Specialist Four Santiago J. Erevia will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as radio telephone operator in Company C, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile) during search and clear mission near Tam Ky, Republic of Vietnam. (See profile below)
Staff Sergeant Melvin Morris will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as Commander of a Strike Force drawn from Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, during combat operations against an armed enemy in the vicinity of Chi Lang, Republic of Vietnam on September 17, 1969. (See profile below)
Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela will receive the Medal of Honor for his courageous actions while serving as the company commander, Detachment B-36, Company A, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces during combat operations against an armed enemy in Phuoc Long Province, Republic of Vietnam on September 1, 1969. (See profile below)
February 26, 2014
By Elizabeth M. Collins,
Department of Defense
WASHINGTON (Soldiers Live, Feb. 26, 2014) — The year was 1968. It was a year of war, of protests, of death.
It was the year Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated. It was also the year the Vietnam War exploded into new levels of violence. And as troops poured into ‘Nam and more and more young men died — 1968 was the deadliest year of the Vietnam War — Americans watched it all from their living rooms with anger and disgust. The protest movement gained traction. Protesters spit on returning Soldiers, called them rapists and baby killers. In fact, the U.S. agreed to begin peace talks in Paris that year, due in part to the dwindling support at home.
It was also the year Santiago Erevia became a Soldier. He had been scraping by, working in restaurants in San Antonio. The future stretched before him, an endless sea of dead-end job after dead-end job. So he volunteered. If you volunteered versus being drafted, it meant fewer years of service, he explained. He knew he would end up in Vietnam, but he figured the Army would give him a lot of opportunities he wouldn’t have if he stayed in Texas. Erevia knew what he was risking — a friend had just come home horribly wounded and disfigured after only a month in combat and many more months in the hospital.
“People take their chances,” Erevia said. It didn’t mean anything would happen to him.
And it didn’t. He arrived in country in November 1968, and although he was assigned to the infantry — he joked that he was too dumb for anything else — and came through Vietnam as a hero who will receive the Medal of Honor during a March 18 White House ceremony, then-Spc. 4 Erevia also went home almost unscathed. A grenade did send some shrapnel into his back, earning him a Purple Heart, but the wound was so insignificant that he was back on patrol the next day. Indeed, Erevia narrowly escaped death or maiming time and again, even after a daring mission to capture and ultimately kill North Vietnamese Army, known as the NVA, soldiers, for which he received a Bronze Star. The other Soldiers in his unit, Company C, 1st Battalion (Airmobile), 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), even started to joke about the radio-telephone operator’s luck.
“I was very fortunate, very, very fortunate,” Erevia admitted. “I think I stepped on quite a few mines.” One close call involved a Claymore mine that had actually been stolen from Co. C: “We came up to a culvert, about six or seven feet deep,” he said. “I had to climb down and get up again. That was my savior. I helped everybody get up. There were three or four guys who went up ahead of me. They hit the Claymore mine. The front guy lost his leg. One guy had pellets all the way up his front. The third man had his hand broken. I was the fourth man. Nothing touched me. I was like a miracle baby.”
His luck held on in May 1969. Overall, that May was a particularly intense month in Vietnam. Near the Laotian border, for example, three battalions from the 101st Inf. Div., including the 501st’s 2nd Battalion, waged a bloody 10-day campaign to seize a mountain that troops and reporters nicknamed Hamburger Hill thanks to the horrific injuries many Soldiers sustained. Meanwhile, across the country on the central coast of the Republic of Vietnam, near the city of Tam Ky in Quang Tin Province, Soldiers from the 21st Infantry Regiment fought a lesser-known battle to clear the Viet Cong, known as the VC, from Nui Yon Hill.
Then, Erevia’s battalion air assaulted onto another hill near Tam Ky, May 21, after a day of light skirmishing between his company and the enemy across a rice field. When they finally arrived at the hill, the operation began like any other search-and-clear mission, he remembered. But the NVA and the Viet Cong were dug in, and things went downhill quickly. As the unit prepared to cross a football field-sized clearing about 100 yards from the hill, they started taking fire.
“We had wounded guys,” Erevia remembered. His M16 started to malfunction, so his company commander ordered him to stay behind and care for the wounded while the rest of the men pushed up the hill from the north at about 4 p.m. Erevia’s position soon came under attack with intense automatic and small arms fire from four underground enemy bunkers, however. Crawling through the hail of bullets, he collected a second M16 and several hand grenades from the wounded Soldiers and crept forward with his friend Spc. Patrick Diehl. The two men then took cover behind a tree while they tried to locate the first enemy position.
