The United States of America is a nation that sets its foundation on the freedom of its people. Her democratic government and emphasis on a free and equal people is a sacred ideology in which every American should be proud. Unfortunately, The U.S.’s way of life was drastically threatened after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II. The entire country was fearful of the potentially harmful and dangerous future the involvement in the war posed on each person’s life. But to preserve the wonderful nation in which they lived, valiant men and women put their fragile lives on the line. Andrew Melendrez was one of these brave individuals who sought to protect his fellow Americans and put an end to ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance.
Andrew Melendrez was born on August 22, 1924 in Riverside, California in the area of Casa Blanca. He was the oldest of four children; two boys and two girls. After the death of both of his parents within a few short years, Andrew was forced to quit schooling after junior high to live and work with his relatives.
In February of 1943, at the age of 18, Andrew was drafted into the army. He trained for the duration of one year at Fort Lennerwood in Missouri. When he was first drafted, Andrew was not at all fearful of the risks. Preparation and training was rough for the service, but he persevered through the hardships. After training was completed in April of 1944, Andrew was sent over to Europe, to become a member of Company H in the 30th Infantry Division, Second Battalion, and 120th Infantry Regiment, under Commander General Hobbs. Within two short weeks he was involved in combat. His direct involvement in warfare turned his world askew. War was nothing like he had anticipated. First of all living conditions were horrible. During the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944, the weather was freezing and the men were not prepared for such an icy climate. Soldiers were constantly getting frost bite. Showers were rare and a soldier bathed approximately every three to four weeks. Battles were fought for nearly six to eight hours everyday, and spare time was nonexistent. Every soldier slept about six broken hours a night with rotating guard shifts for two hours each.
Andrew was assigned as a first gunner (later being promoted to sergeant) and was shocked at how quickly he lived by the motto of his battalion: “Kill or be killed.” He first started in France a few days after the famous invasion of Normandy, at the battle of Mortain, France. The Germans surrounded the 2nd Battalion, which he was a member of, and were trying to push them back into the ocean. They were greatly outnumbered and fear quickly entered Andrew’s thoughts because the odds were greatly against them. They went seven days without food or water. Allied plans began dropping food, medical supplies, and ammunition from their aircraft, but all was dropped too far from their positions. All of these life-saving supplies were falling into the hands of the Germans. Luckily, the 35th Division was able to break through and get all the survivors out.
Another incident in France was in the first few days of combat when Allied bomber planes were ordered to attack the Germans. The bombers were mistaking their own troops for the enemy. A P-47 fighter carried two bombs, and came close to dropping them on top of Andrew and his fellow soldiers, but he got up and frantically waved his arms to get the attention of the pilot. He was successful in notifying the pilot, but his bold act was done in plain sight of the Germans.
At one particular time, Andrew was resting while a friend was keeping watch on his shift. Suddenly out of nowhere, a missile cleverly named the Screaming Mimi was heard coming right towards them. Sergeant Garcia and the guard quickly jumped into a nearby fox hole, where Andrew was resting. It was a good thing they acted quickly because the machine gun the guards were using was blown to pieces and their dismemberment would have been inevitable had they not moved.
After receiving an injury in the muscle of his leg from landmine shrapnel after the Battle of the Bulge, Andrew was sent to a hospital in Paris, France until he recovered in May of 1945. He remained there for three months and was preparing to return to his unit when he heard that the war with Germany had ended. “I had just gotten well enough to walk around the city when I heard some Parisian girls screaming ‘The war is over! The war is over!’ I didn’t believe them until I picked up a newspaper and read it with my own two eyes.” He was then sent to fight in the Pacific against Japan, but the atomic bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war before he had left. Andrew finally returned to the United States to a joyous welcome in New York on his 21st birthday. Coming back to his home country “felt like a dream.” He returned to Riverside to find that eleven of his school friends lost their lives in battle. Nobody talked about the war. Everyone was simply glad to be home and alive.
For his courageous efforts and contributions to the battle, Andrew received the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Presidential Unit Citation, and Purple Heart. In 1947 he married his childhood companion, Helen, and they had three children together: Andy Jr., Viola, and Becky. The couple currently resides in Riverside, California and will be celebrating 59 years of marriage this July. To this day he remains in close contact with friend and former squad leader, Sergeant Angel Garcia. When reminiscing about his time in the service, he notes that he became a wiser and more disciplined person as a result of it all, and his faith in Christ deepened immensely. “I am very proud that I served. There is no prouder person in the world than me.”