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Hector Homer Mendieta

Obituary for Hector Homer Mendieta

November 12, 1924 - April 13, 2018
Austin, Texas | Age 93


Hector Homer Mendieta was born November 12, 1924 in Laredo, Texas to Catalina Valdez and Manuel Mendieta. He was the fourth of seven children; Herbert, Elia, Elma, Oscar, Armando, and Elsa. The family had a ranch in Bruni, a one stop-light Texas border town where the children grew up picking cotton and shucking corn on the nearby farms. When he was only four years old, Hector drove his family's milk truck standing up while his dad followed walking house-to-house to deliver milk to his neighbors.

Because his parents were unable to care for him during the day, he started school earlier than the other kids and walked to class following his older brother, Herbert. He was so small he, his feet couldn't reach the floor when he sat in the classroom chairs, so he spent his first year sitting on the teacher's desk. He received so much special attention from the teacher and his classmates, he was able to skip the second grade and advance directly to the third grade.

Hector graduated Bruni High School when he was sixteen and in the Fall of his second year at Texas A&M, President Roosevelt sent a message to the university allowing ROTC students to graduate with a commission before reporting to duty, but after Christmas vacation, he was ordered to the Fort Hood Corps of Engineers. He completed Infantry Basic Training at Camp Abbott, Oregon with the Enlisted Reserve Corps, but the candidate school had no openings so he was sent back to A&M to graduate officer training as a second Lieutenant in 1943.

His first assignment came in 1944 when he was put in charge of the engineering platoon in an all-black general service regiment being formed in Camp Claiborne, Louisiana when desegregation still hadn't taken place in the U.S. military. After training, the regiment was shipped to Europe, arriving in France on March 2, 1945.

Hector was assigned to work on a construction project converting a school campus into a general hospital in Arlon, Belgium. When the war ended on May 8,1945, he was sent on a secret mission with his platoon to Bad Mondorf in Luxembourg, and upon completion of the mission to proceed to southern France to join the regiment for redeployment to the Pacific. The secret mission turned out to be the conversion of a resort hotel into a prison for the German High Command which had surrendered and would arrive in three days. The rush job required putting steel bars in all the windows and doors and constructing a stockade-type enclosure with cyclone and barbed wire and machine gun towers at each corner. The job was finished in time to receive the convoy of prisoners, carrying Admiral Karl Doenitz who replaced Adolf Hitler, Reichsmarshal Hermann Goering, and lots of generals, admirals, and civilians.

Hector rejoined his regiment which was shipped to the Pacific to join the invasion of Japan, but Japan surrendered after the atomic bombs were dropped and his regiment along with about half of the invasion force were diverted to Okinawa where he served for nine months, followed by tours in the Philippines, Fort Hood, and Fort Ord, California before being separated as a Captain in August 1947.

Hector returned to A&M in September and received his degree in Mechanical Engineering in June 1949. While there, he took a flying course and received a private pilot's license. Before graduation, he was offered the opportunity to return to active duty and receive a Regular Army commission as a Second Lieutenant, and he accepted, reporting for duty at Fort Worden, Washington, in March 1950 as a First Lieutenant with the Army's only remaining Engineer Amphibious Brigade.

The brigade supported the three amphibious landings in Korea, and after stabilization of activities around the Seoul area in the summer of 1951, he was sent to Seoul with his platoon to supervise 200 Korean utility workers in rehabilitating the city's water, wastewater, electrical, and telephone services which had been heavily damaged. The priority was to repair hospital facilities and school buildings to get children back to school. Most of the buildings had damaged roofs and windows, and no water, electricity or heat for the winter. Another priority was to repair the beautiful blue slate roof on President Syngman Rhee's house which was damaged by mortar fire.

One of the first things Hector did was to rename the streets and overprint maps with American names to make it easier for the American troops to navigate through the city, using a system like Washington, D.C. with state names for main thoroughfares. Of course, the main avenue leading to the capitol had to be named "Texas".

During the tour in Korea, he was periodically encouraged by the personnel career management office in Washington to become a military pilot since he already had a civilian license and the Corps of Engineers was in dire need of pilots, but he was enjoying his engineering work and had no desire to change careers. However, when the Army established a program that would allow him to alternate assignments between engineering and flying, he accepted.

