Jay R. Vargas was born in Winslow, Arizona, and is the son of immigrants, an Italian mother and Hispanic father, who came to the United States in 1917. His family taught him that the price of success is hard work and the cost of freedom is personal sacrifice. All four Vargas sons wore the uniform of their country in times of war: brothers Angelo and Frank at Iwo Jima and Okinawa during World War II, Joseph in Korea, and Jay in Vietnam.
Before joining the U.S. Marine Corps, Jay attended Northern Arizona University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education. He also earned a Master of Arts in Education with honors from the United States International University and earned an Honorary Doctoral Degree from Northern Arizona University.
Jay commanded and led Marines at every level, from a Rifle Platoon to an Infantry Regiment. His final tour of duty as a Marine Officer found him on the staff of the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Pacific, where he served as Force Marine.
Of his many accomplishments as a Marine Officer, the most widely publicized was achieved in combat. In the spring of 1968, while serving in the Republic of Vietnam, Jay's company engaged in fierce combat with the enemy at the village of Dai Do. During the battle, he was able to free one of his platoons who was pinned down by heavy fire, by personally destroying three enemy machine gun positions. Jay then carried to safety his seriously wounded battalion Commander and saved seven other Marines. Jay’s actions left 15 of the enemy dead and caused him to sustain wounds at three separate times. Jay refused to leave the battlefield until his injuries compelled him to do so. It was for his actions at Dai Do that, in a May 1970 ceremony at the White House, President Richard M. Nixon presented then Major Vargas with our nation's highest decoration for military valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1993, Jay was appointed Secretary of the California Department of Veterans Affairs, a position he held from 1993 to 1998. In July 2001, the President of the United States appointed him the Veterans’ Liaison for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a position in which he served until January2009. His region included the 19 Western States, Guam, and the Philippines.
Jay is the recipient of the VFW's "Veteran of the Year Award”; AMVETS "Civil Servant-of-the-Year Award"; and the Jewish War Veterans, USA “Citizen of the Year Award” for his dedicated service in caring for veterans. He continues to serve as a spokesperson for Triwest Healthcare’s mental health campaign, reaching out to both active duty military and veterans.
“The reason I joined the Gary Sinise Foundation is that it does so much for all veterans above and beyond any other organization in America. The manner in which the Foundation cares and gives so much to today’s wounded veterans is from the heart.”
— Jay R. Vargas