“We were back to back and Diehl was to the left, I was to the right,” Erevia remembered, tears coursing down his face. “I said, ‘Diehl, do you see anything to your side?’ He never answered. And I said, ‘Diehl!’ I turned around and he was laying on the ground with a bullet hole square on his forehead.” Another Soldier lay about 10 feet away with a bullet wound to his back. Erevia thought he was dead (he wasn’t), and “while he was lying on the ground, I said, ‘Well, I have no choice. They can die. So can I.
“I knew that the guy who killed Diehl … was like to the far left, but we had fire coming in from three sides. The Army trains you to fight. In that situation, if somebody’s laying in a hole or down an embankment, and if you’re running toward where they’re at, you’re supposed to lay down suppressive fire, try to keep your head down, which I did. I ran and took my two M16s. I was able to throw within maybe five feet from the foxhole (the enemy) was hiding in. I had a grenade, threw it at him and that was it.”
Under intense fire from three other bunkers, Erevia continued moving forward to the two closest locations until he was close enough to destroy them with his remaining grenades. Then, running and firing both M16s simultaneously, he fought his way to the last bunker, to the soldier who had killed his friend.
“I started kind of walking toward him. The guy from that foxhole rose up,” Erevia said. “Unfortunately, he penetrated my — we had those jungle shirts that we wore — one bullet went through the jacket … but I was able to fire point blank at his face and did him in.”
By this time, other Soldiers were coming back from the hill to help, but Erevia had single-handedly taken out four infamous VC bunkers. A bullet had passed through his jungle shirt and flak jacket, but he was fine. He went back to caring for the wounded until helicopters arrived to medevac them to safety. “I loaded up a whole bunch of my friends into those helicopters,” he recalled, explaining that as an RTO, he often had to direct the helicopters’ landings as well.
The surrounding area was still full of NVA and VC — even heavy fire from the air didn’t root them out — so Erevia’s instructions to the pilots were critical to ensuring a safe landing and subsequent takeoff. “There was a helicopter coming in,” Erevia explained, “and there was only one way he could come in. That was directly in front of us. I said, ‘Come in straight. Do not go to the right. Do not go to the left. We’re surrounded. If you go to the left, you’re going to get shot.'” The pilot didn’t listen, and after its rotor was shot off, the helicopter crashed and exploded as the men of Company C watched in horror.
“We were delegated to go get the bodies from the helicopter,” Erevia continued. “I can remember one that they took out. He had no legs, just the upper body. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a body or like when you’re barbequing hamburgers or chicken and all that blood is coming out? That made me the sickest man in the world.”
It seemed as though he couldn’t escape the violence. In fact, the events of that day were so traumatic and disturbing that Erevia’s commander sent him on a weeklong rest-and-relaxation trip to Da Nang, not only as a small reward for his bravery, but to help him recover. Like many troops in Vietnam, Erevia then spent the remainder of his yearlong deployment performing administrative tasks in the rear at Landing Zone Sally, delivering meals or replacing Soldiers’ used uniforms with clean ones.
After Vietnam, Erevia finished his tour at Fort Riley, Kan., and went back to San Antonio, where he joined the Texas National Guard and served for another 17 years. He received the nation’s second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross, in 1970, and he thought that was the end of it. It was an honor, one that he was proud of, one that helped him get a good job as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service (a job he held for the next 32 years), but he was never one to brag about his accomplishments. He didn’t want to talk about Vietnam. He just wanted to move past what had happened: “I didn’t give it too much thought. You know, you go from day-to-day, do what you’re told.”
That resolve didn’t stop the nightmares though. For the next three or four years, every night when Erevia closed his eyes, he would dream about that day in Vietnam, tortured by images of his lost buddies, of Diehl and the other men who had died. The nightmares have faded now, but the memories are still painful. When he does talk about the events of May 21, 1969, it’s slowly, with long pauses and more than a few tears.
So when he got a phone call from the White House a few months ago, Erevia couldn’t quite believe it. “They called me and the one lady said, ‘I’m with President Obama. He wishes to talk to you.’ He said that upon reviewing the documents that he thought that I deserved the Medal of Honor. I went numb. I couldn’t talk. He finally said, ‘Are you there?’ I said, ‘Sir, let me recoup my emotions. I’m talking to the president! It’s not every day that I do that.'”
