This Day in History: José Jiménez's Medal of Honor
On this day in 1946, a future Medal of Honor recipient is born in Mexico City. José “JoJo” Jiménez would move to the United States when he was ten years old. He wanted to be with his mother, who worked at the Mexican consulate. He graduated from an Arizona high school in 1968.
Within a matter of months, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He still wanted to return to Mexico someday, but he felt that he owed his adoptive home a debt of gratitude.
“He wanted to show his appreciation to the United States,” his sister explained, “for how well they treated my mom and him and me, just by letting us come over here and live. So he felt grateful.”
The decision would cost Jiménez his life. On August 12, 1968, he joined the Marines. Just one short year later, he was killed in action in Vietnam. Lance Corporal Jiménez would become one of three native-born Mexicans to earn a Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.
Jiménez was serving as a fire team leader on that day in August 1969 when his unit was attacked by North Vietnamese soldiers. “I still have dreams about that day,” survivor Alan Jones later recounted. “We had many difficult days in Vietnam, but that was one of the worst. We lost quite a few good Marines during that battle there in Death Valley.”
Jiménez’s unit had been ordered to take out a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun atop a hill. The American unit had made it partway up the hill when the Vietnamese attack came. The Marines were forced to take cover, but Jiménez “reacted by seizing the initiative and plunging forward toward the enemy positions,” as his citation notes. “He personally destroyed several enemy personnel and silenced an antiaircraft weapon.”
“He was determined to go up there and to bring the enemy down and to get that gun,” Jones later said. “And that’s what he did. . . . He just kept on charging, even though he was being fired at. It was just astonishing.”
Jiménez eventually worked his way forward so he was within 10 feet of the enemy. He destroyed the Vietnamese position, but the victory came at a price. His actions had made him the target of concentrated fire.
He was shot in the head and killed.
That wasn’t the end of the story, though. Jiménez’s men were determined to recover his body, despite the extreme danger to themselves. Multiple men volunteered to go! They would not leave him behind.
In the end, Jiménez’s body was recovered, but three Marines gave their lives in the effort. Three others were wounded. The recovery mission was not completed until the next day.
“JoJo was just a fantastic human being,” Jones concluded. It was a “fantastic bunch of young boys that fought in that war, and I hope that they’re always remembered.”
Ethnic and Racial Minorities in the U.S. Military: An Encyclopedia (Alexander M. Bielakowski ed. 2013)
Hispanic Medal of Honor website
Lance Corporal Jose Francisco Jimenez, USMC (deceased) (Marine Corps University website)
LCpl. Jose Francisco Jimenez (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website)
Medal of Honor citation (Jose F. Jimenez; Vietnam)
The Story of Jose Francisco Jimenez (Horizon; Arizona Public TV)