He almost shared a birthday with the nation. Joseph Rodriguez was born on the 3rd of July and his patriotism is legendary in his family. The Marine served in World War II and played a pivotal role in ground assaults that helped the U.S. secure victory in Japan.
Marine Joseph Rodriguez was on a mission in Japan in 1945 when he came upon a grizzly scene. "I was going up a hill and I was really shocked at what I saw, dead bodies all over the place," he said.
He saw the remnants of a battle between Japanese soldiers and U.S. Marines only the battle wasn't quite over.
"I looked down and I saw dust come up and dust come up again. There was someone shooting at me," Rodriguez told us.
He narrowly avoided being shot before getting away. That was the first of many dangerous missions as a Marine. But Rodriguez says the branch almost didn't take him when he went to sign up as a young man in Illinois in 1944. He had a lot of heart but not a lot of weight. He was only 120 pounds. The Marines warned him he better give it all he had.
Rodriguez said they told him, "if you don't make it we're going to send you right back to your mama. I said ok."
He went through boot camp at a Marine base in San Diego and took specialized training at the ally controlled island of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific. He trained to be in the infantry firing anti-aircraft weapons and learning to serve on a survey crew. Their job was to scout out locations for long range weapons. And that's what he did when he got to Japan on April 1, 1945.
He was part of Operation Iceberg as allied forces tried to take Okinawa. He remembers the moment he arrived by boat. He said, "keep your head down and just run. We were splashing through water because the boats, they don't land on shore."
They were being fired at the whole way. But he survived. During his time in Okinawa the Japanese fought desperately to gain back the ground they lost. The battle of Okinawa lasted nearly 3 months. After it ended Rodriguez and other Marines were stationed in Tsingtao, China where they accepted the surrender of Japanese soldiers.
In 1946 he was headed back home to Illinois where his family was waiting to welcome him. His mother put out a big spread of home cooked food, cooking he hadn't tasted in years. "She had food and she had made fresh tortillas, and rice and beans, tamales and what not," he said.
He was finally home but forever a Marine. He came to Texas to raise his family. His daughter Joyce Cammack says her dad taught her to love this country and to understand what it took to protect it. Cammack said, "I've always been proud of Dad. He kind of epitomizes the Semper Fi valor and honor and that's my dad."
"If I had to die I'd die for my country any day," Rodriguez told us.