There are no words that can describe how he’s feeling, Erevia continued, adding “I’m only thankful I’m getting it while I’m alive.” Those are sentiments echoed by his son Roland, who is himself a specialist in the Texas National Guard and a three-time veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a Soldier, he knows just how rare and precious the Medal of Honor is, and he couldn’t be prouder of his father.
“To me, it’s outstanding how much courage he had and passion he had for saving people,” Roland said. “I don’t talk about it with him, but I think about it every day, actually, because I know what he went through. … I felt like it was me getting an award.”
Although the elder Erevia never told Roland many details about Vietnam, and Roland didn’t ask because he saw how it upset his father, Erevia’s service, his sacrifices, resonated deeply with his son. While Roland confessed that “I feel like I’m not good enough to stand in his squad,” he also credited Erevia with inspiring his decision to join the Army, especially with the sense of honor and duty his father instilled in him.
In addition, Erevia gave Roland one very important piece of advice: “Don’t be a hero. … Just duck and hit the ground and raise your rifle and shoot toward the enemy. Don’t try to be a hero. I was put into the situation that I could not get out. I had no recourse other than I was able to fight or I was going to die. But really, if you don’t have to put your life in the hands of God, (don’t).”
After more than four decades, Vietnam War hero to receive Medal of Honor
February 25, 2014
By Lisa Ferdinando
Department of defense
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 25, 2014) — Sept. 17, 1969, was a “terrible day, a hard day,” said a Vietnam War veteran who will receive the Medal of Honor at the White House, March 18, for his actions on that day more than four decades ago.
Speaking from his home in Florida, retired Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris recently recalled the events of that day, when he was a Special Forces Soldier in the middle of the fiercest fighting he had ever seen.
Ambushed in the jungle of Vietnam, chaos followed for the then-staff sergeant. A radio call delivered the news that his team sergeant had been killed. Gunfire rained down from all directions.
In the day-long battle that ensued, Morris advanced his team to recover their fallen comrade, safely moved wounded men, and again put himself in the path of enemy fire.
Shot three times, he was wounded and bleeding. He felt no pain.”I was in a few battles,” he said. “But nothing compares to that. Nothing.”
In 1970, he received the nation’s second-highest honor for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross.
More than four decades later, he received a surprise call that brought him the news of the nation’s highest military honor for valor, for his extraordinary actions and bravery that day.
AN IMPORTANT CALL
“It’s an honor that I can’t describe. I can’t. Words won’t do it,” Morris said.
He and his wife of more than five decades, Mary Morris, never dreamed in their lifetimes who would be calling one Friday morning. “It was the president of the United States,” Morris said. “I almost passed out.”
He had been told by the Pentagon two days prior to expect a call from a high-level official. He was not told who would be calling or why. But now, Morris was on the phone with President Barack Obama.”He told me that he regrets that it took so long, but that I was going to be awarded the Medal of Honor. I couldn’t believe that, and I don’t believe she (Mary) could believe it either,” Morris said.
The honor, Morris said, is not for him alone; it is for the Soldiers who were with him that day and those who bravely served, the men who died heroes who will never be recognized. Every Soldier is a hero, he said.”This is for them and for the whole nation,” he said.
He said he was a Soldier just carrying out his duty that day, doing what any Soldier would have done in the same situation.”I’m proud of every Soldier,” he said. “I’m just one of the people who did have witnesses.”
Now that he is being honored so many years after that day, he said he hopes that everyone in the jungle that day “will be recognized now for their efforts.”
The Medal of Honor is beyond anything he ever fathomed. “It’s an honor you never expect,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed. I still can’t comprehend it.”
THE YOUNGER YEARS
“There’s no future, there’s nothing for us,” Morris and his brother had said about their boyhood home in Okmulgee, Okla., a rural community east of Oklahoma City.
The fourth of eight children in an African-American family that was evenly split between boys and girls, Morris has fond memories of his childhood and the small town, despite the lack of opportunities.
“We learned to survive; there were some tough times. There was no money coming in. But we were a happy family,” he said.
His youth was filled with sports, hunting, fishing and quality time with his siblings, parents and grandparents. Morris, who went to a Baptist church later in life, attended three years of Catholic School as a boy before going to public school.
At a young age, the military was already in his blood. Most of the men in his family — including two of his brothers and an uncle — served in the military, he said.”The Army didn’t offer you anything then, nothing, no school benefits, no nothing, but that didn’t matter to me, I just wanted to be in that uniform, I wanted to be a Soldier, I wanted to do things, go places, that was it. No regrets,” Morris said.
