Growing up, Sgt. Sanchez knew exactly what he was going to be, a farmer. In fact, his guidance counselor even told him to take a few years off after high school to screw around. Since he already knew he was going to be a farmer, he didn’t need to waste his time at college. Apparently Sgt. Sanchez and his guidance counselor had a different idea of what enjoying life was though.
After seeing a lot of his friends get drafted, Joe wanted to do his duty for his country. So he went to his local recruiter and volunteered for the Army. Once in training, he took it even a step further. When asked what his first choice of duty assignments was, he said, “Vietnam.” When asked for his second choice, he said, “Vietnam.” He got his second choice.
Arriving in country was quite a culture shock for Sgt. Sanchez. To the best of his recollection, the flight over was the first time he had ever been in an airplane. Upon landing, he was ushered into a separate tent with a few other key men. Funnily enough, among those men was Sergeant Jim Braun. They were all told that the Apache Blues had recently lost some men and they needed to send some replacements. The men in the room were the top scores in physical training and were qualified to go. They were told that The Blues were a high speed unit, they saw a lot of combat and their chances of survival would be a lot lower if they went there. Because of this, the men had to volunteer for The Blues. They would not be forced to go. Sergeant Sanchez volunteered to join along with Sergeant Braun.
Unfortunately, Sgt. Sanchez’s time with The Blues was not as long as he hoped it would be. A little over three months into his tour, on December 7th, 1969, Sgt. Sanchez was shot multiple times in the right arm and left heel during combat. He was medevaced out with his arm wrapped with maggots to keep the wound clean before surgery. In total, he spent six months in the hospital before he was released. Upon release, he was offered no physical therapy or assistance with his arm. The doctors told him they had fixed it enough that he would have enough movement to be able to eat and go to the bathroom. That was the best they could do for him.
After his release, Joe decided it was time to go home and be a farmer. It was back on the farm that he discovered his own shoulder rehabilitation program, calf roping. The first time he picked up a rope was just for fun. He didn’t think he was going to be able to do it. But as the rope started swinging, he could feel his shoulder start to pop and stretch out. It also felt just a little bit better when he was done than before he started. So, as time went by, he continued to swing that rope and his shoulder continued to get better. Today, not only does he have full range of motion in his shoulder, but he is also a multi-time team roping champion.
Sergeant Sanchez lives in California and is still working as a successful farmer. One of the accomplishments that he is most proud of is that his lowest tenured employee has been with him for over forty years.
For his outstanding service to his country, Sgt. Sanchez was awarded 2 Bronze Stars, 1 Purple Heart and a Combat Infantry Badge. In his three months and two days in country, Sgt. Sanchez is officially listed as having taken part in 79 missions and firefights.