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Largo military museum to display Medal of Honor of Marine killed in Korean War

LARGO — It was the decisive landing that many credit with shifting momentum in the Korean War.

Incheon.

But like most wartime victories, there was also a price.

U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Baldomero Lopez, born and raised in Ybor City, was one of the casualties on the heavily defended beachhead.

He died 60 years ago this month. But not in vain.

He saved his squad in his last moment of life, and posthumously earned America's highest military award — the Medal of Honor.

For his family members, who still live in the Tampa Bay area and elsewhere in the state, the medal has been passed from mother to brother and now to nephew.

And after a fortuitous link-up between the curators at Largo's Armed Forces Military Museum and the Lopez family, the medal and other personal effects of Lopez's, including letters from two U.S. presidents, will go on display Saturday at the museum for the first time.

Though the medal is only fabric and metal, its symbolism, in the words of Lopez's mother, still ring true today.

Mike Lopez, a nephew, inherited the medal from his father when he died last year.

Among old documents, he found a letter exchange between his grandmother (Lopez's mother) and another mother of a fallen Marine.

The woman told his grandmother, Francis Lopez, that at least her son received such an honor in passing.

Her reply: "The decoration is for all those young guys, not just him," Mike Lopez recalled.

"My grandmother felt the Medal of Honor — it was for all the military guys who lost their lives protecting our freedom."

Frank Correa, the museum's historian, said the medal's display represents a rare public showing of such a decoration.

"It's the highest award you can receive not just in the military, but as an American. Reproductions are not allowed. They're protected by federal law. It cannot be sold. You cannot auction it off," Correa said.

He said the Lopez family is donating uniforms and personal letters for permanent display, and the medal for the day.

The award is so rare that only one living service member has been selected to wear the medal since the Vietnam War.

Indeed, Lopez's individual act of uncommon valor is rare among men.

He had just led his men over a seawall. A nearby enemy bunker was spitting rounds toward American troops. Lopez and his men ran alongside it, and he prepared to take it out. He pulled the pin on a hand grenade.

But he never got a chance to throw the explosive.

Machine gun fire ripped through his shoulder and chest.

He dropped the grenade.

If Lopez had rolled for cover, there was a chance he could have survived. There was also a chance the live grenade would injure his own men.

So he rolled on top of it, using his body to shield them from the explosion.

In addition to the medal, a veterans nursing home near Tampa and a Military Sealift Command ship were named in Lopez's honor.

Dominick Tao can be reached at dtao@sptimes.com or (727) 580-2951.

. If you go

Medal of Honor event

When: Saturday at 1 p.m.

Where: Largo Armed Forces Military Museum, 2050 34th Way N, Largo

Cost: $11.95 for adults, discounts for seniors, children and military.

Largo military museum to display Medal of Honor of Marine killed in Korean War 09/21/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 6:18pm]
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