After returning from Korea, he was sent to San Marcos Air Force Base for basic pilot training and then to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for tactical flight training. His first flying assignment was with the Inter-American Geodetic Survey based in Panama which was mapping Mexico and Central and South America in a collaborative effort, with the exception of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. He spent two years in Bolivia supporting the mapping project there, and then one year in Panama overseeing the 21 flight detachments in the various countries.

In 1956, he returned to the states to attend the Advanced Engineer Officers Course, followed by engineering assignments which included participation in the design and activation of new Engineer Amphibious Support Command at Fort Lewis, Washington. The command was restructured from the World War II and Korean version to conform with the restructuring of Infantry divisions. This assignment included writing organizational, training, and operational manuals for the various types of units organic to the command, and planning and conducting joint maneuvers with Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine units on the west coast to test the new concepts.

This was followed by a two and a half-year flying assignment in Turkey in support of the Mediterranean Engineer Division's construction projects there. From there, he was assigned as the Aviation Officer for the Corps of Engineers in the Office of the Chief of Engineers, with responsibility to oversee and periodically inspect the Engineer aviation units supporting construction and mapping activities in the Mediterranean area, Africa and the Middle East.

Concurrently, he was assigned as the Amphibious Action Officer to oversee the further development and training of the Engineer Amphibious Support Command. At that time, he had the distinction of being the only engineer officer on active duty qualified on land, air and sea. It was during this Washington assignment that Hector crossed paths again with Carroll Diane Possehl, from Lancaster (Buffalo), New York, whom he had dated over a 14-year period and married November 9, 1963 in a ceremony ending under an arch of honor guard sabers and a reception at the Fort Belvoir Officer's Club.

At the time, she was in charge of the Microbiology Lab at George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C. He was appointed by the Chief of Engineers as a director and member of the executive committee of the Society of American Military Engineers to represent the Office, filling a vacancy caused by the transfer of the incumbent. Hector completed the unexpired term and was reelected for a three year- term which he subsequently vacated two and a half years later when he was transferred to Japan. Also, during this assignment, he attended the Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Hector's and Carroll's twins, Vincent Paul and Barbara Frances, were born on September 24, 1964.

His assignment to Japan, was as Japan Area Engineer with responsibility for all military construction programs for the 37 Army, Navy and Air Force bases in Japan. At the time, this was the second largest construction project in the Corps of Engineers inventory, second only to the Space Construction Program at Cape Canaveral; however, the projects in Japan covered an area comparable to that from Maine to Florida involving an average of 100 contracts employing up to 7,500 personnel for all types of construction, including 150 family housing units and supporting community facilities (schools, commissaries, wastewater treatment plants), an air freight terminal, air passenger terminal, runway extensions, and three 1,000-bed hospitals (by converting barracks buildings, office buildings and railroad sheds) to support the Vietnam war.

Simultaneously, he served as Deputy District Engineer, Far East Engineer District, which added the additional responsibility of supervising the District's Engineering Division of 60American and 40 Japanese design engineers. Although the district was based in Korea, two thirds of the personnel were in Japan. Providing satisfactory customer service to an Air Force Lieutenant General, an Army Major General, and a Navy Rear Admiral - all with high priority missions in support of the hot war in Vietnam and the cold war activities with Russia and North Korea - plus the Secretary of Defense was no easy task.

Secretary McNamara had promised troops without dependents in Japan that they would have housing for their families by Thanksgiving 1967, and Hector had to telephone a report at midnight every workday (noon Washington time) for the Secretary's 1:00 briefing on the status of each house under construction. Because of logistical problems, eight houses at the northernmost tip of Japan did not meet the Thanksgiving deadline but they were ready by Christmas after the welcome arrival of his daughter, Laura Ann on December 11, 1967. The president of Mitsubishi's construction division, who was the contractor for that project, delivered the final keys Christmas morning. Having the Army general's twin engine airplane at his disposal, Hector was able to fly himself and pertinent staff to inspect all of the ongoing projects on a regular basis.

It was then the war caught up with Hector and he was sent to Fort Rucker, Alabama, to transition to Huey helicopters before going to Vietnam. This provided an opportunity to return the family to the homestead in Alexandria, Virginia. The family was growing, with child number four on the way. Hector left for Vietnam less than two weeks after Janice Lynn was born at Fort Belvoir on June 13, 1968.

His orders were to join the Army Concept Team in Vietnam to evaluate use of equipment, weapons, aircraft, vehicles and tactics under various conditions, but upon arrival, he was told to forget that, "nobody goes to where they are supposed to - replacements are requested six months ahead of need on projected losses and most losses occur earlier". At this time, there was a need for an Engineer Inspector General and an Aviation Inspector General in the Office of the Inspector General in the Headquarters, U.S. Army in Vietnam, and Hector was reassigned to fill both positions.

