This is part of a Yahoo News series honoring some of the American lives lost to COVID-19. Their stories are told by family and friends, who were left to deal with their often sudden and painful deaths.
Former Staff Sgt. Robert Pedro Mendoza, 43, of Oceanside, Calif., died on April 20, 2020, after becoming ill with COVID-19. He’s among the more than 550,000 Americans who have lost their lives to the disease since the first known fatality in early 2020.
His mother, Yolanda Mendoza, told Yahoo News that her son was a “loving person” who loved his family, his son and his country.
“He served in the United States Marine Corps for about 15 years. He loved being a Marine, and everything that it stood for.”
Originally from Houston, Mendoza moved to California in 1994 at age 17 to join the United States Marine Corps. He attained the rank of staff sergeant and was deployed seven times, including tours to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Persian Gulf.
In 2008, Mendoza decided to retire from the military to start a family. He was honorably discharged.
After his military service, Mendoza ran Tactical Defense Systems, a company in Oceanside, Calif., that made tactical gear for the military and law enforcement agencies. Mendoza says her son “dedicated the rest of his life to his business and his son.”
He was a devoted father to his 10-year-old son, Christian. “Robert was an awesome dad,” Mendoza said. “He loved that little boy. He was so proud of [him].”
Last spring, just before Easter, SSgt. Robert Mendoza began to feel ill. Within days of testing positive for COVID-19 and developing symptoms, he died at a hospital in San Diego.
For his mother, his sudden death was shocking and difficult to accept.
“He was just a big, solid guy,” she said. “He had two black belts in Jiu Jitsu. He could tackle anything. He could go to war. He came back safely. My son has been shot at, and for him to die of a virus, I just couldn't believe it.”
Although the pain of losing her son is still very fresh, visiting him at the cemetery every Sunday brings her and her husband some comfort.
“We talk to him,” she said. “We try to tell him how Christian is doing, and I always ask Robert, before I leave, to just protect Christian and guide him if he can.”
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