(Lt. Lopez is shown leading his platoon. A few minutes after this photo was taken, he sacrificed his life.)
A medal awarded posthumously is bittersweet. Recognizing bravery in the face of unimaginable danger, it is one of the greatest honors to bestow, a promise to never forget—and at the same time, an acknowledgment of a life lost too soon. So many of our notable graduates have achieved great things in service to our country, and when they have given their lives for that honor, we are extraordinarily grateful and extremely mindful of the meaning and poignancy of that sacrifice. First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez is one such notable graduate.
An Early Leader
Lopez was born on August 23, 1925, in Tampa, Florida, to Spanish immigrant Baldomero Juan Lopez and his wife, Frances Reina Lopez of Tampa. Lopez was an early leader. At Tampa’s Hillsborough High School, he was a top basketball player. He also served as regimental commander of the ROTC unit and even earned the American Legion Award for Scholarship and Leadership. When he graduated high school, Lopez enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the height of World War II. It was July 8, 1943, and he would serve through June 11, 1944.
Joining the Marines, The Tip of the Spear
When Lopez was discharged after the war, he was selected to be a midshipman by the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated in the accelerated program on June 6, 1947, in the top third of his class, and became a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. That brought him to Quantico, Virginia, for basic officer instructions, where he earned the rank of platoon commander in the Platoon Leaders Class Training Regiment. In 1948, Lopez traveled to China to serve as a mortar section commander and then as a rifle platoon commander in Tsingtao and Shanghai. His next stop was Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. When the Korean War began, and he volunteered for wartime duty again. He became an infantry officer in Korea, and was promoted to first lieutenant on June 16, 1950, at just 25 years old.
Unimaginable Bravery: The Courage that Makes Men Great
It was here that Lopez earned the prestigious Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life. On September 15, 1950, in the Invasion of Inchon, he led his platoonas the rifle group commander of Company A, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced). After landing on enemy controlled Red Beach with accompanying assault waves, Lopez moved forward along a bunker where an enemy pillbox held that section of the beach under fire. As Lopez lifted his arm to launch a hand grenade into the pillbox, he was hit by automatic weapon fire in the shoulder and chest. Lopez fell backward from the impact and dropped the grenade. While in tremendous pain and rapidly losing blood, he was able to turn and drag his body to retrieve the grenade, which was about to explode. Since he knew he didn’t have the strength to
hurl it away safely, he chose instead to pull it under him with his wounded right arm and cover it with his body to protect his platoon from the impact. Lopez was killed by the explosion.
The Marines told his heroic story on the battlefields and the news quickly spread; on September 25, 1950, a Scripps-Howard war correspondent, Jerry Thorp, wrote a news report describing Lopez’s heroic last action, claiming that he "died with the courage that makes men great." The citation by the U.S. Navy echoes this story: “His exceptional courage, fortitude and devotion to duty reflect the highest credit upon 1st Lt. Lopez and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”
Posthumous Awards and Honors
On August 30, 1951, in Washington, D.C., Secretary of the Navy Daniel A. Kimball presented the Medal of Honor in Korea to Lopez’s parents for “sacrificing his life to protect his men.” Lopez also posthumously received the Purple Heart Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with one bronze star, China Service Medal and Korean Service Medal with two bronze stars.
His memory lives on in a number of important structures, including the Baldomero Lopez Memorial Veterans Nursing Home in Land O Lakes, Florida, the Lopez Elementary School in Seffner, Florida, a state Korean War Memorial at the Ed Radice Sports Complex in Tampa, a public swimming pool in Tampa and on a plaque at the home of the Tampa Federal Savings and Loan Association. There is also a USNS 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez (T-AK-3010) that honors his heroism.
(USNS 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez (T-AK-3010). Photo courtesy of Military Sealift Command.)
USNA Notable Graduates Continue to Move Us
At NABSD, we are overwhelmed with gratitude for the sacrifices made by the women and men who serve our country in uniform and for the unimaginable dangers they face with dignity, grace and enduring bravery. In his short life, Lieutenant Lopez proved his leadership and valor many times, ultimately saving the lives of those in his platoon with his quick thinking and courageous move. We applaud Lopez and all of the USNA notable graduates for continuing to pursue excellence throughout their lives. They are still inspiring and leading us. They will never be forgotten.
Come visit us at the U.S. Naval Academy. Your tours, meals, shopping and visits provide profits that go directly to the Brigade. We give 100% to those that give 100% for our country. Come see where history happens, and walk the hallowed Yard that these notable graduates did too.