Rudy Lopez

“We’re blessed to have a nation that’s dedicated to not leaving a man or woman behind.”

- Rudy Lopez

rudy lopez

Rudy Lopez and his wife Maria wave to the crowd during the Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade in Spokane in 2012. Rudy’s father, a Navy veteran who served on the school board, was one of his inspirations growing up. Airman 1st Class Ryan Zeski, U.S. Air Force

Left: Lopez met actor Gary Sinise at Joint Base Balad in Iraq in 2007. Sinise frequently visits military bases around the world. Lopez family collection

Middle: Lopez hopes to find surviving relatives of the Army Air Forces officer who received this Purple Heart posthumously during World War II. John Hughes

Right: Lopez points to a vacant vault at the Washington State Veterans Cemetery at Medical Lake. John Hughes

Who is he?

In a 30-year U.S. Air Force career, Rudy Lopez lived all over the world. His family roots run 200 years deep in Texas. But when he landed at Fairchild AFB in Spokane in 2010, he realized he never wanted to leave. The former Command Chief Master Sergeant is one of Washington’s 600,000 veterans.

As one of the highest-ranking NCOs in the military, Lopez once managed the Air Force’s pharmacy career field. In 2007, he was a medical group superintendent at Joint Base Balad in Iraq. “We were operating out of tents in a dirty, dusty environment, yet we had a very low infection rate—one that would compare to any other facility. And our survival rate eclipsed anything else in other combat zones,” he says, emphasizing that the wounded warriors deserved no less than the best.

After retiring from the Air Force in 2013, Lopez became the director of the Washington State Veterans Cemetery southwest of Spokane. It’s the final resting place for some 3,000 veterans. “This is the honor of a lifetime,” Lopez says. “I’m blessed to have this job and to be able to keep serving my country in this place. In all those years of bouncing around, I had not seen a community that embraces its military and veterans like Eastern Washington.”