Opinion: The spirit of Memorial Day lives in this soldier’s sacrifice

Paintings of the late Jose F. Valdez, Utah’s only Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient, are pictured during a ceremony at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 14, 2023. The paintings were commissioned by the VFW Post 4918 and are being distributed to local schools upon request.
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Memorial Day is the acknowledgment that America endures not on the whims of fate but by the valor of patriots who gave their lives to defend this nation. As we gather to honor our fallen heroes, we are confronted with the profound cost of liberty, which impels us to renew our remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Army Pfc. Jose Valdez, Medal of Honor recipient and proud son of Utah, personifies the illustrious narratives of selflessness and courage we recall on this sacred day.

On Jan. 25, 1945, a young Valdez found himself in the harrowing realm of war. Stationed in Rosenkrantz, France, Valdez, and his brothers in arms from Company B, 7th Infantry Regiment, undertook their duty of patrolling the periphery.

While on watch, the German adversary materialized. The enemy tank approached from 75 yards away. Unyielding in spirit and armed with his rifle, Valdez fired upon the invader until it retreated. But this was just the beginning.

Three German soldiers emerged from the forest and opened fire. Valdez, undeterred by the imminent danger, courageously responded, neutralizing the enemy intruders.

However, two full companies of German infantrymen surged forward, bombarding the American patrol. The encirclement compelled their leader to issue the order of withdrawal.

To stay and fight was a suicide mission. But, unyielding in his resolve, Valdez volunteered to provide covering fire for his retreating soldiers. One by one, they escaped the clutches of the enemy. Though three suffered injuries, Valdez saved their lives.


Valdez, however, did not escape unscathed. A bullet pierced his abdomen and emerged from his back. The injury paralyzed him from the waist down. But resignation was alien to Valdez. Though wracked with pain, he summoned the vestiges of his indomitable will.

He alone sustained the unrelenting onslaught, single-handedly thwarting the advances of nearly 200 enemy soldiers. In the face of such unyielding resistance, the enemy retreated.

Fatigued, wounded, but resolute, Valdez summoned the last of his strength, dragging his broken body through the scarred terrain back to safety. A warrior in his final moments, he succumbed to his wounds three weeks later on Feb. 17, 1945, only weeks away from the end of hostilities in Europe.

Pfc. Valdez’s spirit and selfless actions saved the lives of his comrades. His unwavering dedication to duty and commitment to protecting our freedoms exemplify American heroism.

Through the stories of heroes like Pfc. Jose F. Valdez, we gain a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who have gone before us. Their unwavering courage and willingness to lay down their lives for our nation deserve our eternal gratitude. Because as Ronald Reagan once said, “The United States and the freedom for which it stands, the freedom for which they died, must endure and prosper. Their lives remind us that freedom is not bought cheaply. It has a cost; it imposes a burden. And just as they whom we commemorate were willing to sacrifice, so too must we — in a less final, less heroic way — be willing to give of ourselves.”

In reflecting on the valor of Valdez and the countless others who have made the ultimate sacrifice, we must embrace the burden freedom imposes upon us. The memory of our heroes serves as a reminder that liberty is not without cost, and we have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain.

Sen. Mike Lee is the senior United States Senator from Utah.

Robert T. Bates, 96 and a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, stand with members of the Orem High Latinos in Action as they are presented with a painting of the late Jose F. Valdez, Utah’s only hispanic Medal of Honor recipient, at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 14, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News