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Stone honors hero'sultimate sacrifice

In 1950, Marine Lt. Baldomero Lopez fell on a grenade. Sunday, he'll be remembered.

By JACKIE RIPLEY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 9, 2007


KEYSTONE 

It has been 57 years since Lt. Baldomero Lopez used his body to shield his platoon from a live grenade. But time has done little to dim the memory.

"It was an unforgettable sacrifice," said Kimi Springsteen, a Korean War survivor and the county's Asian-American liaison. "He was young, ambitious and successful with a full life ahead of him."

Lopez will be remembered during Veterans Day ceremonies at Ed Radice Park on Sunday. Korean War veterans will unveil a black granite monument, placed there in his honor.

"We have a school, a swimming pool and a nursing home named after him but that's not enough," said Murdoch Ford, a Korean War veteran who spearheaded the idea of a memorial.

The 4-foot by 8-foot black granite monument will feature Lopez's biography and a photograph of the young Marine as he scaled the wall at South Korea's Inchon Bay. A piece of that wall also will be placed at the top of the monument as further testament to Lopez's sacrifice.

"We wanted to get a stone from the exact site where he was," said Ford, who was in the first wave of Leathernecks to hit the beach that day. He estimates Lopez came ashore about 50 yards behind him. "We got that picture of him climbing over the wall," Ford said. "And not five minutes later he was killed."

Lopez, born in Tampa to an Italian-American mother and a Spanish father, graduated from Hillsborough High School and the U.S. Naval Academy.

The country was at war and Lopez, an aggressive young Marine, refused to play it safe. He was assigned stateside to a Marine Corps school but wheedled his way to the front line.

Historical accounts, some of which are included in the monument's inscription, tell this story:

Lopez was 25 when he scaled the sea wall at Inchon Bay. It was Sept. 15, 1950, and the young platoon leader's first firefight.

He had a North Korean army bunker in his sights and a grenade in his hand. But just as he yanked the pin and pulled back for the pitch, he was hit by a round of enemy fire.

The barrage caused Lopez to drop the deadly missile as he fell backward. After a moment he dragged his body forward in an effort to retrieve the grenade. But in critical condition from pain and loss of blood, he was unable to grasp it firmly enough to throw. It was that moment that he chose to sacrifice himself rather than endanger the lives of his men.

So with a sweeping motion of his wounded right arm, Lopez cradled the grenade beneath him and absorbed the full impact of the explosion. The heroic action ended his life but saved the lives of his platoon. Lopez's sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor, an act that has been commemorated several times.

Named in his honor were a pool at Tampa's MacFarlane Park, an elementary school in Seffner, a rifle range at the 1st Amphibian Tractor Battalion and the room he occupied as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Now there will be a permanent monument in his hometown, a 5,600-pound marker, flanked by the U.S. flag and a POW flag.

Organizers raised $17,000 but spent just over $12,000 on the monument. The rest of the money will be used to place park benches on either side of the monument. Each bench will have a plaque, one depicting Lopez's history; the other, the history of the Korean War.

 

If you go

Memorial ceremony

What: Korean War memorial ceremony honoring Lt. Baldomero Lopez.

Where: Ed Radice Sports Complex, 10710 S Mobley Road.

When: Sunday at 11 a.m.

Rides: Golf carts will be available to transport disabled people to their seats.

Comfort: Cold water and chairs will be available.

Info: For more information, call (813) 634-3566.