SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter commemorated the 70th anniversary of the death of Medal of Honor recipient Jose F. Valdez on Tuesday with the unveiling of a commissioned portrait and remarks by Attorney General Sean Reyes.
On Feb. 17, 1945, Valdez died of wounds sustained while protecting fellow American soldiers from German fire in Rosenkrantz, France. For his valor and bravery, the 20 year-old Pleasant Grove resident was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, making him one of only five Utah soldiers to ever receive the award. He is also Utah’s only Hispanic recipient.
VFW senior vice commander Kraig Thorne has spent the past three years fighting for increased recognition of Valdez’s sacrifice, which Thorne said he felt was underappreciated. In the Gold Room of the state Capitol on Tuesday evening, Thorne reached his goal in style.
Tuesday’s star-studded ceremony featured the Pledge of Allegiance led by Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, followed by Reyes’ remarks. Utah Valley representatives Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, and Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, were also present, as were several dignitaries from the Jose F. Valdez Army Reserve Center in Pleasant Grove.
Roughly 20 of Valdez’s living relatives attended the portrait unveiling, traveling from cities throughout Utah and Colorado.
“Many of you would have had the blessing of knowing your uncle or your cousin had he not given all for his country,” Reyes said in his address. “For that we are extremely grateful.
“My hope and my strong conviction is that through the example of people like Pfc. Valdez, who inspire our service men and women who serve valiantly now, that we will continue to be the great light for this world that we have always been,” he said.
Family members then unveiled Valdez’s portrait, painted by local artist Jon McNaughton. Using only two old photographs and a living Valdez look-alike, McNaughton reconstructed an image of the soldier with the medal around his neck.
“He never did get to wear that medal while he was alive, and so the idea of having him wear the congressional Medal of Honor (in the painting) was special,” McNaughton said.
Valdez’s third cousin Johnny Martinez read an original poem at the ceremony, titled “A Hero’s Plight.”
“Having served in Vietnam myself, I know what it takes to face the enemy,” Martinez said after the event. “It takes a great man to do what he did, to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. It’s a tremendous honor to know that I am related to such a person who was willing to sacrifice his all for his country, for his freedom and for the people that he was there fighting for.”
Valdez's niece, Lilia Valdez-Nix, called the ceremony a "beautiful tribute."
"I almost cried when they read the (Medal of Honor) citation, even though I've heard it so many times," Valdez-Nix said. "Not only is he a hero to the family, but to everybody in the country."
The finished portrait will hang in the halls of Pleasant Grove High School, where organizers hope it will uplift and inspire the school’s Hispanic students.
“There’s so many in the Latino community today that worry that our kids don’t have proper role models,” Reyes said. “This is a beacon of light that they can look to and say, ‘He looks like me. His last name sounds like me. He’s a hero, and I’d like to be like that.'"
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