Jose R Martinez

Jose R Martinez

(1920-1943)

Jose P. Martinez was an unlikely military hero. He was born in Taos, New Mexico. As a young man during World War II, he was drafted into the U.S. Army in Colorado. He was eventually shipped to Attu Island in the Aleutian archipelago.

This chain of small islands off the coast of Alaska had become a key battleground between the United States and Japan. It is strategically located between the continents of North America and Asia. The Japanese had seized three of the islands, which gave them a logisti¬ cal advantage for an advance on the North American continent.

In 1943, the U.S. Army waged a protracted battle to eliminate the Japanese from the remote and snow-bound Attu Island. Repeatedly, the U.S. forces failed to conquer a strategic pass where the Japanese had posi¬ tioned themselves and were launching assaults. Martinez, who was only a private—the lowest rank a soldier can hold—took it upon himself to act.

Alone, he began to climb the steep, rocky hillside toward the enemy forces. From the top of the mountain, the Japanese fired down on him and the other U.S. soldiers with machine guns, rifles, and mortars. Martinez advanced with only his Browning automatic rifle and a few hand grenades.Repeatedly, he stopped, turned around, and shouted at his fellow sol¬ diers to advance with him.

Some did, but oth¬ ers did not have the courage.Martinez reached the first line of Japanese defense and fought off the enemy with his rifle and grenades. He continued to advance up the steep, 130-foot (46-m) mountainside, all the while under fire from Japanese troops who were positioned behind rocks and snow trenches to the side and in front of him.

As Martinez progressed, other U.S. soldiers gained tbieir courage and joined the charge. Along the way, Martinez destroyed several Japanese strongholds.Finally, Martinez reached the top of the pass where the Japanese were entrenched. He ascended the ridge and encountered the last stronghold of the enemy. He fired on them, but he was overwhelmed by their firepower and was killed.

Martinez’s efforts, however, were not in vain. He had instigated an advance that eventually enabled the U.S. forces to recapture the pass and, ultimately, to expel the Japanese troops from the island. By driving the Japanese out of the Aleutian Islands, the United States was able to prevent Japan from making a land advance onto the North American continent.

Martinez was recognized for his extreme bravery, leadership, and ultimate sacrifice. He was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor by Congress for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.” He was the first draftee in World War II to receive this distinguished honor.