RODRIGUEZ, JOSEPH CHARLES
RODRIGUEZ, JOSEPH CHARLES (1928–2005). Joseph Charles Rodriguez, Medal of Honor recipient, was born on November 14, 1928, in San Bernardino, California. He was the son of Jose and Victoria Rodriguez. Raised in southern California, he received his primary and secondary education in San Bernardino. Although the Rodriguez family was poor, his father provided young Joseph words he would remember the rest of his life: “Son, you be a man…and you don’t be afraid to die if it takes it.” Rodriguez graduated from San Bernardino Valley College in 1950.
Rodriguez’s future changed with the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. Drafted into the United States Army in October 1950, Rodriguez reported to Fort Ord, California, and was then assigned for basic training at Camp Carson, Colorado. Growing up in southern California, Rodriguez disliked the cold, the snow, and wind that were part of his military environment in Colorado. Trained as a combat infantryman, he was deployed to Korea and assigned to Company F, Second Battalion, Seventeenth Infantry Regiment, Seventh Infantry Division in early 1951. Seven months after his induction into the military, Rodriguez confronted a hostile enemy in the front lines of combat.
On May 21, 1951, Private First Class (PFC) Rodriguez’s unit found itself in a desperate battle with Communist forces near the village of Munye-ri, Korea. Company F was ordered to take control of a strategic location on high ground located on rugged terrain occupied by enemy forces. After gaining some ground on the ridge, Third Platoon pushed forward to within a hundred yards of the peak but was halted by enemy fire during three attempts to take the position. The Second Platoon proceeded to move forward in the line of heavy enemy rifle and automatic-weapons fire but was halted sixty yards from their objective. Pinned down by hostile fire, PFC Rodriguez felt helpless and angry toward the enemy. As an assistant squad leader of Second Platoon, Rodriguez believed he had to do something. Without fear for himself and totally exposed to the enemy, he rose to his feet and, carrying his rifle and grenades, dashed sixty yards up a slope toward the enemy emplacements. Throwing grenades into one foxhole and destroying an automatic weapon with two grenades, he then engaged the enemy at the top of the peak and wiped out two additional foxholes. At the right flank, he then tossed grenades into a final enemy emplacement and destroyed the crew and its gun. With the enemy subdued, the rest of the squad moved up the hill as Rodriguez threw additional grenades at those fleeing survivors. In his one-man assault, Rodriguez killed fifteen enemy combatants and secured a strategic enemy stronghold.
A few days after his heroics at Munye-ri, PFC Rodriguez was injured in combat and evacuated to Japan for medical treatment. During his three-month period of recuperating from his wounds, military authorities informed Rodriguez that he had been recommended for the Medal of Honor. After recovering from his injuries, Rodriguez was granted permission to return to his unit in Korea where he remained until late November 1951. For his Korean service, Rodriguez was awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds and the Combat Infantry Badge. On January 29, 1952, President Harry S. Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Sergeant First Class Joseph Rodriguez in a ceremony in the Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.
In April 1952 Rodriguez took a break from his military duties to appear on the television game show You Bet Your Life. Hosted by Groucho Marx, Rodriguez was joined with his future wife Rose Aranda. After hearing how Rodriguez won the Medal of Honor, Marx stated: “Well, I’m sure glad you’re on our side. Rose, take good, care of this fella. My advice is don’t ever make him mad—he’s liable to wipe out Los Angeles!” Rodriguez also told Marx he wanted to make a career in the U. S. Army.
Although a draftee, Rodriguez remained in the army. Rapidly climbing in rank, he attained every enlisted rank up to the grade of master sergeant. In June 1952 he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers. On November 22, 1952, Rodriguez married Rose Aranda; they had two sons and a daughter. For the rest of his military career, he undertook various assignments in the United States, the Far East, Vietnam, Latin America, Korea, and the Panama Canal Zone. In his final assignment before his retirement, Rodriguez served as the facilities engineer at Fort Bliss, Texas. With thirty years of service, Joseph Rodriguez retired as a colonel from the military in 1980. He earned numerous other honors during his military service, including the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, and various service medals from Korea, Vietnam, and the United States.
In retirement, Colonel Rodriguez made El Paso his home and remained active. For ten years, he was employed as the director of the physical plant at the University of Texas at El Paso. He kept busy as a community volunteer, public speaker, and golfer. Because of his distinctive military career, Colonel Rodriguez accepted invitations to speak to young students in schools, soldiers at military bases, and veterans at ceremonies honoring their service.
Col. Joseph C. Rodriguez died at the age of seventy-six in El Paso, Texas, on November 1, 2005. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife of fifty-two years, Rose, sons Charles and Lawrence, daughter Karen, eleven grandchildren, ten sisters, and two brothers. Rodriguez, a Catholic, was buried with full military honors at Mount View Mortuary and Cemetery in San Bernardino, California.
Colonel Rodriguez’s legacy has been honored in both California and Texas. The El Paso chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association is named the “Colonel Joseph C. Rodriguez (MOH)-249” in his honor. In August 2007 the El Paso chapter of the Military Officers Association of America established the Colonel Joseph C. Rodriguez, Medal of Honor, Memorial Scholarship. In September 2008 the Colonel Joseph C. Rodriguez Preparatory Academy, a combined elementary and middle public school in San Bernardino, was named in honor of the Medal of Honor recipient.
Col Joseph C Rodriguez, MOH, Memorial Scholarship, El Paso Chapter, Military Officers Association of America (http://www.elpasomoaa.org/content.asp?contentid=49), accessed October 12, 2017. El Paso Times, November 2, 2005. Raul Morin, Among the Valiant: Mexican-Americans in World War II and Korea (Alhambra, California: Borden Publishing Company, 1966). Edward F. Murphy, Korean War Heroes (Novato, California: Presido Press, 1992). Joseph C. Rodriguez Collection
(AFC/2001/001/89773), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Joseph Rodriguez, Medal of Honor, Korean War (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATXcEbKD81w) accessed August 5, 2017. San Bernardino Sun, November 6, 2005. Robert Skimin, Footprints of Heroes: From the American Revolution to the War in Iraq (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2005). Pablo Villa, “Sgt. Joseph C. Rodriguez,” “THIS MONTH IN NCO H ISTORY:MAY 21, 1951—TAKING THE HILL AT MUNYE-RI, KOREA, NCO Journal (http://ncojournal.dodlive.mil/2015/05/14/), accessed October 12, 2017.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Henry Franklin Tribe, "RODRIGUEZ, JOSEPH CHARLES," accessed December 12, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/frodu.
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