean Peninsula to the very southern edge of the country. They’d even lost the capital of Seoul.

The invasion at Inchon, involving more than 75,000 troops, would push back against the North Koreans and directly lead to the recapture of Seoul. As the troops headed over the seawall in their amphibious assault they were joined by combat photographers. One of those was a lady named Marguerite Higgins. She was an accomplished war correspondent, having been one of the few females in the role during World War II. She would be the first female to receive a Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence for her coverage in Korea. She’d continue covering American troops into the Vietnam War, where she died from an illness.

As the Marines were preparing for the invasion, Baldomero (called “Baldy” by some of his new friends in the 5th Marines) took a moment to write a letter home. He asked his father for some cigars. He took a moment to reflect on the coming battle.

My business is out here in the Far East where the present international crisis is located. Knowing that the profession of arms calls for many hardships and many risks, I feel that you all are now prepared for any eventuality. If you catch yourself starting to worry, just remember that no one forced me to accept my commission in the Marine Corps.

Lieutenant Lopez scaling the seawall at Inchon (Photo credit Higgins)

Higgins captured this amazing photo of the last moments of Lieutenant Lopez’s life. Climbing the ten foot tall seawall, leading from the front was Lopez. Higgins’ photo is a spectacular, moving composition and a perfect example of what it means to be an Officer of Marines. As they hit the wall, without hesitation, Lopez shouted “Follow me!” and charged forward.

Moments after crossing over the wall, Lopez and his Marines were taken under heavy fire from the entrenched enemy on the beach. Moving forward alongside an enemy bunker, Lopez pulled the pin on a grenade and made to throw it. He was aiming it for a pillbox that had several of his men pinned down. As Lopez brought his arm forward to complete the throw, his arm and chest were raked by enemy machine gun fire. He dropped the grenade and fell backwards. Right in the midst of his men.

Though he himself was young by most objective standards, I’m sure that Lopez was very protective of his even younger Marines. After just a moment’s pause after being mortally wounded by the heavy machine gun fire, Lopez crawled towards the loose, live grenade. He attempted to throw it, but was too weak from his injuries and copious loss of blood.

With his last bit of energy and sheer brutal determination to save his men, Lopez reached out with his right arm and in a large sweeping motion grabbed the ticking bomb. He pulled it under his torso, thereby absorbing the entirety of the blast.

Lopez was only 25 years old and would die a veteran of two wars in that short lifespan. His family received the telegram notifying them of his death one day after receiving his final letter. His mother and father received the Medal of Honor from the Secretary of the Navy on Lopez’s behalf almost a year to the day of his heroic final act. Lopez’s remains were returned to be buried near family in Tampa.

Word of Lopez’s death and his final moments spread quickly among Marines along the Korean front. A Scripps-Howard war correspondent, Jerry Thorp, said in a news story on Lopez’s deed that he “died with the courage that makes men great.”

Sixty-one Hispanic men have received the Medal of Honor since the award’s inception during the US Civil War. Thirteen of those have been to Marines. Only two Hispanic Marines have lived to receive their awards. Forty-three of all the Hispanic MoH recipients were awarded posthumous.

The US Navy Military Sealift Command named the cargo ship USNS 1st LT Baldomero Lopez (T-AK-3010) after him in 1985, and it remains in service today.

Category: Historical, Korea, Marines, Medal of Honor, Valor, We Remember

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  1. Valor Friday : This ain't Hell, but you can see it from here | July 16, 2021
  1. STSC(SW/SS) says:

    I take great pride that this country produces men who will make the ultimate sacrifice to protect others and defend this country.

    It also makes me sad there are people today who don’t appreciate what they have done to give them the freedom they enjoy today.

  2. Sparks says:

    A true hero, a great leader, and a fine man.

  3. Roh-Dog says:

    Some men live more bravely every day, until their last. Thank you for being one of those souls, 1st LT Lopez.
    May you Rest Easy, Sir.

  4. Dustoff says:

    American Courage.

  5. AW1Ed says:

    Hand Salute. Ready, Two!

    Thanks again, Mason.

  6. Mustang Major says:

    Lt. Lopez is remembered in Tampa. A historical marker located in downtown Tampa memorializes him. A few structures and other memorials in Tampa honor him. I have attended dinners where thee speakers have recognized his deeds.

    Gone but not forgotten. The greatest honor.

    https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=31703

  7. SteeleyI says:

    Amazing story. Here’s another captured on video:

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JZZjw-a3taI

  8. Headhunter says:

    There is a statue of 1Lt Lopez scaling the sea wall outside the memorial hall for the landing operation located in Incheon.
    https://welcometoyeonsu.tistory.com/660