Sunday, May 26, 2013

TFH 5/26: Private Joseph P. Martinez, USA

Just about everybody knows that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, thus embroiling the United States as an active combatant in World War II. Likewise, the Japanese occupation of American territories in the central and western Pacific is also well known. Many however, don't realize that part of what today is one of our fifty states was actually occupied by the Japanese in 1942: the Alaskan Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska.

In 1943, the United States counter-attacked to reclaim the two Aleutians. Beginning on May 11, 1943, elements of the United States Army's 7th Infantry Division began landing on Attu to drive the Japanese out. Serving with the 7th's 32nd Infantry Regiment was Private Joe P. Martinez.

Joseph Pantillion Martinez was born on July 27, 1920 in Taos, New Mexico. One of seven children, he moved as a child with his family to Ault, Colorado in 1927. He was drafted for World War II service in August 1942.

Private Martinez was an automatic rifleman in Company K, 3-32 Infantry, equipped with the .30-06 Springfield M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. After more than two weeks of cold weather fighting in snow and ice conditions on Attu, the Americans were still trying to disloge the occupying Japanese from the high ground on Attu. Seventy years ago today, Joe Martinez charged forward alone with his "BAR" and hand grenades, routing enemy position after position and inspiring his fellow soldiers onward to victory before he was cut down by enemy fires. Later that year, he was posthumously decorated with the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-Z):


Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, Company K, 32d Infantry, 7th Infantry Division. Place and date: On Attu, Aleutians, 26 May 1943. Entered service at: Ault, Colo. Birth: Taos, N. Mex. G.O. No.: 71, 27 October 1943. Citation: 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 Holtz Bay and Chichagof 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 machinegun, 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-Chichagof Pass rose about 150 feet higher, flanked by steep rocky ridges and reached by 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.

Private Martinez today rests in peace at Ault Cemetery in his boyhood home of Ault, Colorado. A statue of him is also located on the grounds near the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. The troopship USNS Private Joe P. Martinez (T-AP-187) served during the Korean War.

3rd Battalion, 32nd Infantry is currently inactive. The 7th Infantry Division currently is constituted as an administrative headquarters for separate brigades and other units belonging to I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.

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