Reporting for duty, he received the additional assignment of Team Chief (by virtue of seniority) leading one of the four inspection teams - each team consisting of six lieutenant colonels and six senior noncommissioned officers. By this time, Hector had received his Master Army Aviator rating, meeting the prerequisites of 15 years of flying duty, over 3,000 hours of flying, rated in both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, and a special instrument rating to fly in most weather conditions with few restrictions.

The job of the inspection teams was to spend a week with a battalion-sized unit wherever they might be and evaluate their ability to perform their combat function. This involved inspecting every aspect of their activities to assure that personnel were properly trained, clothed, equipped, fed and cared for medically; personnel records were kept up to date; equipment, supplies, vehicles and aircraft were appropriately secured and maintained; sanitary conditions were maintained at base camps; camps were properly secured with security guards and protective alarms; timely distribution of mail; proper support by their upper echelons or logistical support units; and many other responsibilities of commanders that can be overlooked in a combat environment.

These inspections were a big help to commanders who normally only spend six months with a unit and didn't have time to correct deficiencies that they may have inherited. Reports were submitted to the Army commander to advise him of deficiencies that needed correction at higher levels than the units inspected.

During this time Hector maintained his required flight proficiency by flying weekends and nights when he was at the home base, usually helicopter medical evacuations or engineer reconnaissance missions. With this assignment, Hector became thoroughly familiar with the role of every type of Army unit in a combat zone, from a postal unit to an air-assault division to a field hospital.

On returning from Vietnam, Hector was assigned to the Army General Staff in the Pentagon as Chief of the Installations and Facilities Branch in the Office of Reserve Components, with the responsibility for the adequate design, construction and maintenance of the approximately 4900 Army National Guard Armories and Army Reserve Centers in the United States, as well as the acquisition and maintenance of training areas. He was responsible for recommending approval or disapproval to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Logistics for new construction. A major part of this time was taken up in justifying retention of training areas when President Nixon was trying to give up 10 percent of military lands to the states for parks. This included justifying the whole of Camp Swift which was been offered to the City of San Antonio in exchange for the old San Antonio Armory which the President wanted for a federal complex.

Hector traveled extensively around the country to gather data on facilities, and he did not lose an acre of land. Also, during this assignment, because of his extensive experience as trial counsel and defense counsel in court-martial proceedings as well as president of court-martial boards, Hector was assigned the additional duty by the Under Secretary of the Army as an Army Member of the Departments of the Army and Air Force Clemency and Parole Board. During this assignment the rest of his family arrived, with the birth of sons Michael James on June 3, 1970 and Robert Andrew on May 29, 1971.

For his last assignment, Hector was transferred to the Engineer School at Fort Belvoir, as Director of Doctrinal, Training, and Technical Publications for the Corps of Engineers, with the mission to update publications to incorporate lessons learned in Vietnam.

Upon retirement, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, to add to the Meritorious Service Medal for service on the Army General Staff, the Legion of Merit and Air Medal for service in Vietnam, the Bronze Star for service in Korea, two Army Commendation Medals for service in the Office of the Chief of Engineers and the Mediterranean Engineer Division, and medals from the Korean and Vietnamese governments with several other service medals.

Hector considered his military service very rewarding, having contributed to many successes, both in peace and in war. He also believed that few could match his flying or engineering experiences.

Hector moved the family to Austin, Texas and entered State service with the Texas Department of Health's (TDH) Municipal Solid Waste Program in August 1974, and from January 1976 through July 1986, he managed the permitting function. In August 1986, he became Director of the Division of Solid Waste Management with overall responsibility for permitting, compliance, enforcement, planning, and waste minimization, and served in that capacity until April 1990. During the 1976 - 1990 time period he participated in many contested permit hearings and reviewed all evaluations and recommendations prepared by permit engineers on over 1,400 permit applications for landfills and other facilities to ensure that the evaluations and recommendations were consistent with statutory and regulatory requirements.

In 1987 over 100 bills were filed in the Legislature impacting the municipal solid waste program, some conflicting with others, and Hector was frequently criticized by legislators at hearings for not performing tasks required by previous legislation. As a result, he provided data on the program's accomplishments with the $1.2 million provided annually and demonstrated a need for a total of $4.5 million to perform all the tasks required by legislation. Help was promised, and as a follow-up he drafted a resolution to establish a legislative task force before the next legislative session to determine where the municipal solid waste program was, why it is there, where it should be, and how to get it there. The Legislature adopted the resolution and included the industrial solid waste program as part of the study.

