By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity
When you ask Medal of Honor recipients why they did what they did to earn the nation’s highest military honor for valor, you can get a slew of responses. It’s not very often that you hear it’s because they were angry.
But anger is exactly what drove Army Pfc. Joseph Rodriguez to the actions for which he received his medal on this day during the Korean War 66 years ago.
Rodriguez was born and raised in San Bernardino, California, and was drafted into the Army in October 1950, not long after graduating from college. Within about six months of entering service, he was sent to Korea to fight as an infantryman with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Their efforts were part of a counterattack by U.S. forces to regain ground in the region.
On May 21, 1951, Rodriguez was leading his squad on a mission to take a hill near the village of Munye-Ri, where enemy forces were entrenched. Three attempts by other units had failed, leading to heavy casualties.
Almost immediately, Rodriguez’s squad was pinned down by heavy gunfire. They couldn’t tell where the shots and grenades were coming from, and they couldn’t advance or retreat. They were stuck with about 60 yards of hill between them and the enemy.
And that did not sit well with Rodriguez.
“I was very angry, the fact that they had all of our men pinned down. And I felt something had to be done,” Rodriguez said in an interview archived with the Library of Congress. “I didn’t even think about it. I just did it.”
“It” was his decision to dash up the hill despite the heavy gunfire and toss grenades at two enemy foxholes, silencing both of them. He then ran back down the hill for more grenades before heading back up it – again, by himself – to finish the job, knocking out three more machine gun nests with his grenades.
His actions took out 15 enemy soldiers and led to his unit being able to secure the hill for themselves.
Amazingly, Rodriguez didn’t suffer any major injuries. A week later, however, he did suffer serious wounds in combat that required three months of recuperation. Afterward, he returned to his unit and continued to serve in Korea until November 1951, when he was reassigned to duties in the U.S. and promoted to sergeant.
On Feb. 5, 1952, Rodriguez received the Medal of Honor at the White House from President Harry S. Truman.
Within the next year, Rodriguez was commissioned in the Army Corps of Engineers. He spent nearly 30 years with the Corps, 12 of which were spent overseas on more tours of Korea, as well as Vietnam and several Latin American countries. He retired at the rank of colonel in 1980.
Rodriguez married Rose Aranda in 1952, and they had three children.
After his military service, Rodriguez spent a decade working at the University of Texas. He then did speaking engagements at schools, military installations and at ceremonies honoring veterans until his death due to health complications in November 2005, just two weeks shy of his 77th birthday. He was buried with full military honors at Mountain View Cemetery in San Bernardino.
In September 2008, his hometown honored him by naming an elementary/middle school after him: the Colonel Joseph C. Rodriguez Preparatory Academy.
Thank you for your bravery and your many years of service, Col. Rodriguez!
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