It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
If anything, Robert Mendoza should’ve died in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or even on a training mission while jumping from an aircraft, but instead, an invisible enemy took his body hostage over Easter weekend and showed no remorse.
Mendoza, 43, died Monday inside the Tri-City Medical Center Intensive Care Unit after just a few days on a ventilator.
It happened fast. Too fast for his family to properly say goodbye.
“I just never thought my son would’ve gotten this because he was such a strong man,” said Yolanda Mendoza, the mother of one of San Diego’s latest COVID-19 victims.
Robert Mendoza was a black belt and by all accounts a warrior with deep ties to San Diego’s military community, both as a former Marine and a business owner.
“He served his country, went to war, and you would’ve thought through all the war, all the danger would’ve been behind him,” Yolanda Mendoza said.
Robert Mendoza first told his family about symptoms, including a migraine headache and gastrointestinal issues back on April 10.
Two days later on Easter Sunday, he tested positive for COVID-19.
A day later he went into the hospital and his condition worsened.
Seven days after being admitted Robert Mendoza died.
“I’m sure he fought the best he could, the way he did for his country,” Yolanda Mendoza said. “But, this virus. Everybody just needs to take this virus very seriously.”
Robert Mendoza first moved to San Diego from Houston, Texas at the age of 17 to join the Marine Corps.
His father, also named Robert, said his son just wanted to serve his country and it was all he talked about from an early age.
He went on to become a parachute rigger with several combat missions abroad, before retiring as a staff sergeant in 2008.
His military service continued, this time as a civilian, when he started Tactical Defense Systems in Oceanside.
Mendoza’s parents say it was his passion, but also a way to stay flexible with his “best buddy”, his 9-year old son.
“His shop was very close to Christian’s (Robert Mendoza's son) school, he wanted to be able to pick him up every afternoon,” said Yolanda Mendoza.
The family, including Robert’s sister, live in Houston and say losing him has been hard enough, but the disease also robbed them of an opportunity to hold his hand in his final hours.
The process of trying to get his body returned to his hometown has been exhausting.
What’s more, the questions about why his health deteriorated so fast, have kept them up at night searching for answers that may never come.
Was it the stress of working long hours at his business? Where did he get sick? Could the CPAP machine he used at night somehow made things worse?
“Who knows, we just have no idea,” Yolanda Mendoza said. “I don’t think we’ll ever know.”
A friend of the family recently set up an online fundraiser for Robert’s son on Facebook.