GOBERNADOR HONORS ITS OWN LOCAL HERO
by Carol Cohea/Staff Writer for the Daily Times Farmington, New Mexico
For more than 55 years the man who was critically wounded during a hail of German gunfire and whose life was saved by a young private from Gobernador, had wanted to tell the boy's mother her son had died a hero.
Saturday(August 3, 2002) at the commermoration of a memorial for Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jose F. Valdez, Willis Daniel, 77, of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., was finally able to tell the Valdez family the poignant story behind the medal.
Only 3,458 members of the armed services have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. It is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be given to an individual serving in the armed services. Jose F. Valdez received the honor posthumously in 1946.
The commemoration was held in Santo Nio Park, at the annual reunion of former Gobernador area residents and their descendants. It served also to mark Valdez' homecoming.
"I would have liked his mother to be here today. I would have hugged her neck and cried with her," Daniel said.
Later in an interview with The Daily Times, he began telling the story of a group of young infantry riflemen, most in their early 20s, who were just fighting to stay alive that cold, winter day so far from home.
"I was with him when he got shot, though I had never met him before that day," Daniel began. "He had turned 20 five days before the day he got shot....he was 20 when he died."
We had crossed the Fecht River. The bridge was under heavy shell fire. We swung to the right. Snow was on the ground," Daniel recalled of that January day in 1945.
"We had one bank of the river, the Germnans had one bank. We came from the rear into the town the Germans were holding. Valdez was with us all this time," Daniel said.
Then because words alone couldn't describe the scene, he borrowed a reporter's notebook and began sketching a crude map of the battle scene.
He told of the five Americans on outpost duty dressed in camouflage white. On one side were the woods about 500 yards away. On the other side was a railroad track with a bomb crater in the center. Between the two, stood the town's railroad station. Two piles of railroad ties stood at the farthest end of the paltform.
Daniel said they'd made their way to the railroad station. Some had taken cover in it. He was behind the nearest pile of ties, just off the platform end. Valdez had made his way to a second pile of ties, seperated by a short distance from the first. As the five waited and listened, a deer broke from the woods, then a rabbit.
Then came the opening barrage of enemy fire. The men were blasted with bullets. Valdez volunteered to cover his companions as they began to withdraw, one by one, to the American lines, first to the shelter of the railroad station and then to the depression of the bomb crater in the railroad track.
Three were wounded in the withdraw and Valdez was struck in the abdomen by a bullet that came out his back. Despite his wound and what must have been agonizing pain, he continued to fire until all were safe.
By field telephone he called for artillery and mortar fire against the Germans, correcting the range until he had shells falling within 50 yards of his position, repulsing the attack. It also enabled his own rescue.
"It was after the war I found out he had died," said Daniel. "I was trying to locate a member of his family. At one point I heard his mom was living in Durango. I called every Valdez in the book, trying to find her."
Steve kovatch, 78, of Boseman, Mont., was about 21 at the time.
"I was one of the last to see Valdez alive. He'd been hit and paralyzed from the waist down. Four of us went out to get him and carried him back to the railroad station," Kovatch said. "He was in bad shape then. I knew he wasn't going to live."
Abundio Castro, 81, of Holtville, Calif., was with Co. D, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. He was a machine gunner. He recalled Valdez was a quiet individual.
"He was a soldier you would want to be in your outfit. They sent him to the outposts. He was the type of fellow to stayawake all night, guarding and guarding. He was always alert and quiet. That keeps up the morale of the rest of the troops in the front line. Your live is at stake," Castro said.
"Now that I see where he came from, I realize his senses were sharpened by this country," Castro said.
Though Valdez was born in the Gobernador area in 1925 and raised doing day work at nearby ranches, he enlisted at Pleasant Grove, Utah: therefore, he is officially listed as a Utah Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.
Saturday's ceremony was not the first time Valdez had been recognized for his heroic actions near Rosenkrantz, France, on Jan 25, 1945. A U.S. Navy Vessel , the USNS Pvt Jose F. Valdez TAG-169, was named in his honor as are schools, streets, training centers and armories in Utah, Colorado and Georgia.
But this is New Mexico's first memorial to him in the community that gave him the strength and character to be called a hero. He is buried in the National Cemetery in Santa Fe.
Driven by the desire to bring the honor and the man home to his boyhood community, the PFC Jose F. Valdez Memorial Committee was formed by Valdez' relatives and friends. They worked for more than two years to raise funds to erect the permanent menorial and make it a reality.
Meanwhile, retired U.S. Army Reserve Lt. Col. Juan C. Gomez, of Center, Colo., began his efforts to organize the ceremony which included the three men who served with Valdez and two additional Medal of Honor recipients, Capt. Raymond G. Murphy of Albuquerque and Cpl. Hiroshi Miyarmura of Gallup.
"It was imoprotant to bring closure to the Valdez family and to the men who served with him. It was important to bring Jose home,". Gomez said.
Gomez' began a search for information about the 7th Infantry Regiment and 3rd Infantry Division and men who knew Valdez.
"I descovered they maintained separate Web sites and so I sent messages about the commermoration, hoping they would publish it in their newsletters. Not only did they do that, but they posted it on their homepages," Gomez said.
"The information went all over the world, accessible to anyone who keeps up with their old units. Both the 7th and the 3rd are highly decorated units involving several wars."
He said one by one, the e-mails began trickling in.
"Before we knew it, we had the names of at least six living Company B members who had served with Jose Valdez. They all remembered him vividly," Gomez said.
Besides the unveiling of the memorial by Valdez family members, American flags and a memorial wreath were placed by Medal of Honor recipients Murphy and Miyamura, Daniel, Kovatch and Castro. VFW Post 2182 provided a 21-gun salute while Nicole Tampino and Tyrell Brooks of Aztec High School played taps.
Members of the Pfc. Jose F. Valdez Memorial Committee included Pat Montoya, Mary Sims, Julie Lobato, Thomas Dugan, Amadeo Herrera, Felix Herrera, Harry Lobato, David Sims, Don Trujillo and Diane Trujillo.
Those who contributed to the ceremony included VFW post 2182 and 614; American Legion Posts 9, 93, 120, 131, San Juan United Veterans, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Military Order of the Marine Corps League and the Ladies Auxiliary, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe, Doug Sterner of the Colorado State Board of Veteran Affairs, Victor and Donna Lobato of Post 93, J.C. Gomez of the Gomez Ranch of Frances, Celso Gomez of Rancho Gomez, Brian and Vickie A. Olson, protocol officers and the Colorado State Veterans Center Homelake, Colo.
Again the above article was written by Carol Cohea of the Daily Times, Farmington, New Mexico..