Donor Spotlight: Mike Lopez
By Margot Cornelius
Mike Lopez’s home office is a private place where he can meditate on his family’s story. He doesn’t have to look far to find reminders of the men who shaped his family’s legacy.
He keeps his uncle’s Medal of Honor in a prominent position in his private sanctuary. Close by hangs the famous photo of his uncle, First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez, leading his Marines of Third Platoon, Company A, First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, over a seawall at Inchon on Sept. 15, 1950, during the Korean War.
These heirlooms are tangible and precious daily reminders of “Baldy,” as his family affectionately called him, and Mike’s own brother, Paul Lopez, who both were Marines. 1stLt Baldomero Lopez died shortly after the iconic photo was taken, when he smothered a grenade with his body, saving the lives of his men that day. He was 25 years old.
The photo was recreated as a diorama called Seawall at Inchon as part of the Korean War Gallery at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Va. “It’s always been kind of surreal to see it,” said Mike Lopez.
Mike Lopez traces his roots back to the Asturias region of Spain where the family lived until his grandfather, also named Baldomero Lopez, emmigrated to the United States at the age of 12. His son, Baldy, was a trailblazer in the family, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy right after graduating from Hillsborough High School in Tampa, Fla. He was selected to attend a three-year, fast-track program at the U.S. Naval Academy during World War II.
His life and sacrifice left an indelible mark on his family. Mike’s younger brother, Paul, followed his uncle’s example and joined the Marine Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in January 1979, upon graduating from the University of Florida. He earned his wings and became a Marine Corps pilot.
“It was kind of funny. I remember my brother telling me that when he was at Quantico …. and they’re teaching about the Inchon invasion, my uncle’s name comes up, and everybody looks at him like ‘Uh-oh.’ And he says, ‘Boy, talk about pressure.’ ”
In January 1984, Captain Paul Lopez died of cancer.
“Just meeting some of his friends and the support they gave my parents when he died, it was just really incredible,” Lopez said. “Marines are a special class of people.”
In 2012, the Marine Corps Association & Foundation (MCA&F) contacted Mike Lopez to discuss renaming an honor graduate award after his uncle, Baldomero.
“I said, ‘Do you have to ask? That’s a no-brainer! Of course,’ ” Lopez said.
MCA&F now provides the Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez Honor Graduate Award to The Basic School honor graduate of each company in recognition of their performance in the demanding course—a fitting tribute to both Baldomero Lopez and Paul Lopez who each completed TBS at Marine Corps Base Quantico, albeit decades apart.
“I contribute to the MCA&F on both Baldy’s and Paul’s birthdays and at Christmas,” said Lopez. “My donation at Christmas is in my uncle’s and brother’s memory,” added Lopez who is not looking to shine the spotlight on his efforts. Instead, in his own quiet, thoughtful way, he has partnered with MCA&F as a donor to support other Marines and tell the story of the two great Marines in his family who served honorably.
“I was very grateful to [the Marine Corps Association & Foundation] for keeping my uncle’s legacy alive and it helps keep my brother’s [legacy] alive also.”
Mike Lopez has one more daily reminder hanging in his office—a plaque that reads, “Today and always let us remember the sacrifices that have been made for our freedom.”
“To me, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
In 2009, Lopez retired as senior vice president of human resources for a pharmaceutical company. He has two sons and five grandchildren and continues to support MCA&F’s programs. In 2013 the foundation provided a unit library for Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234, Marine Air Group 41, Fourth Marine Air Wing, in honor of his support.
If you would like to learn more about all the MCA&F’s programs for Marines, or you’d like to support our programs with a tax-deductible donation, please https://www.mcafdn.org/.
Author’s bio: Margot Cornelius is the web/digital manager at the Marine Corps Association & Foundation. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University. Margot lives in Michigan with her family and is a proud native of Cape Town, South Africa.
Medal of Honor Citation
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to FIRST LIEUTENANT BALDOMERO LOPEZ UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as a Marine platoon commander of Company A, in action against enemy aggressor forces. With his platoon 1st Lt. Lopez was engaged in the reduction of immediate enemy beach defenses after landing with the assault waves. Exposing himself to hostile fire, he moved forward alongside a bunker and prepared to throw a hand grenade into the next pillbox whose fire was pinning down that sector of the beach. Taken under fire by an enemy automatic weapon and hit in the right shoulder and chest as he lifted his arm to throw, he fell backward and dropped the deadly missile. After a moment, he turned and dragged his body forward in an effort to retrieve the grenade and throw it. In critical condition from pain and loss of blood, and unable to grasp the hand grenade firmly enough to hurl it, he chose to sacrifice himself rather than endanger the lives of his men and, with a sweeping motion of his wounded right arm, cradled the grenade under him and absorbed the full impact of the explosion. 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.