Gold Star wife and children given free home in Texas


Lorena Mendez hung up on a representative from the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation when the organization called to offer her a mortgage-free home as a widow of a serviceman.

She assumed it was a scam.

Mendez is the widow of Marine Lance Cpl. Norberto Mendez-Hernandez, who enlisted in the Marines in 2010 and was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011. He was 22 years old.

At the time, his son Anthony was 3 years old and he had a newborn daughter, Audrey.

"I hung up on them a couple of times before I Googled them and then I called them back crying," Mendez said as she stood in the kitchen of her new home Tuesday in Horizon City. Her children, now 11 and 9, stood next to her, smiling.

Named after a firefighter who lost his life in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the foundation has three programs that provide free homes: the Smart Home Program, with specially adapted homes for catastrophically injured veterans; the Fallen First Responder Home Program for families of firefighters and police officers killed in the line of duty; and the most recent one, the Gold Star Family Home Program for families of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the military.

By the end of 2019, the foundation had given away 53 homes through the three programs.

Representatives from the foundation, Horizon City leaders and members of American Legion Post 598 welcomed Mendez and her family to the neighborhood with a ceremony right before letting her open the doors to take a tour.

"This home will be a reminder of your husband. He will come visit you in your dreams in this house," said Clay Durbin, commander of the American Legion Post.

Mendez, who is originally from Mexico and has family in Chihuahua, said she had moved more than six times since her husband's death, trying to find the right place to raise her children.

"We just couldn't find a place that we thought we could call home," she said. She was most recently living in Utah, where the cold was too much for her.

Mendez was given the opportunity to select the city for her new home and in September visited El Paso, and, more specifically, Horizon City, and loved what she saw.

"We absolutely fell in love with the community here, how nice people are and how welcoming they were. They had suggestions of where to go and what to see. That was the biggest thing the community and the acceptance of people, regardless of whether we were moving here or not," she said.

As they walked into their new two-story CareFree Home, the kids couldn't help but rush to check out the backyard. It is dirt as of now, but the two already could envision a future.

"We can put a swimming pool right here," Anthony said, while Audrey and mom pictured themselves playing catch with their Doberman, Leo.

"This is so beautiful. It's just amazing," Mendez said as she took in the sights of their new bedrooms upstairs.

Mendez acknowledged her life has been quite a roller coaster of emotions, from the highs of being married with small children to losing her husband and now being able to live free of house payments.

"When you go into the military, you know something like this can happen, but you don't really think it can happen to you, and when it does, it's a shock. Having to explain to a 3-year-old that his dad is no longer coming home is hard and it hurts," she said.

Since she became part of the Gold Star Family Home Program, Mendez said she has met other spouses and they have bonded over their experiences, both happy and sad.

"And so going from being in that place to now being part of this foundation and these people who have accepted us and who constantly listen to us when we cry and call us on holidays and check on us on his birthday is amazing," she said.

María Cortés González may be reached at 915-546-6150;; @EPTMaria on Twitter.


©2020 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

Visit the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Army recruiters hold a swearing-in ceremony for over 40 of Arkansas' Future Soldiers at the Arkansas State Capital Building. (U.S. Army/Amber Osei)

Though the Army has yet to actually set an official recruiting goal for this year, leaders are confident they're going to bring in more soldiers than last year.

Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, head of Army Recruiting Command, told reporters on Wednesday that the Army was currently 2,226 contracts ahead of where it was in 2019.

"I will just tell you that this time last year we were in the red, and now we're in the green which is — the momentum's there and we see it continuing throughout the end of the year," Muth said, adding that the service hit recruiting numbers in February that haven't been hit during that month since 2014.

Read More
In this June 16, 2018 photo, Taliban fighters greet residents in the Surkhroad district of Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL/WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The United States and the Taliban will sign an agreement on Feb. 29 at the end of a week long period of violence reduction in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Taliban said on Friday.

Read More
A screen grab from a YouTube video shows Marines being arrested during formation at Camp Pendleton in July, 2019. (Screen capture)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Another Marine was hit with jail time and a bad-conduct discharge in connection with a slew of arrests made last summer over suspicions that members of a California-based infantry battalion were transporting people who'd crossed into the U.S. illegally.

Read More
A soldier reunites with his daughter at Fort Bragg, N.C. after returning from the Middle East. The 82nd Airborne Division's Immediate Response Force had been deployed since New Years Eve. Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (U.S. Army via Associated Press)

Some Fort Bragg paratroopers who left for the Middle East on a no-notice deployment last month came home Thursday.

About 3,500 soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team were sent to Kuwait beginning Jan. 1 as tensions were rising in the region. The first soldiers were in the air within 18 hours of being told to go.

Read More
A developmental, early variant of the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) autonomously conducts maneuvers on the Elizabeth River during its demonstration during Citadel Shield-Solid Curtain 2020 at Naval Station Norfolk on Feb. 12, 2020. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Rebekah M. Rinckey)

Large cargo ships, small fishing boats and other watercraft sail safely past Naval Station Norfolk every day, but there's always a possibility that terrorists could use any one of them to attack the world's largest naval base.

While Navy security keeps a close eye on every vessel that passes, there's an inherent risk for the sailors aboard small patrol boats who are tasked with helping keep aircraft carriers, submarines and destroyers on base safe from waterborne attacks.

So the Navy experimented Wednesday to test whether an unmanned vessel could stop a small boat threatening the base from the Elizabeth River.

Read More