Utah’s only Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient honored posthumously

Apr 15, 2023, 1:19 PM | Updated: 1:39 pm

Medal of Honor recipient Jose Valdez...

SALT LAKE CITY — Jose Valdez was hundreds of miles from home when over 200 German soldiers conducted a counterattack on his patrol near Rosenkranz, France.

The end of World War II was still months away, and Valdez and his unit had already fought in North Africa and Italy. Valdez was on patrol duty with a handful of other men on Jan. 25, 1945. When an enemy tank came into view, Valdez single-handedly forced it to withdraw by shooting it with his automatic rifle. When three German soldiers advanced toward the patrol soon after and opened fire, Valdez returned fire, killing all three.

That would only be the beginning of his heroics that night. The Germans quickly launched a full-fledged attack. With two companies of infantrymen advancing, Valdez volunteered to cover his fellow soldiers as they withdrew.

“Sticking around was almost certainly a death sentence, but Valdez volunteered anyway so he could provide cover fire as his teammates fled, one by one, through a hail of enemy gunfire back toward American lines,” states a Department of Defense summary about Valdez.

Valdez was shot through the stomach — an injury that paralyzed him from the waist down. He pushed through the pain, continuing to fire until all the other members of his patrol were safe. He also used a field telephone to call for artillery and mortar fire and corrected the range until he had shells falling within 50 yards of his position.

Valdez would hold off about 200 enemy soldiers for a total of 15 minutes until they withdrew. He then dragged himself back to American lines but died less than three weeks later from his injuries on Feb. 17, 1945. Valdez was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his bravery the following year.

Nearly 80 years later, Utahns gathered at the state Capitol Friday to honor Valdez, who is considered the first Hispanic Utah resident to earn the Medal of Honor, the country’s highest military award for valor. The award has only been given to 3,525 people since its creation in 1861.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who spoke at the honorary ceremony, said Valdez’s actions are the stuff of a Hollywood movie.

“You would — while watching the movie — be emotionally gripped, first of all. You’d be on the edge of your seat. You might also even have the reaction: ‘There’s no way this story can be true, that one guy could not have done all that he did, one guy could not and would not have put so much at risk so many times and against all odds,'” Lee said. “This kind of heroism doesn’t come across every day; it’s rare.”

Valdez was buried with full military honors in New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Cemetery. He was born to a large Mexican-American family in northern New Mexico, and his family moved to Pleasant Grove in the ’40s to help build the Geneva Steel mill, which supported World War II’s shipbuilding industry.

During the honorary ceremony Friday, a number of schools were issued portraits of Valdez to hang in his memory. Lee said although there’s no way to repay the sacrifices veterans like Valdez have made, there is still immense value in remembering those sacrifices.

“By telling their stories and honoring them — even though it doesn’t bring them back, it doesn’t undo their sacrifice — it makes their sacrifice more meaningful because it shares their story,” he said.

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Utah’s only Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient honored posthumously