Texas medical center renamed in honor of fallen army medic
Army Spc. Hugo V. Mendoza was killed Oct. 2007 in Afghanistan while aiding comrade during ambush
By David Burge
The El Paso Times
EL PASO, Texas — Army Spc. Hugo V. Mendoza, who friends and relatives said embodied the warrior's spirit of never leaving a fallen comrade behind, was honored Thursday when Beaumont Army Medical Center renamed its Soldier Family Care Center at East Fort Bliss in his name.
Mendoza, a combat medic, was killed in October 2007 in Afghanistan while rendering aid to a wounded comrade during an ambush by the Taliban.
The El Pasoan exemplified what it means to be a combat medic, said Col. (Dr.) Bruce Adams, deputy commander for clinical services at Beaumont.
"Soldiers join the Army to serve the nation," Adams said. "Medics join the Army to serve soldiers. It's a sacred bond."
It took a year and a half to get this honor for Mendoza approved by the Army, Adams said.
Three criteria had to be met to have the clinic named after him -- display distinguished service, have a local connection and be a doctor, nurse or medic.
Adams wasn't the only one singing Mendoza's praises. Friends and family also remembered him as courageous, fun to be around and a good, all-around guy.
"I promise you he was an honest-to-goodness hero," said Salvatore Giunta, a former Army staff sergeant and a Medal of Honor recipient who attended the ceremony. "And he was a great man."
Seeing Mendoza have a medical clinic named after him is "bittersweet," said Giunta, an Iowa native now living in Fort Collins, Colo.
"He was the type of man who wanted to do good things for other people," said Giunta, who was awarded the nation's highest military honor by Congress for his actions the same night Mendoza was killed. "He's no longer here to do that, and we'll now have to step up and live our lives by helping others out and treating people with respect like he did."
Mendoza, who died at age 29, was born in California but spent much of his life in El Paso. His family moved here when he was a year and a half old. He attended Hanks High School through his junior year.
At that time, he moved to Phoenix to finish high school and live with his older brother, Carlos Mendoza Jr.
"Even though he didn't have a family of his own, he was very family-oriented," Carlos Mendoza said. "He treated my three kids like they were his own. He never missed a birthday, a holiday, a Christmas — not until 2007."
His brother wanted to be a firefighter, and he joined the Army to get medical training, Carlos Mendoza said.
"He thought that was one path to do that," he said.
Hugo Mendoza was also a man of tremendous faith, his brother said.
"He believed in God, had his Bible and always read it," Carlos Mendoza said.
The Mendoza family didn't pursue this honor, he added.
"It was presented to us by the military," he said. "They must have seen something in him, too."
Several other of Mendoza's Army buddies attended the ceremony.
Former Sgt. Kyle Zaski of Grand Rapids, Mich., said Mendoza was "fearless" and "never hesitated to do his job, even when under fire."
Former Spc. Chris Izell of Austin said Mendoza was a "good guy" whom everybody liked.
"I never heard anyone ever say anything bad about him," Izell said. "He had a great sense of humor, very down to earth. He's still one of the best soldiers I've ever known."
Mendoza enlisted in the Army in 2005. He served as a combat medic with Battle Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Airborne Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. The unit was headquartered in Italy. His awards included the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
The clinic, at 11335 Staff Sgt. Sims Road, that now bears Hugo Mendoza's name is the largest free-standing medical clinic in the Army.
The 143,000-square-foot clinic cost $42 million to build and opened in December 2010. It provides primary medical care and other health services to soldiers and their family members assigned to the 1st Armored Division.
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