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Sergeant Mendoza: A Hero’s Welcome

Sergeant Manuel Mendoza-Valencia enjoyed a big welcome home and birthday party at the Apple Hall last Saturday. It has been six years since the young Boonville man was severely injured in Iraq by a roadside bomb blast that blew apart his armored personnel carrier and cost Sgt. Mendoza his legs. But Sergeant Mendoza, clearly a man with the courage of a lion, has put his life back together in admirable style.

Sgt. Mendoza was with the 58th Engineer Company at Fort Irwin, California, out on the Mojave Desert by Barstow. He worked as a combat engineer, an explosives expert. This is the unit to call if the bomb absolutely, positively has to be destroyed overnight!

He deployed to Iraq April 20th of 2004, with stops in Ireland, Budapest, and Kuwait. Sgt. Mendoza had been in combat for about seven months when his armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb (Improvised Explosive Device, or IED) in Sadr City, one of the bloodiest sectors of Baghdad at that time. He says he doesn’t remember a thing about it other than talking to his mother and sister the day before on the phone.

Sgt. Mendoza was evacuated to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC where he remained for a year and a half until the Sentinels of Freedom, an injured vets support organization moved him to San Ramon in the East Bay where the amazingly resilient Mendoza still lives. He presently works for AT&T. His department builds cell phone towers for industry-wide use and high-capacity circuits, data lines for your credit cards. Last year he bought a house – a small condo, he calls it.

The Anderson Valley High School graduate plans to attend UC Berkeley for a degree in International Business. He’s not married yet, but intends to start a family eventually. He also plans to someday retire in Boonville. “It’s kind of interesting coming from a small town. Everybody knows you and you feel like family. I knew when I got hurt everybody would be there for me, and everybody’s been just great. I’m really grateful. I would like to spend more time here but you don’t get much time off when you work for a Fortune 500 company.”

Manuel Mendoza’s party was very well attended. A long buffet was set up along the wall and outside a barbeque was producing carne asada tacos. Dozens of tables were decorated in red, white and blue with flags and fancy tablecloths and chair covers that somebody had put a lot of effort into preparing. As the band got going and the party heated up, more tables had to be set up. Along with the food, a great variety of donated local wines made the rounds.

The stage was set with a huge video screen, and a very powerful sound system. Between music videos, a big brass band with a very loud tuba played martial airs and happy birthday songs in Spanish, all to the cheers of a delighted crowd. The young people danced until 10pm, and the next day the party continued at the Mendoza home on Lambert Lane.

Welcome home, Manuel! Happy birthday — and, if I may speak for Anderson Valley: Thank you for your service!

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