Joe Pantillion Martinez MOH

b. 27/07/1920 Taos, New Mexico. d. 26/05/1943 Attu Island, Alaska.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 26/05/1943 Attu Island, Alaska.

Joe P Martinez MOH

Joe Martínez, a Mexican-American, was one of seven children born to José Manuel Martínez and María Eduvigen Romo, both who were natives of New Mexico. In 1927, his father, who was an agricultural laborer, decided to move from Taos, New Mexico to Ault, Colorado. There, Martínez received his primary and secondary education. In August 1942, he was drafted into the United States Army and sent to Camp Roberts, California where he received his basic training.

On June 6, 1942, Japanese forces invaded the island of Kiska and on June 7, the island of Attu. These islands are among the westernmost islands on the Aleutian chain and are part of Alaska. The U.S. feared that the islands would be used as bases from which to launch a full-scale aerial assault against the cities in the United States West Coast, and it became a matter of national pride to expel the first invaders to occupy American soil since the War of 1812.

After Martínez completed his basic training, he was assigned to Company K, 32d Infantry, 7th Infantry Division. On May 11, 1943, the 7th Infantry Division landed at Holtz Bay, Attu, officially starting the Battle of Attu. On May 25, 32nd Infantry Regiment was engaged in combat in the vicinity of Fish Hook Ridge against enemy troops. The regiment was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire and Martinez on his own account led two assaults. He fired his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) into the Japanese foxholes, killing five machine gunners, and the men of his unit followed. Martínez was shot in the head as he approached one final foxhole after the second assault, dying of the wound the following day. Martínez was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. It was presented to his family on November 11, 1943 in Ault, Colorado by Brigadier Frank L. Culin Jnr. 

Private Martínez was the first Hispanic-American recipient who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for combat heroism on American soil during World War II.



For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy. Over a period of several days, repeated efforts to drive the enemy from a key defensive position high in the snow-covered precipitous mountains between east arm of Holtz Bay and Chichogof Harbor had failed. On 26 May 1943, troop dispositions were readjusted and a trial coordinated attack on this position by a reinforced battalion was launched. Initially successful, the attack hesitated. In the face of severe hostile machine-gun, rifle, and mortar fire, Pvt. Martinez, an automatic rifleman, rose to his feet and resumed his advance. Occasionally he stopped to urge his comrades on. His example inspired others to follow. After a most difficult climb, Pvt. Martinez eliminated resistance from part of the enemy position by BAR fire and hand grenades, thus assisting the advance of other attacking elements. This success only partially completed the action. The main Holtz-Chichogof Pass rose about 150 feet higher, flanked by steep rocky ridges and reached a snow-filled defile. Passage was barred by enemy fire from either flank and from tiers of snow trenches in front. Despite these obstacles, and knowing of their existence, Pvt. Martinez again led the troops on and up, personally silencing several trenches with BAR fire and ultimately reaching the pass itself. Here, just below the knifelike rim of the pass, Pvt. Martinez encountered a final enemy-occupied trench and as he was engaged in firing into it he was mortally wounded. The pass, however, was taken and its capture was an important preliminary to the end of organized hostile resistance on the island.