A belated honor for Korean War veteran
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    Exclamation A belated honor for Korean War veteran

    A belated honor for Korean War veteran

    Pojoaque man awarded Purple Heart for injuries suffered in mortar attack

    Tom Sharpe | The New Mexican

    10/1/2008 - 10/2/08

    Ray Lopez was so wired during a North Korean attack 55 years ago that he did not notice until the next day that he had been injured.

    On Wednesday, the Pojoaque resident finally received his Purple Heart at the Santa Fe Veterans of Foreign Wars post on Montezuma Avenue.

    Lopez, 76, enlisted in the Marines right out of Santa Fe High School. By 1953, Cpl. Lopez's unit faced North Korean soldiers across 1,000 yards of the so-called demilitarized zone where skirmishes broke out daily. "We could see their hill," he said. "They could see ours. We did what we had to do."

    On the evening of July 26, 1953 — the eve before the armistice was signed, ending the three-year conflict — Lopez and a half dozen other Marines were in their commanding officer's bunker when mortar rounds began to fall around them.

    Lopez said the attack continued for about three hours — what seemed to be an eternity. He took it upon himself to string phone lines to the forward bunkers so he could check on the men there.

    Under the circumstances, he said, "you had to run physically your phone lines from one station to another. I made sure everybody was accounted for ... came back to the bunker and reported to the captain as to what I saw. I really didn't know I was injured ... because everything was in turmoil that night. We were evacuating (those) injured most seriously."

    Not until the next morning, when the guns fell silent, did someone tell Lopez he was bleeding from his lower arm. He said he doesn't remember if the shrapnel graze was treated, although he still carries scars from it.

    "It wasn't serious to the point it was hurting," he said. "Your adrenaline is going on so high that you don't notice. Unless you're injured really bad, you take care of the people who really need it."

    Lopez's unit stayed on in the demilitarized zone for several months. "That was the worst part, I think, of all the times I was in Korea because there was firing here and there," he said. "They'd say, 'You've got to get ready. We're going to do it again.' ... But in our area, we never did get any attacks thereafter."

    By the end of 1953, Lopez was discharged from the Marines and returned home to Santa Fe where he began working for state government and married his high-school sweetheart, Rosina. The Lopezes have six children — Robert, Rudy, Richard, Robin, Ruth and Rosemary — 18 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren. Since retiring from Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1993, Lopez has worked part-time at the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families.

    Although he was awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery in combat, he never got, sought or even thought much about a Purple Heart until this summer when he picked up some medicine at a Veterans Affairs facility. A Purple Heart is awarded any member of the U.S. Armed Forces who is wounded or killed in service.

    "They told me, 'Well, if you had the Purple Heart, you could get all of this stuff for free,' " he said. "Then I said, 'Well, I'm sure I was entitled to it, so I'm going to have to look into it.' ... We weren't getting any results, so I contacted (U.S. Rep.) Tom Udall's office and within a month, everything was pretty much taken care of."

    Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or tsharpe@sfnewmexican.com.


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