Mateo Valdez: “His Hand in Mine”

Mateo Valdez March 4, 2022

Mateo Valdez from Espanola passed away after a battle with cancer. He was 76 years old.

He was preceded in death by his parents Juan and Emma Valdez, brothers Prajedes, Helario, Joe, and Sofonias Valdez.

He is survived by his only son, Roger Valdez from Seattle, Washington, brothers Peter Valdez of Espanola, Luis Valdez of California, sisters Eliza Valdez of Nambe, Porfy Montoya of Rio Rancho, and many nieces and nephews.

As a boy, Valdez played little league baseball in Española and was a fan of the Saint Louis Cardinals, listening to their games on a transistor radio in spite of his mother’s prohibitions. He was also a big fan of Mickie Mantle. And because his mother was an avid churchgoer so was Valdez. It was in church that he gained a deep appreciation for music and a lifelong sense of humility, honesty, and integrity.

In November of 1965, Valdez Married Esther Martinez of Chimayo and then he was drafted into the United States Army in 1966.

He was a conscientious objector on religious grounds but was assigned as a medical corpsman to the 9th Infantry of the United States Army of the Pacific (USARPAC) in Vietnam. For his service in Vietnam, Private First-Class Valdez was awarded the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.

Valdez would never bring it up himself, but as a medic without a weapon, he saved men’s lives on the battlefield, earning a medal for gallantry in action, the Silver Star. The commendation letter described his actions on December 4, 1967 as “exceptionally valorous” and “decisive.”

“Private Valdez and his fellow soldiers became pinned down under a devastating volume of fire, and casualties mounted. Private Valdez totally disregarded his own safety by exposing himself to the withering barrage as he administered medical aid to his comrades, Private Valdez bravely assisted wounded men across 100 meters of bullet-torn terrain to the medical aid boat. He then ran and crawled to the very front of the perimeter in order to construct a makeshift litter and then to carry casualties to areas of relative safety.”

Less than two weeks later, Valdez stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) while carrying a wounded soldier to a waiting helicopter. While wounded, he resisted additional morphine offered by fellow soldiers who understood how seriously he was hurt; it was indicative of his resistance to ever being given special treatment. He recovered in Japan, and then in a hospital in Texas. Later he earned his degree at the University of New Mexico in accounting.

Valdez and his wife divorced in 1974, but he was an active parent, traveling with his son every summer including trips to the Washington DC and to professional baseball games across the country.

Valdez worked for the United States Airforce and the State of New Mexico before retiring in the 1990s. He moved to Seattle eventually returning to New Mexico after his diagnosis.

Valdez held stubbornly to his independence throughout his life, but he was always up for a good conversation, a drink, and karaoke. He almost always had a guitar and taught himself many songs, memorizing dozens including his favorite, El Paso by Marty Robbins. He also especially enjoyed singing Elvis and Jim Reeves songs. One of his favorite songs by Elvis was His Hand in Mine.

While he long ago gave up church and formal religion, he always said he enjoyed reading the bible. One of his favorite stories was Nathan the prophet’s dramatic confrontation with a sinful King David. After Nathan describes a greedy and violent man in the kingdom, David demands to know who this evil person is so he can punish him.

Nathan says, “Thou art the man!”

When he told the story, Valdez would always take satisfaction in that surprise ending. It was consistent with his idealism for doing the right thing in spite of the risk.  He admired this characteristic in others and always endeavored to live that way himself.

Memorial gathering to be announced at a later time.

Private Interment will be held at the National Cemetery in Santa Fe, NM