It’s been 50 years since Adam Mendolla returned home to Hollister from the Vietnam War. Sept. 30, 1969 was when the then-21-year-old entered back into society.
“I got married about three weeks later,” said the Hollister native.
While he celebrated 50 years of marriage to his wife, Mimi, with a vow renewal and a party three weeks ago, a celebration for his return home was never a desire for him.
That is until a close friend chose to not only celebrate Mendolla for serving his country, but for also serving his community.
Bernie Ramirez nominated Mendolla to be one of LULAC’s (League of United Latin American Citizens) Honored Veterans for 2019—an honor Mendolla was chosen for as well as fellow Vietnam veterans, Jim Gibson and Ralph Marquez. All three honorees will also be in the Veterans Day Parade, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 11 on San Benito Street.
The annual San Benito County LULAC Council’s Veterans Breakfast has been recognizing veterans for 26 years.
“LULAC was founded by veterans,” said current LULAC member and former SBC LULAC Council president Mickie Luna. “We invite veterans to the breakfast and pay tribute to them.”
But when Mendolla first learned of this honor, he was beyond humbled.
“I didn’t feel worthy enough,” he said. “I just feel there are so many out there that should be recognized and honored.”
Bernie Ramirez, however, felt he was more than worthy.
“Anything that comes up, he’s always there,” he said of his friend and fellow VFW (Veterans of Foreign War) member.
Ramirez said it is Mendolla’s participation at local community and VFW events, VFW speech engagements at local schools, and being part of the VFW Honor Guard that prompted him to nominate him for the honor. Since Ramirez met him four years ago when Mendolla joined the Hollister VFW Post 9242, he has become an integral part of the organization.
“He is well deserving of this award,” Ramirez said.
Mendolla moved to Hollister with his family in 1956 when he was just 8 years old. He attended Hollister schools and graduated from San Benito High School in 1967. Soon after graduation, he was drafted to Vietnam and joined the United States Army.
“I went into the service in March of 1968,” he said. “On October 1 of that year, I was dispatched over to Vietnam.”
Trained as a tank and wheel mechanic in the Army, Mendolla was stationed in the Quảng Trị Province at Camp Evans.
“My unit was assigned to support the 1st Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division, and the Third Marine Division,” he said. “I was doing all the mechanical work on the vehicles that broke down on site, but would receive a lot of resistance from the NVA (North Vietnam Army) trying to keep us from repairing disabled vehicles and tanks.”
Mendolla said his mission was to go up and down the northern part of South Vietnam—about a half a mile from the demilitarized zone—and travel through the Khesanh Valley.
“I was to go to all the areas out there, including Hill 937, which later became known as Hamburger Hill,” he recalled.
In fact, Mendolla was at Hamburger Hill during the infamous Battle of Hamburger Hill in May 1969.
“He had completely forgotten about being there until a friend who was with him reminded him of it all,” Mimi said. “He only remembered bits of it.”
Three weeks after returning home, he married Mimi, and the two moved to San Francisco (her hometown) where they lived for four years. Though Mimi said there were never discussions of the war between them, the after effects of it hovered around him.
Often met with unwelcoming employers who were against the war, “he had a difficult time getting a job,” Mimi said. “The minute he would tell them he was a Vietnam veteran, he was denied the position.”
But after “odd jobs as a mechanic” in San Francisco, he was offered a position at Pacific Gas & Electric in Salinas in 1975. He and Mimi moved back to Hollister and raised two children, Adam and Jenny, while he worked for PG&E. He retired in 2006.
It wasn’t until four years ago when Ramirez—who was the Hollister VFW Commander at the time—approached Mendolla about joining the VFW.
Mendolla first resisted.
“I didn’t feel that I would fit into such an outstanding organization,” he said.
After some convincing, he joined the VFW and found that while participating in it could be emotional and difficult, it was also fulfilling.
“Most rewarding for me is being part of the Honor Guard,” he said. “It provides funeral honors for fallen comrades and their families with a final salute, the firing of a volley of three shots, playing Taps, and the folding and presentation of the U.S. flag to the family. We have a great group of men and women on the guard: Commander George Nava, Bernie Ramirez, Joe Ortiz, Chuck and Maria Spandri, Mel Angel, Bryan Morris and myself.”
He has found a network of friends in his fellow VFW members, who he fondly refers to as brothers and sisters, and has become especially close to Ramirez and Ortiz, who are “just like brothers,” he said. “They are there for me, and I’m there for them whenever they are not feeling good. So we have each other’s backs.”
Mendolla has found fulfillment in honoring fellow veterans and welcoming soldiers home to a kind welcome he didn’t have—perhaps explaining why he’s now come to terms with this honor.
“I will be accepting this honor for all the men and women who served this country,” he said. “That is what Veterans Day is all about—honoring these brave men and women. And we must always remember to tell them ‘Welcome home!’”
The SBC LULAC Council’s Veterans Breakfast will be Nov. 11 at the Hollister Community Center at 300 West St. from 7 a.m. to noon. Cost for non-veterans is $8; veterans are free of cost. The Veteran Recognition Program will take place at 8 a.m. For information, call 831.673.1977 or 831.596.2914.