During the work of the "Task Force on Waste Management Policy", Hector recommended a solid waste disposal fee of 25 cents per ton of waste disposed of which would equate to 25 cents per person per year to obtain the $4.5 million he needed, but the Task Force doubled the fee to accomplish additional improvements to the program. Hector was tasked to draft the fee and related legislation. As a result of Hector's efforts, the industrial solid waste program also benefitted by the Task Force's study and resulting legislation. The solid waste disposal fees alone have brought in over $430 million.

In 1990, the program was expanded from 36 to 120 personnel and reorganized. At that time Hector became Director of the Plans and Programs Division in the new Bureau of Solid Waste Management. In March 1992, the program was transferred to the Texas Water Commission (now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) where the program was reorganized as the Municipal Solid Waste Division in which Hector served as a technical specialist and manager of the Technical Assistance and Special Projects Section.

In November of 1994, Hector was transferred to a new function where he served as a Senior Policy Analyst in the Policy and Regulations Division. In this capacity, he reviewed and commented on state and federal legislative and regulatory proposals and coordinated comments provided by the programs; participated in rulemaking projects; responded to requests for information from the public; and provided assistance to program staffs in the form of historical information and basis for rules or legislation.

Hector became involved with federal activities in late 1977 when the U.S. EPA began to develop rules to implement the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 and EPA invited municipal solid waste program directors from all states to participate in developing the rules required by RCRA for municipal solid waste landfills. Mr. Jack Carmichael, the Director of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Division, attended the meeting and, because many states had seen and liked the TDH landfill rules that had been adopted in April 1997, Mr. Carmichael was elected to chair the workgroup that was created. He asked Hector to participate with him in this project and any other rule or policy making project that EPA initiated. Both realized the effect that any federal rules or policies would have on Texas since Texas generated more waste than most of the other states and had one sixth of the nation's landfills. So whenever the EPA invited states to participate in a rule project, Hector was always there - sometimes the only representative from the states.

Initially, Hector's participation was funded through the National Governors' Association until the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials (ASTSWMO) became fully operational and could provide the funding. Hector was the only state participant when the EPA grant, public participation, and state and regional planning rules were developed.

In addition to participating in the development of the first RCRA Subtitle D rules of 1979, Hector participated with one of his staff members and Jay Snow of the Texas Department of Water Resources (predecessor of the Texas Water Commission). Jay chaired the workgroup including representatives from four other states in the development of the 1980 EPA hazardous waste regulations.

In 1985, when revision to the municipal solid waste landfill rules was required by amendment of RCRA, Hector joined ASTSWMO's Subtitle D Implementation Task Force and became its chair. Soon thereafter, he assumed the concurrent chairmanship of the Solid Waste Subcommittee, overseeing and participating in the work of several other task forces dealing with such issues as incinerator ash, municipal solid waste flow control, and financial assurance; the Subtitle D evaluation task force; and the industrial nonhazardous solid waste steering committee/task force for which he recruited Anne Dobbs from the TCEQ Enforcement Division to be the chair.

Concurrent with his six-year service in these activities, he was asked by the ASTSWMO Board of Directors to serve as Secretary-Treasurer of the association to fill an unexpired term. He accepted and was re-elected to the position for two more two-year terms. Currently, he served as Chair of the Special Waste Task Force, the Cement Kiln Dust Work Group, and the Chromated Copper Arsenate-treated Wood Waste Work Group.

Before retiring on November 12, 2004, ASTSWMO honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award for "...outstanding contributions to the association for almost 30 years of dedicated service in the advancement of our mission to protect the American public health, environment, enhance and promote effective state and territorial waste management programs and affect national waste management policies."

Carroll passed away on August 27, 2015, but Hector remained active with St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church. He is survived by his son Vincent Mendieta, US Army; his daughter Barbara, her husband William Pringle, and their son John-Angus; his daughter Laura, her husband Charles Barker, and their children Chloe and Oscar; his daughter Janice, her husband Paul Jones, and their son Jesse; his son Maj. Michael Mendieta, USMC (Ret.) and his wife Lt. Col. Shelly Mendieta, USAF; and his son SSgt. Robert Mendieta USMC.

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