Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Juan Lopez laid to rest

Cpl. Juan M. Lopez Jr. was laid to rest with full military honors Monday at Florence National Cemetery.

He was the first Florence resident to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lopez enlisted in the Army on Feb. 14, 2006, and was sent to Iraq in September.

Lopez, who went to school in Florence, was one of three Fort Bliss, Texas, soldiers killed in Iraq after their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device Aug. 13.

Now, Lopez is surrounded by soldiers who fought for their country from World War II to the present. Among them is 1st Lt. Almar Laron Fitzgerald of the United States Marine Corps, who was killed in action Sept. 21, 1982. He was awarded the Purple Heart on Feb. 26, 2002. An inscription on his grave reads “I did it my way.”

And, to a large extent, Lopez did it his way, too.

“My son lived in a black and white world and in a yes and no world,” his father, Juan Manuel Lopez Sr. said Monday during his son’s service at Greater Gethsemane Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ in Florence. “He was very honest and would tell it like it is whether you liked it or not. The truth was the truth and that was it.”

Lopez Sr., who served in the U.S. Air Force, added, “I served this country proudly while raising my son and daughter. I was a baseball coach and a mentor.

“My son did not die in this war to be a hero, my son was a hero from the day he was born. He was full of energy.”

Lopez Jr. called his father several times from Iraq. Lopez Sr. said the experiences he had in Iraq brought them closer together.

Lopez Jr. called home one time and asked what his father was doing. Lopez Sr. said he was cutting the grass with the push mower. Lopez Jr. said not to cut it too short because when he came home, he wanted to roll in the grass.

“You know something else?” Lopez Sr. asked. “I miss him a lot. This morning I went to the funeral parlor and saw him resting. He’s one of God’s soldiers now, but just the same I told him we would fish again.”

Continuing to speak in a calm but firm voice, Lopez Sr. said, “I have spoken from my heart today. I was by my son’s side when he was born and I stand by his side now. I was given the privilege last night at the funeral parlor to close his casket.”

The father said he was confident his son would have been a well-decorated career soldier.

“If he put his mind to something, he did it,” he asserted. “He was a hero from the day he was born. Remember him because he will never forget you. May God bless America, the world and my son.”

Lopez’s godfather, James Spann, called Lopez his “heartstring.”

“He was a loving person. If you know him you had to love him. He had a sense of humor,” Spann told WBTW News13’s Kelly Gillespie.

Spann also said Lopez was committed to his service in the military.

“That’s what he loved,” Spann said. “That’s what he wanted to do, and we’re pleased with the fact that he wanted to make that a career and he did.”

Lopez Jr.’s family was presented the Bronze Star Medal for the wounds he received in action on Aug. 13. He was a member of Alpha Battery, 5th Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The family was also presented the Purple Heart.

Both were presented by Maj. Gen. David Morris of Fort Bragg, N.C.

“We’re all brothers and sisters in heart, in uniform,” Morris told Gillespie. “It’s a loss to us all.”

Bishop Otis L. Terrell, Lopez Jr.’s uncle, gave a rousing eulogy that thundered throughout the church.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?” Terrell said quoting from Psalm 27.

“Juan is in his second home,” Terrell said. “God is good ,and he’s able to do what he says he’s going to do. Juan was a very honest and polite young man.”

From the Morning News

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Juan Lopez remembered

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Juan M. Lopez Jr. dies 'of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device'