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Medal of Honor Recipient Stays Humble
Retired Col. Joseph C. Rodriguez holds a picture of himself and his Medal of Honor. He received the medal for valor in combat during his time in Korea. Book excerpt
"Fully aware of the odds against him, Rodriguez leaped to his feet, dashed up the fire-swept slope, and, after lobbing grenades into the first foxhole with deadly accuracy, ran around the left flank, silenced an automatic weapon with two grenades, and continued his whirlwind assault to the top of the peak, wiping out two more foxholes. Reaching the right flank, he tossed grenades into the remaining emplacement, destroying the gun and annihilating its crew. Pfc. Rodriquez's intrepid actions exacted a toll of fifteen enemy dead. As a result of his incredible display of valor, the defense of the opposition was broken, the enemy was routed, and the strategic strongpoint secured."
From "Footprints of Heroes," by El Paso author Robert Skimin
El Paso Times
Retired Army Col. Joseph C. Rodriguez tries not to reminisce about war.
As hard as he tries to forget, the spotlight is always on Rodriguez as one of the nation's Medal of Honor recipients.
"To reminisce on war, on what's ugly, is not good," Rodriguez said, sitting in his living room near a picture of a mural depicting him and other recipients of the nation's highest honor for valor in combat. "There are times when I do start to think about it and I shake my head and say, 'Forget it, it's over.'"
So Rodriguez, 76, prefers to reflect and acknowledge those who have defended the United States and other unsung warriors such as firefighters, police officers and medical doctors.
Rodriguez and his son Lawrence planned to be in South Korea this Memorial Day helping commemorate the evacuation of 14,000 North and South Korean civilians who fled communist tyranny in the 1950s.
"They were packed in like sardines on one ship," Rodriguez said. "It was quite a mess."
And though Rodriguez will be laying wreaths at various monuments, meeting Korean War veterans and touring the countryside, he cannot help but think of his heroic actions on May 21, 1951, near Munye-ri, Korea, that led to the commendation that President Truman pinned on him.
In his recently published book "Footprints of Heroes," El Paso author Robert Skimin describes how Army Pfc. Rodriguez, "a skinny draftee from San Bernardino single-handedly took on a fanatical hostile force occupying well-fortified positions on rugged terrain."
These days, Rodriguez would rather brag a little about his 11 grandchildren and his children: Charles Gary, who followed his father into the military; Lawrence, who works with Wells Fargo in Carson City, Nev.; and Karen, a registered nurse who lives near Fort Hood.
Rodriguez left Korea as a sergeant and spent 30 years in the Army.
He puffs up with pride talking about his son Charles Gary, a West Point graduate who is being promoted to major general on June 12 and will become the adjutant general for Texas, in charge of the National Guard, Army, Navy and home defense.
"The general has a big load to carry. We'll be praying for that guy," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is in constant demand for public appearances. When he's not out on the golf course, he is traveling or encouraging children to stay in school or speaking to civic groups or veterans.
"I'm the only recipient that has had four holes in one," he said.
Rose, his wife for 52 years, has been nagging Rodriguez to write his memoir.
"He's a very humble person, very low-key but very patriotic," she said.
So patriotic that Rodriguez will quickly defend President Bush's decisions on waging war against terrorists.
Rodriguez is the only living Medal of Honor recipient in El Paso. He talks about how the annual Medal of Honor Society reunions take inventory on who else has died. Once-prominent Hispanic recipients such as Roy Benavidez of South Texas are fading.
"We're losing too many of them," Rodriguez said. "But we're like a big family without rank or racial discrimination."
Scott Ferguson, a golfing buddy, described Rodriguez as "very proud of his accomplishment, probably one of the most candid, what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guys in the world."
Rodriguez is always cautious about what he says and does but rarely fails to participate in Memorial Day ceremonies.
"Sometimes, you just want to kick off your shoes and relax a little, but you have to have respect for the medal," he said.
Rodriguez's father was from Mexico, traditional and muy macho, always telling his son to be a man.
"I guess it turned out that way," Rodriguez said.
Ramón Rentera may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6146.
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