Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza, USA (October 4, 1944)

Manuel Verdugo Mendoza was born on June 15, 1922 in Miami, Arizona. He was working as a farmhand when he was drafted into the United States Army at age 20 on November 21, 1942. After basic training, Mendoza was assigned to the brand-new 88th Infantry Division, the first Army division to be formed primarily from draftees.

Mendoza rose through the ranks, and on October 4, 1944 was a Staff Sergeant and a platoon sergeant in Company B, 1st Battalion, 350th Infantry Regiment. Mendoza’s unit was locked in battle on Mount Battaglia in Italy, a key piece of terrain which, if they expected to hold on in Italy, the Germans needed to recapture.

Contemporaneous photo of Mount Battaglia (Storia e Memoria di Bologna)

The battle for the mountain had already produced one Medal of Honor recipient: Captain Robert E. Roeder. On this day seventy years ago, Manuel Mendoza single-handedly defeated a counterattack by at least 200 Nazi soldiers armed with nothing but small arms and his own indomitable courage.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Medal of Honor ribbon (foreground); World War II European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon (background)
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

*MENDOZA, MANUEL

Rank and organization: Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company B, 250th Infantry, 88th Infantry Division. Place and date: October 4, 1944, Mt. Battaglia, Italy. Entered service at: Phoenix, AZ

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Staff Sergeant Manuel V. Mendoza distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Platoon Sergeant with Company B, 350th Infantry, 88th Infantry Division during combat operations against an armed enemy on Mt. Battaglia, Italy on October 4, 1944. That afternoon, the enemy launched a violent counterattack preceded by a heavy mortar barrage. Staff Sergeant Mendoza, already wounded in the arm and leg, grabbed a Thompson sub-machinegun and ran to the crest of the hill where he saw approximately 200 enemy troops charging up the slopes employing flame-throwers, machine pistols, rifles, and hand grenades. Staff Sergeant Mendoza immediately began to engage the enemy, firing five clips and killing ten enemy soldiers. After exhausting his ammunition, he picked up a carbine and emptied its magazine at the enemy. By this time, an enemy soldier with a flame-thrower had almost reached the crest, but was quickly eliminated as Staff Sergeant Mendoza drew his pistol and fired. Seeing that the enemy force continued to advance, Staff Sergeant Mendoza jumped into a machinegun emplacement that had just been abandoned and opened fire. Unable to engage the entire enemy force from his location, he picked up the machinegun and moved forward, firing from his hip and spraying a withering hail of bullets into the oncoming enemy, causing them to break into confusion. He then set the machinegun on the ground and continued to fire until the gun jammed. Without hesitating, Staff Sergeant Mendoza began throwing hand grenades at the enemy, causing them to flee. After the enemy had withdrawn, he advanced down the forward slope of the hill, retrieved numerous enemy weapons scattered about the area, captured a wounded enemy soldier, and returned to consolidate friendly positions with all available men. Staff Sergeant Mendoza’s gallant stand resulted in thirty German soldiers killed and the successful defense of the hill. Staff Sergeant Mendoza’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.

Mendoza left the Army in 1945 but rejoined in 1949 and also served during the Korean War. When he finally left the Army in 1953, he held the rank of Master Sergeant. At the time in 1944, Mendoza received the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism. A recent review of service records determined that he was one of sadly several men who failed to receive proper recognition for their gallantry due to racial or ethnic discrimination.

Mendoza passed away on December 12, 2001. The featured image heading this post shows his widow Alice accepting the decoration her husband so richly deserved from President Barack Obama at the White House on March 18, 2014.

Manuel V. Mendoza rests in peace in the Mountain View Memorial Gardens of Mesa, Arizona

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