The Story Behind The Name: Valdez Park and Bridge
By ROBERT A. NARANJO
Valdez Park – A modest city park, next door to the Española City Hall is well know by many, but few know the origins of its name. Valdez Park, the place of Little League games and summer picnics is named after a U.S. Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class whom was awarded the Navy Cross for “extraordinary acts of heroism” while saving the lives of two Marines during the Vietnam War.
Filiberto “Phil” Isidore Valdez, was a Valley native, born in Dixon, New Mexico, and graduated from Española High School. On Nov. 1, 1965, soon after graduation this young man enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After basic training, he was trained at the Naval Hospital Corps School in San Diego where he advanced to the rating of Hospitalman, and then Navy Hospitalman Phil I. Valdez was transferred to Naval Hospital in Key West, Florida. On Dec. 19, 1966, he was transferred to the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, Fleet Marine Force serving ashore in Vietnam near Danang.
According to military records, on the morning of Jan. 29, 1967, Hospitalman Valdez, whom was assigned as a Corpsman in the 3rd Platoon, was flown by helicopter into a combat area to provide support to the embattled Company “H,” 2nd Battalion. At the moment of landing, Valdez’ unit came under heavy enemy sniper fire and several Marines went down. Corpsman Valdez, with no regard for his own safety, sprang into action and sprinted across 7O yards of open land while being raked by enemy sniper fire to help a fallen Marine whom he helped to a place of safety.
After completing that heroic task, and as if made of steel, Corpsman Valdez raced once again into a hail of enemy fire to assist another wounded Marine 5O yards away! He got to him safely and placed himself between the fallen Marine and enemy fire. He began dressing the Marine’s wounds but quickly the enemy snipers got his range and the Navy’s Hospitalman and newly assigned Corpsman from Dixon was mortally wounded.
Valdez’ “heroic action and selfless devotion to duty” saved the lives of two wounded Marines and in recognition for his “…conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action” HM (Hospitalman) Valdez was advanced to the rate of Hospitalman 3rd Class and awarded the Navy Cross posthumously. The Navy Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor in distinction.
The awarding of the Navy Cross was followed by more honorable recognition for Hospitalman 3rd Class, Phil I. Valdez of Dixon, NM. A U.S. Navy frigate, a destroyer class ship, was named the U.S.S. Valdez in his honor.
USS Valdez underway. Courtesy photo
In the seventies, the City of Española named a new park located by City Hall, “Valdez Park” in honor of Hospitalman 3rd Class, Filiberto “Phil” I. Valdez. A small plaque donated by the Woodmen of the World that sits several yards from the north entrance to the park is the only visible testament to the heroism this local Valley boy showed and why the park has his name.
The Fairview Bridge in Española was named the “Phil I. Valdez Bridge” in his honor soon after the bridge built by the NMDOT. A plaque on the bridge commemorates that honor. The bridge naming was spearheaded by Ronald D. Espinoza, of Los Luceros in Alcalde, a U.S. Army Sgt. Ranger, Vietnam War, whom was wounded in action himself, and whom was the chairman of the local chapter of the American G.I. Forum, a national veteran’s rights family group.
Other than a few plaques like the one on the bridge and in the park, there are few reminders of who Phil Valdez was and what he did for his fellow servicemen and nation. At the formal adoption of Valdez Park in Española on Dec. 15, Del Norte Credit Union’s CEO John Molenda, spoke of revisiting and placing Dixon’s military hero, Phil I. Valdez, a Navy Cross recipient whom gave up his own life in exchange for saving the lives of two fallen Marines in Vietnam, and for whom the park is named after, as a focal point in the park. He must become more visible to citizens and to future generations of young people as a source of pride in this local hero and, “…we must not forget that he helped preserve their freedom and gave his life to do so,” Molenda said.
There are heroes in our Valley and they often go unnoticed. Hospitalman 3rd Class, Filiberto “Phil” I. Valdez is one that we are proud to remember today.