Angel Mendez' parents — Antonio Méndez Pomales, a native of Fajardo and Martina Rivera García from Naguabo — moved from Puerto Rico to New York City seeking a better life. His father owned and attended a grocery store in the South Bronx while his mother cared for their eight children at home. When Mendez' mother became ill and the family's economic situation worsened, his father could not raise him and his siblings, therefore 2 were sent to foster homes and 6 were placed in the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, an orphanage on Mount Loretto, Staten Island. There he received his primary and secondary education. Mendez was a member of the cadet corps along with his brothers and many of the "Mount" kids. At a young age, he became fascinated with military life and with his friends would often imagine that he was on a "patrol" while camping at Stokes State Forest and Worthington State Forest.
In 1964, he volunteered to join the Marine Corps right after graduating from high school. Mendez received his basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina. After he graduated from his recruit training, he was sent to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to attend the School of Infantry. Mendez was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
Upon his deployment to South Vietnam, Mendez was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
Operation Desoto, was initiated on 27 January 1967 in the Đức Phổ District of Quảng Ngãi Province. The 2nd Battalion 7th Marines was part of the Special Landing Force (SLF) and took part in operations throughout the Marines Corps area of responsibility and saw extensive action throughout the 4-month-long operation. The 7th Marines, with elements of the 5th Marine Regiment, bore the brunt of most of the patrolling and contact with the enemy, whose presence continued in Chu Lai.
On March 16, 1967, Mendez was conducting a Search and destroy mission with his company when they came under attack from a Viet Cong battalion. Half of his platoon was pinned down in a rice paddy under enemy fire, and Mendez volunteered to lead a squad to assist the pinned-down Marines in returning to friendly lines with their two dead and two seriously wounded men. Mendez exposed himself while returning fire with his M79 grenade launcher on the enemy. His Platoon Commander, Lieutenant Ronald D. Castille was seriously wounded and he fell, unable to move. Using his own body, Mendez shielded Lt. Castille as he applied a dressing to the wound, he then picked up the Lieutenant and started to carry him to friendly lines, which were more than seventy-five meters away. Mendez was hit in the shoulder and two of his comrades rushed to help him with their commander, Mendez however refused to let go of his platoon commander and chose to act as rear man. Mendez continued to shield his Lieutenant with his own body until he was mortally wounded. Mendez was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and promoted to Sergeant.
In March 1967, Mendez's body was sent to Puerto Rico for funeral services upon the request of his father. Mendez's siblings believed that their brother should be buried in New York and two weeks later, his body was sent to Staten Island where he was buried with full military honors on the grounds of the mission where he grew up at Mount Loretto. He was survived by his parents and his siblings, Ismael, Edwin, Carmen, Anibal, Maria, Betty and Anthony. The name of Angel Mendez is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial ("The Wall") on Panel 16E – Line 94.
Senator Charles Schumer, senior U.S. Senator from the state of New York prompted by the men of the Island's Marine Corps League detachment and supported by the man whom Mendez saved, the Honorable Ronald D. Castille, former district attorney of Philadelphia and now Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, are calling for Mendez to be recognized with the highest military honor of the United States, the Medal of Honor.
The request lacked some vital information and in 2003, a meeting was held in Mt. Loretto, by Mr. Al Richichi, President and the Board of managers of the Mt. Loretto Alumni Association, Bruce W. Barraclough, Sr., John C. Gallo and Ismael Mendez and his wife Aida Mendez next of kin to Angel Mendez. This meeting was held to bring those involved up to date on the intentions of Barraclough and Gallo quest to honor Angel Mendez, and to get the family's permission to submit a new request for the Medal of Honor. In October, 2003 Barraclough and Gallo had finished writing up the new request which had presented only the facts, and added a petition signed by many organizations, Society's, along with many signatures from Staten Island, New Yorkers.
On January 14, 2008, the Honorable Ronald D. Castille was sworn in as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. In his speech he is quoted as saying the following:
On May 26, 2008 during the Memorial Day celebrations held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the inscription of the name of Angel Mendez in "El Monumento de la Recordación" (Monument of Remembrance) was unveiled. The monument is dedicated to Puerto Rico's fallen military members and situated in front of the Capitol Building. The unveiling was done by then Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock and PR National Guard Adjutant General Col. David Carrión.
A bill (H.R. 2422), that would permit the naming of a Staten Island Post Office, located at 45 Bay Street, after Mendez was approved by the US House of Representatives on November 14, 2011. The bill was introduced by US Congressman Michael G. Grimm, representative of New York's 13th District, and cosponsored by every House member of the New York congressional delegation. The Bill was signed off on legislation by President Obama and the St. George Post Office was renamed and will be known as the "Sergeant Angel Mendez Post Office."
Among Angel Mendez's awards and decorations are the following: Navy Cross
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with "V" Device for Valor
Combat Action Ribbon
Navy Presidential Unit Citation
Navy Unit Commendation
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation
Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Vietnam Service Medal with two (2) Campaign Stars
Military decorations of the Republic of Vietnam Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Vietnam Military Merit Medal
Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal 1st Class Unit Citation with Palms
Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal 2nd Class (Individual Award)
Vietnam Wound Medal
OthersNew York State Conspicuous Service Cross Medal with Silver Cross Device
New York State Conspicuous Service Star Medal
Cold War Victory Medal and Certificate