Wednesday, May 9, 2012

CCSO Sgt. David Mendez Honors Fallen Cousin

 Sgt. David Mendez of the Collier County Sheriff's Office speaks at a ceremony April 12 on Staten Island, N.Y., renaming a U.S. post office there after his cousin Angel Mendez, who was killed in combat during the Vietnam War while saving the life of his platoon commander. Photo courtesy of Sgt. David Mendez

 He never met his cousin Angel, but Sgt. David Mendez was inspired by stories of his heroism.

Angel Mendez was a 20-year-old Marine when he was killed in combat during the Vietnam War while saving the life of his platoon commander.

His cousin’s sacrifice, along with an uncle also killed in Vietnam, inspired Sgt. Mendez to join the U.S. Army and ultimately to a career in law enforcement, including the past 17 years with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, where he is currently a patrol sergeant in North Naples.

Forty-five years after his death, Sgt. Mendez shared his cousin’s story of heroism and inspiration with more than 150 people who gathered on a sunny day in April on Staten Island, N.Y., for a ceremony renaming the U.S. post office at 45 Bay St. the “Sergeant Angel Mendez Post Office.”

“Angel’s heroic actions that day left us this inspirational message: Service to others and this great nation before one’s self,” Sgt. Mendez told the crowd, which included U.S. Rep.Michael Grimm, R-Brooklyn, who authored the bill to rename the post office which was signed into law by President Obama. “ . . . His service was truly the epitome of character, courage, leadership, strength and perseverance.”

During a search-and-destroy mission on March 16, 1967, Angel Mendez and his company were engaged in an intense firefight with the Viet Cong. With half of his platoon trapped under enemy fire and his platoon commander seriously wounded, Angel Mendez volunteered to lead a squad to help his fellow Marines.

Angel Mendez shielded his platoon commander with his own body as he dressed the wound. He attempted to carry the commander to safety when he was shot in the shoulder. Mendez was shielding his platoon commander and the other Marines with his own body when he was shot again and killed.

“In every instance there is a purpose and on March 16, 1967, you fulfilled that purpose and lived up to your name,” Sgt. Mendez said in his closing remarks. “On that fateful day you were, in fact, an angel. Your legacy lives on, forever.”