Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
Sergeant Jose M. Lopez: One Man and His Machine Gun
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Sergeant Jose M. Lopez was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Battle of the Bulge. Carrying and operating a heavy machine gun that was meant to be manned by at least three men, Lopez moved from position to position, defending his company from the German attack. He killed over 100 enemies and is credited with being nearly solely responsible for saving his company.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
Jose M. Lopez was born in Santiago Atitlán, Mexico in 1910. He was orphaned at the age of 8, forcing him to scrape by on his own. At 13, he hitchhiked to Texas where his uncle was living. Using freight trains as transportation, Lopez followed seasonal farm work all across the country to make his living. He was also briefly a professional boxer.
Eventually Lopez bought a fake birth certificate so that he could serve with the U.S. Merchant Marines, and as a result, all official military records incorrectly claimed Mission, Texas as his birthplace. After serving with the Merchant Marines for 6 years, Lopez was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942.
During the Battle of the Bulge on December 17th, 1944 near Krinkelt Belgium, then Private First Class Lopez and his company were defending against a German approach. Realizing that his company was vulnerable, Lopez, on his own initiative, single handedly carried his heavy machine gun from the right flank to the left, and set up the gun in a shallow hole. These guns usually required three men to carry and operate them, so this alone was a feat of strength and determination.
At his new position, exposed from the waist up, Lopez killed at least 35 enemies with his machine gun as he weathered German infantry and tank fire. Suddenly, a piece of artillery hit nearby, dazing Lopez. After gathering himself, he saw a large group of infantry swarming. Realizing that he was no longer able to hold off the Germans, he picked up the machine gun and fell back, setting up a new position in the right rear of the sector.
From there Lopez continued his defense. Despite being blown backwards by an explosion, Lopez recollected himself, reset the machine gun, and held off the German horde by himself. Satisfied the position was secure, Lopez yet again threw the gun on his back, this time engaging in small arms fire as he attempted to join his comrades who were setting up another defense. From there, Lopez continued fighting, exhausting his ammunition. Eventually, with the heavy machine gun still on his back, Lopez and the rest of the group retreated.
On June 18th, 1945, Jose M. Lopez was awarded the Medal of honor for his heroism. He’s credited with killing over 100 enemies and being nearly solely responsible for protecting his company and giving them the time to receive reinforcements on what was considered a suicide mission. He’s one of 12 latino World War II vets to receive the award. He was also presented with Mexico’s highest military award, la Condecoración del Mérito Militar.
The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our executive producer and mixing engineer, Declan Rohrs is our associate producer, scriptwriter, and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.