|Intro||American World War II soldier|
|From||United States of America|
|Birth||14 July 1915, Denver, USA|
|Death||19 September 2001, Falls Church, USA (aged 86 years)|
Colonel Louis Gonzaga Mendez Jr. (July 14, 1915 – September 19, 2001) was a highly decorated United States Army officer of the 82nd Airborne Division who in June 1944, as commander of the 3rd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II, parachuted behind enemy lines into Normandy and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for leading an attack that captured the French town of Prétot-Sainte-Suzanne, in the Manche (Basse-Normandie) department. On June 6, 2002, the people of the village honored his memory by renaming Prétot's main square "La Place du Colonel Mendez".
Louis Gonzaga Mendez, a Mexican American, Spanish and Navajo Indian, was born in Trinidad, Colorado. He graduated top of his class in high school. After serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CC). Governor Bob Carr appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated from West Point in the Class of 1940, commissioned a Second Lieutenant, United States. Mendez earned his Parachutist Badge after attending the Army's United States Army Airborne School. Mendez served as Military Attache to Spain in the early fifties and later, a professor at the Industrial College of warfare in Washington, D.c.
World War II
When the United States entered World War II, Mendez was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division as commander of the 3rd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
On June 5–6, 1944, the paratroopers of the 82nd's three parachute infantry regiments and reinforced glider infantry regiment, who were stationed in England, boarded hundreds of transport planes and gliders and began the largest airborne assault in history. They were among the first soldiers to fight in Normandy, France.
Mendez and his men were dropped behind German lines with the mission to disrupt enemy communications, seize vital crossroads, destroy enemy supplies and kill enemy troops to aid the seaborne D-Day assaults on the Normandy beaches. Mendez and his men proceeded and captured the town of "Prétot Ste Suzanne". For his actions he was awarded the Army's Distinguished Service Cross, which is its highest award for valor except for the Medal of Honor.
Later in the war, Mendez led his battalion in the bloody Operation Market Garden, an operation which sought to secure strategic river crossings behind German lines in the Low Countries. The 82nd Airborne Division was able to capture its objectives.
In December 1944, the Germans launched a massive offensive that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge against the Allies on the Western Front, catching British and U.S. troops by surprise. Front-line Allied troops reeled back or were quickly overrun. Two days after the German attack, a counterattack was organized; among those involved in the counterattack were Mendez and his battalion, who advanced as infantrymen. The advance of General Gerd von Rundstedt's northern troops came to a halt as result.
Post-World War II
Mendez continued his academic education and military career after the war. He graduated from the Command and General Staff College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. He went on to earn a master's degree in international relations from Georgetown University and taught at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 1950 he served as a Military Attaché to Spain, and in the 1960s as a Regimental Commander in the 1st Cavalry Division in South Korea. Later he served in the War Histories Division on the Army General Staff and as Secretary of the Organization of American States' Inter-American Defense Board. Mendez retired from the military in 1970.
As a civilian, Mendez joined the Virginia Education Department. He was national director of the Right to Read Program, an assistant education commissioner and chief of the department's Vocational and Adult Education Branch before retiring in 1985.
During a ceremony held on March 31, 2001 in which one of Mendez's men, Francis Lamoureux, was awarded the Bronze Star after 50 years, Lamoureux had this to say about his former commander:
Colonel Mendez, who was married and had six sons and six daughters, died of a stroke on Wednesday, September 19, 2001 at his home in Falls Church, Virginia. He was buried with full military honors one week later at Arlington National Cemetery.
Mendez's memory was honored on June 6, 2002, for his gallantry leading his men against the enemy and liberating Prétot-Vicquemare when the people of the village renamed its main square "La Place du Colonel Mendez". Historian Cornelius Ryan profiled Colonel Mendez and his leadership in the Market Garden struggle in his best-selling history book, A Bridge Too Far.
In October 2017, the Fairfax County School Board decided to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School as Justice High School, effective July 2018. The new name was intended to honor Colonel Mendez, along with Thurgood Marshall and Barbara Rose Johns, each of whom had worked towards advancing justice.
Military decorations and awards
|Distinguished Service Cross||Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters||Presidential Unit Citation||American Defense Service Medal|
|American Campaign Medal||European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal||World War II Victory Medal||National Defense Service Medal|