RODRIGUEZ, CLETO LUNA

Cynthia E. Orozco
Cleto Luna Rodriguez (1923–1990).
San Antonio resident Cleto Rodríguez received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle for Manila in the Philippines during World War II. U. S. government photo available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

RODRÍGUEZ, CLETO LUNA (1923–1990). Cleto Luna Rodríguez, Medal of Honor recipient, was born on April 26, 1923, in San Marcos, Texas. After his parents died when he was nine, he moved to San Antonio with relatives in 1932. He worked at the Gunter Hotel and as a newsboy. He attended Washington, Irving, and Ivanhoe schools. Rodríguez was one of an estimated 375,000 to 500,000 Mexican American soldiers in World War II. The percentage of persons of Mexican descent who served in the armed forces was higher than that of Mexican Americans in the general public, and they constituted the most decorated ethnic group. 

Rodríguez entered the United States Army in early 1944 and served as a technical sergeant. He was an automatic rifleman with Company B, 148th Infantry, 37th Division, when his unit attacked the strongly-defended Paco Railroad Station during the battle for Manila in the Philippine Islands. On February 9, 1945, while his unit was halted by heavy enemy fire, Rodrٕíguez and his partner, John N. Reese, Jr., of Pryor, Oklahoma, advanced forward to a covered position where they remained for an hour and continued to fire at the enemy and killed more than thirty-five. They continued their advance to the Paco Railroad Station, where Rodríguez, throwing five grenades, killed seven enemy soldiers and destroyed a 20-mm gun and damaged another heavy machinegun. The two soldiers then made their way back to American lines, but Reese was killed during their return. In total, during two and one-half hours, the two soldiers killed more than eighty-two enemy soldiers and disorganized their defense, thus facilitating the defeat of the Japanese at their strong point. Two days later, Rodríguez singlehandedly killed six enemy soldiers and destroyed a 20-mm gun. Thus on two occasions he "materially aided the advance of U.S. troops in Manila." Later, he was promoted to staff sergeant. At the time, Rodríguez was the fifth person of Mexican descent ever to receive the Medal of Honor. Six Texans of Mexican descent received the award for service in World War II. Rodríguez was also the first Mexican American GI to win the highest award in the South Pacific. He also received the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star (with oak leaf cluster), Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with two campaign stars), World War II Victory Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

Grave Marker for Cleto Rodriguez.
Grave Marker for Cleto Rodríguez, Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Upon his return to San Antonio, city officials and the public greeted Rodríguez and gave him a key to the city. He married Flora Muñiz on November 11, 1945, and they had four children. Rodríguez joined the League of United Latin American Citizens, Council 2, in 1946. In 1947 he began work as a representative of the Veterans Administration. He served in the United States Air Force from 1952 to 1954 and again in the U. S. Army from 1955 to 1970, when he retired as a master sergeant. Ivanhoe Elementary School was renamed Cleto Rodríguez School in 1975. Rodríguez died on December 7, 1990, and is buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. A section of U.S. 90 in San Antonio was named the Cleto Rodríguez Freeway on December 7, 1991. He is portrayed in murals at the San Antonio Central Library and the Cassiano Housing Projects.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

“Cleto L. Rodriguez,” Hall of Valor, Military Times (https://valor.militarytimes.com/recipient.php?recipientid=512), accessed February 28, 2018. Committee on Veterans' Affairs, United States Senate, Medal of Honor Recipients, 1863–1973 (Washington: GPO, 1973). Raul Morin, Among the Valiant: Mexican Americans in World War II and Korea (Los Angeles: Border, 1963).

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Handbook of Texas Online, Cynthia E. Orozco, "Rodriguez, Cleto Luna," accessed May 25, 2018, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/frobv.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 28, 2018. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.