Monday, May 25, was celebrated as Memorial Day: the day to remember those men and women that gave their lives in America’s wars. Small town Americans have always answered the call to fight for their country whether they enlisted or were drafted. This was true during the Vietnam War. Pinal County made up of many small towns had at least 37 men killed in Vietnam. Not all of those soldiers were American citizens, but believed in America enough to sacrifice their life for their adopted country. Immigrants have fought and died for this country since the Revolutionary War.
One such immigrant was José Francisco Jimenez. José was born in Mexico City, Mexico on March 20, 1946. His early years were spent in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. In 1957, after his father’s death, he joined his mother, Mrs. Basilia Jimenez, in Red Rock, Arizona. He graduated from Red Rock Elementary School in 1964 and attended Santa Cruz Valley Union High School in Eloy. In High School he was active in the Future Farmers of America and was the FFA President his senior year. He also worked as a cowboy at La Osa Ranch near Red Rock. José graduated from high school in June 1968 and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in August.
Following basic training and advanced infantry training, José was ordered to the Republic of South Vietnam in February 1969. Prior to leaving for Vietnam, he returned to Red Rock to visit his family. They traveled to Mexico City and his hometown of Morelia. While in Mexico City, he visited the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to pray to the Virgin. In Vietnam he was assigned as a guide and fire team leader with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on June 16, 1969.
On Aug. 28, 1969, in Quang Nam Province, south of Danang, José’s unit came under heavy fire by North Vietnamese soldiers concealed in well camouflaged emplacements. Lance Corporal Jimenez acted quickly and shouting encouragement to his fellow marines, took the initiative attacking the emplaced enemy. During his actions, he knocked out a heavy machine gun emplacement then attacked a trench where enemy soldiers were laying down fire on his unit, killing five North Vietnamese. As he rushed towards another emplacement, he was fatally shot in the head. For his actions that day he was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
His mother had his remains sent to Morelia, Mexico where he was buried. On Aug. 6, 1970, José was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor at a ceremony in Washington D.C. President Richard Nixon presented the medal to Jose’s mother who attended the presentation along with her nephew J. Natividad Acosta and Jose’s sister Maria del Pilar. Arizona Senators Paul Fannin and Barry Goldwater also attended the ceremony as well as the Mexican Consul who acted as translator for Jose’s mother.
Jose’s cousin, Natividad, told the press that Jose volunteered because he felt he owed a debt to this country. “He didn’t have to join the Marines or fight for the United States,” Natividad said. “He could have gone back to Mexico, but he said he owed this country a great obligation for the way he and his mother had been received and helped here. I think that is why he volunteered and died in Vietnam. This was not his country, but he owed it a debt and he paid it.”
Note: In 2017, at the request of his sister and with the help of his fellow Marines and others who raised funds and helped make arrangements, José Francisco Jimenez was buried with full military honors next to his mother’s grave in Glendale, Arizona.