Louis Gonzaga Mendez – Colonel, United States Army

From a contemporary press report:

Louis Gonzaga Mendez Jr., 86, a retired Education Department official and Army Colonel who was a highly decorated airborne combat veteran of World War II, died September 19, 2001, at his home in Falls Church, Virginia, after a stroke.

Colonel Mendez, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in the Class of 1940, jumped into Normandy in June 1944. He was dropped behind German lines as a parachute infantry battalion commander in the Army’s elite 82nd Airborne “All American” Division.

The airborne mission was to disrupt enemy communications, seize vital crossroads, destroy enemy supplies and kill enemy troops to aid the seaborne D-Day assaults on the Normandy beaches.

For leading the attack that captured the town of Pretot, France, Colonel Mendez was awarded the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross, which is its highest award for valor except for the Medal of Honor.

Colonel Mendez went on to lead his battalion in the bloody Operation Market Garden, a huge, ill-fated operation that sought to secure strategic river crossings behind German lines in the Low Countries in September 1944. While the 82nd captured its objectives, British airborne troops met defeat at Arnhem, the Netherlands.

Historian Cornelius Ryan profiled Colonel Mendez and his leadership in the Market Garden struggle in his best-selling history book “A Bridge Too Far.”

In December 1944, the Germans launched a massive offensive against the Allies on the Western Front, catching British and U.S. troops by surprise. Front-line Allied troops reeled back or were quickly overrun. Two days after the German attack, a counterattack was organized that blunted the advance of General Gerd von Rundstedt’s northern troops. Among those in the counterattack were Colonel Mendez and his battalion, advancing into the battle as infantrymen.

After the war, Colonel Mendez held a variety of command, staff and training posts. He taught at the infantry school at Fort Benning, Georiga, served in the early 1950s as a military attaché in Spain and was a regimental commander with the1st Cavalry Division in South Korea in the early 1960s. Later in the 1960s, he served in the war histories division of the Army General Staff and as secretary of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Defense Board. He was on the staff of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces when he retired in 1970.

He then joined what became the Education Department. He was national director of the Right to Read Program, an assistant education commissioner and chief of the department’s Vocational and Adult Education Branch before retiring altogether in 1985.

Colonel Mendez, a Colorado native, received a master’s degree in international relations from Georgetown University and was a graduate of the Command and General Staff College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, his decorations included three awards of the Bronze Star.

He was a member of the NOVA Catholic Community and a past member of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Falls Church.

Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Jean Jaeger Mendez of Falls Church; six sons, Louis III, of Manassas, Christopher, of Alexandria, Philip, of San Diego, Jonathan Paul Mendez of Huntington Beach, Calif., and Gregory and Richard, both of San Francisco; six daughters, Judith Smore of Fairfax, Celeste Goldsborough of Rockville, Marisol Bolland of Falls Church, Lorita Mendez-Packer of Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Pamela Allen and Christina Morgan, both of Centreville; 22 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.


On Wednesday, September 19, 2001 of Falls Church, VA. Beloved husband of Jean Jaeger Mendez; father of Pamela Allen, Judy Smore, Louis III, Tina Morgan, Nikki Goldsborough, Christopher, Gregory, John Paul, Richard, Philip, Soley Boland and Lori Mendez-Packer; brother of Carmen Mendez and Helen Schaefer. Also survived by 22 grandhildren and five great-grandchildren. Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at St. Anthony Catholic Church, Glen Carlyn Rd. and Rte. 7, Falls Church, VA on Wednesday, September 26 at 1:30 p.m. Interment Arlington National Cemetery with Full Military Honors. Memorial contributions may be made to Hospice of Northern Virginia, 9300 Lee Hwy., 5th Floor, Fairfax, VA 22031.

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