Mateo Valdez, September 19, 1945-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, and brothers Prajedes, Helario, Joe, and Sofonias Valdez.
He is survived by his only son, Roger Valdez, from Seattle Washington; brothers Peter Valdez of Espanola, and Luis Valdez of California; sisters Eliza Valdez of Nambe and Porfy Montoya of Rio Rancho; and many nieces and nephews.
As a boy, Valdez plated little league baseball in Espanola 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 dee appreciation for music and a lifelong sense of humility, honesty, and integrity.
In November of 1965, Valdez married Esther Martinez of Chimayo. The following year he was drafted into the United States Army.
He was a conscientious objector on religious grounds and was assigned to serve in Vietnam as an unarmed medical corpsman with the 9th Infantry of the United States Army of the Pacific (USARPAC). For his service, 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 he saved men’s lives on the battlefield. His Silver Star 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 helicopter. While wounded, he resisted additional morphine offered by fellow soldiers who understood how seriously he was hurt. He recovered in Japan, and them in a hospital in Texas.
Later Valdez earned his degree at the University of New Mexico in accounting. He and his wife divorced in 1974. He remained an active parent, traveling with his son every summer, including trips to Washington D.C., and to professional baseball games across the country.
Valdez worked for the United States Air Force and the State of New Mexico before retiring in the 1990’s. He moved to Seattle before eventually returning to Espanola 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 of 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 this idealism in doing the right thing despite the risk. He admired this characteristic in others and always endeavored to live that way himself.
A memorial gathering will be announced at a later time.
Private internment will be held at the Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, NM.
The family of Mateo Valdez has entrusted the care of their loved one to the DeVargas Funeral Home & Crematory of the Espanola Valley. 505-747-7477 www.devargasfuneral.com