The Honorable Justice Ronald Castille
Speech During the Renaming Ceremony April 27th 2019
I would like to take everyone here back to March 16, 1967, a day that I can never forget. It was my 23th birthday, but it was a day that changed my life forever. It was in Duc Pho, South Vietnam. I was a newly minted 2nd Lt. commanding a Marine Rifle Platoon and CPL Angel Mendez was my Right Guide (basically a Sergeant). We were on a search and destroy mission with our Company Fox 2/7 consisting of four Rifle Platoons. We were the Point Platoon with two Platoons were on our flank and one was in the rear. On that day, I had about 40 Marines armed with M-14 rifles, grenades, rockets and machine guns. We could summon fire support in the rear from 81mm mortars, 105mm howitzers, and 175mm long guns. We could call in fire support from a Navy destroyer offshore in the South China Sea and in the air with F-4 Phantom jets and A-4 Skyhawks armed with iron bombs and napalm.
Despite this heavy firepower we were vulnerable on the ground. Marine's on our flank were ambushed and came under heavy fire from entrenched NVA troops and Viet Cong and Marines began to fall. Our platoon had reached the safety of a fortified village, when I was ordered by our Captain to organize a squad of Marines to rescue wounded and fallen Marines in that nameless rice paddy. As Marines, we never leave our dead or wounded Marines behind on the battlefield. We went out into the open rice paddy to get our men, but our only cover was from artillery support and fire from the Marines in our rear. We entered a killing field raked by enemy fire including by a Chinese-made 51cal. machine gun. I can still remember to this day when bullets were flying from the enemy and the Marines to my rear were returning fire with rifles and machine guns and grenade launchers. There were clouds of dust raised by our artillery strikes and the smell of gunpowder and burning palm trees and burning bamboo and thatched huts in the air. Then I was hit in the leg with a round from the Chinese 51 calibre machine gun.
I layed in the paddy, unable to move, because of my wound. Bullets were kicking up dirt around me as I lay there thinking that was the end for me. Then I heard the voice of my rescuer. It said "I'm coming for you LT. I'm coming." It was Angel Mendez. He crossed the open rice paddy with bullets flying and Angel firing his M-79 grenade launcher for cover. He picked me up and crossed 100 yards back to our protected positions while being wounded himself. As he pushed me over a wall to cover, that is the moment he was fatally wounded and died in my arms, just inches from safety. Angel died a Marine, having shown Honor and Courage in the face over tremendous odds that day, in that nameless rice paddy in Duc Pho. Of course, we now Angel was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, which is the highest medal given in the sea services for bravery. Many of you here worked to have the Navy Cross upgraded to the Medal of Honor, but that did not happen.
Had Angel lived, I believed that he would have made the Marines his other family and I believe he would have found tremendous success in our Marine Corps. He was a leader of men and a great Marine. He lost his life that fateful day, but he gave me my life that day by coming to my rescue. He lies buried here in Staten Island, but because Angel's selfless bravery, I was able to go forward with my life and have my career as District Attorney of Philadelphia and as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
So, I am saddened to be amoung you on this day, but I am glad that I can be here on this day as you rename this Detachment in Angel's honor. It is a fitting honor for a great Marine and a son of Staten Island. Thank you for all that you do on this day, in honor of a brave American : SGT Angel Mendez.