Humbly Welcome This New Citizen By Bill O'Reilly, The O'Reilly Factor December 27, 2004 The first thing you notice about Army Sgt. Manuel Mendoza is his charismatic smile. Tom Cruise would be envious. The second thing you notice as he lies in his hospital bed is that half his body is missing - blown away by a roadside bomb that destroyed the armored personnel carrier he was commanding in Baghdad's Sadr City district. Mendoza's life was altered forever Oct. 3. Within a week of his injury, he was under treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Now he spends his days going back to the facility. He undergoes rigorous physical therapy and exercise sessions designed to strengthen his upper body and his will. Mendoza soon will be fitted with artificial legs and will need all the determination he can muster to regain his mobility. I'm betting Mendoza will do it, because he is a special guy. Born in Los Reyes, Mexico, in 1981, he and his family legally entered the United States and, four years later, became resident aliens. His father worked as a logger in Northern California. The family struggled and little Manuel and his two siblings barely had a slice of the American Dream. After graduating from high school, Mendoza did what so many poor young men before him have done: He joined the military to secure educational benefits and discipline. He loved the Army, quickly moving through the ranks. As a sergeant, he was in charge of men years older. He told me that he was proud to serve in Iraq and that he believes America is trying to bring freedom to that chaotic country. Mendoza's wounds are terrible. He lost one leg all the way up to the hip, the other above the knee. Other men sink into depression when faced with that kind of catastrophe. Mendoza did not. He joked with the doctors and nurses. He encouraged his depressed mother, brother and little sister. He did not complain and did not feel sorry for himself, although he had a perfect right to do so. He did, however, ask his government for one favor. He asked to be made an American citizen. And so, earlier this month, Mendoza took the oath of citizenship. He is now a full-fledged American. But those who know Mendoza also know he is much more than that. He is a symbol of what America is at its core: generous, optimistic and tough. Mendoza's face should be on a stamp. Often, it is difficult for strangers to talk with wounded military people. You want them to see your respect and your sympathy, but not too much of the latter. You want them to talk about themselves, but you don't want to intrude on their suffering. You want to help them, but you really can't, outside of the conversation and perhaps a gift or some letters. But talking with Sgt. Mendoza was easy. He overwhelmed me with his positive outlook and hope for the future. Mendoza wants to attend college, marry, have children and have an exciting career. And he will. I do not doubt this for a moment. We fellow Americans salute you, sir.