QUINCY — Quincy High School alum and Vietnam veteran Vicente Sanchez Jr. received the Bronze Star Medal last month — 50 years after the event that earned him the honor.
In October of 1969, Sanchez enlisted in the U.S. Army. He received training as an avionics mechanic, which included wire troubleshooting radios and navigational equipment on aircraft. On June 23, 1970, he shipped off to Vietnam, where he completed 29 missions.
During his tour, Sanchez was ordered to Kontum Airfield, a base named after the city it was closely located to but nicknamed Rocket City due to the frequency it was mortared, rocketed and overrun.
Immediately upon arrival at the base, Sanchez headed to the radio tower to repair a headset.
“While working on the headset, all hell broke loose. The sirens went off and we were plagued with heavy mortars and rockets,” Sanchez recalled. He explained that he saw people heading for cover and the mortars and rockets hitting the airstrip but barely missing the Huey helicopters.
The radio tower controller ordered him to head to the bunkers but Sanchez ignored the order and continued to work on the headset while the mortars and rockets were still coming in heavy.
“For some reason, I was not scared. I just did what I had to do, whatever it took,” Sanchez said.
He fixed the headset right as the other headset that the air traffic controller was using to warn incoming Hueys quit working. Once he gave the controller the fixed headset, he then finally complied with the original order to head to the bunkers.
After the bombing came to a halt, Sanchez returned to the radio tower to see if any more equipment needed to be fixed. It was at that point that the radio tower controller thanked him for his willingness to endure the attack to complete the work required. He was then informed that his work had saved the lives of two helicopters; the pilots, crew and all the troops aboard the two Hueys. The tower that he had been at had also barely missed being bombed by only a couple of feet.
He completed his Vietnam tour on May 23, 1971, and 11 months later was honorably discharged from the Army.
Sanchez grew up in a migrant family. His father worked as a farm laborer on many different farms, which meant the family moved a lot. Sanchez had seven siblings and started to work in the fields when he was 13 years old. One of the farms that Sanchez’s father worked for was Yoshino’s Farms, which brought the family to Quincy when Sanchez was starting high school.
Sanchez graduated from QHS in 1968 and went on to attend Yakima Valley Community College before enlisting in the Army and being sent to serve in Vietnam.
Thirteen years after leaving the Army, in 1985, Sanchez “felt the need to return to serve my country,” as he put it, so he joined the Army National Guard in Ephrata. While in the National Guard, retired Vietnam veteran Walt Cordova became aware of Sanchez’s story and encouraged Sanchez to appeal for a higher award. Cordova passed away before Sanchez applied for the upgraded honor. It wasn’t until 2016 Sanchez completed the paperwork required to pursue an upgraded award with the help of Col. Mike Pierce because he wanted to honor Cordova’s wishes.
Ultimately, the decision was made to award Sanchez the Bronze Star Medal.
During his second enlistment, Sanchez served in the Army National Guard, Army Reserve and the Air National Guard for a combined service of almost 25 years. He retired as Master Sergeant from the Air National Guard at Fairchild Air Force Base in 2006.
On April 17, Sanchez received the Army Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony at the American Legion Post 28 in Ephrata.
Sanchez said he is very fortunate and blessed, not only to receive the honor but to have even made it home. He said that even though people may say he is a hero, he does not see himself as a hero; the true heroes, he believes, are the ones who did not make it back home.
“This will be a very memorable and special day for me. I want to thank my dear friends, my family and my American Legion family for all their support,” Sanchez said.