Morris shipped off to basic training in 1959 and entered Special Forces in 1961.”When I went into the military, I didn’t know what kind of money they made. I just wanted to be a Soldier and when I saw $61 a month, I thought that was all the money in the world,” he said with a laugh. “I’ve never seen that kind of money.”
A FAMILY WORRIED
One night, while music played at the USO and young people came to socialize and dance, Morris, now a Soldier stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., met a young woman named Mary Nesbitt, from Fayetteville, N.C.
Three months later, they were newlyweds, the start of a lifelong partnership that would see a full Army career, the good times and challenges, three children — Melvin Jr., Jennifer and Maurice — and the seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren who followed.
Mary remembers the worry of being married to a Soldier who was doing a tour in Vietnam and having small children at home — never knowing what danger her husband faced each day.
“I had sleepless nights also because I didn’t know whether he was going to make it back or not. I always went to bed thinking ‘What am I going to hear?'” she said.
She focused on raising the children, who were 4, 5 and 7 at the time of his first deployment to Vietnam. She helped them with their homework, managed the home and did everything she could to stay busy, keeping everyone happy and her mind off the terrible “what ifs.”
Waving goodbye and watching the plane leave, Mary recalled how the family sent Melvin off to war for that first deployment to Vietnam in early 1969.
“Being around Fort Bragg, you always heard the airplanes. Every time [the kids] heard a plane, [they would say] ‘daddy, daddy.’ They thought daddy was coming home,” she said.
Seven months into that deployment, the Red Cross contacted her; her husband had been wounded. She didn’t know what to expect. “I just prayed and prayed and prayed that he would come back to us,” she said.
The mission began early in the morning, Morris said. He was with Detachment A-403, Company D, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
On a strike force on a mission north and east of Chi Lang, on the central coast of Vietnam, Morris and his team were tracking the enemy and found a well-guarded supply point.”After we got to the rice cache, that’s when the ambush occurred,” he said.Bullets whizzed by. Morris and his team used machine guns and grenades. Enemy fire wounded some of the men. Things happened so fast, he said, yet time seemed to stand still.”It was chaos during that time,” Morris said.Morris credited his actions that day to adrenaline, years of specialized training, and upholding the values he had sworn to defend.
He and his team “laid down a barrage” of machine-gun fire, and he lobbed hand grenades, Morris said. “Everywhere I could put a grenade, I put a grenade.”
“[There was] automatic weapons fire. I can’t remember too many human voices,” Morris said. “I remember looking at my watch once and the next time I looked at it, it was in the evening. This started in the morning.”
Morris navigated himself and two Vietnamese men through enemy fire to recover the body of his fallen team sergeant, Master Sgt. Ronald Hagen. “He was a good man, a friendly man. He was fair with me,” Morris said. “I miss him.”
Despite shots being fired from seemingly everywhere, Morris paused to pray over the body.”I didn’t worry about the shooting,” he said. “Somehow it seemed it just stopped for a second.”Then, he said, the fire intensified. And that is when the two men with him got wounded.”I had to get them out, then I had to come back again and again,” said Morris, who returned with other men to recover Hagen’s body.While transporting the body, a map containing special operating instructions fell out of Hagen’s pocket, he said. Morris put himself back into the line of enemy fire to retrieve the sensitive document.”It wasn’t a pleasant day, I can’t recall seeing anything,” Morris said. “I just went into combat mode. I was operating on adrenaline and instinct, training, everything kicked in at the right time.””I was untouched until that last trip,” Morris said.
“When I went back, that’s when they shot me, I was shot once and had to defend myself and got behind a tree. They were trying to shoot the tree, so I got wounded again. I got wounded three times during that period.”
“I had to fight my way out,” he continued. “I got out. My training was kicking in and I was recalling everything I had to do. Believe in your training. That’s all I got to say. I was trained well.”
Alone, with enemy fire coming from all directions, he knew he had to make his way to safety.
“I don’t know how many magazines I used, how long I fought, until I finally decided I had to get out some kind of way, because I was by myself,” he said.
Air support dropped explosives, “but that didn’t do any good,” as the fighting raged.
“I was able to take out one position, to allow me a chance to get out. I remember on my way out, I was taking fire everywhere. Everywhere,” Morris said.
He made it out. Finally away from the danger, he was reunited with his unit. He had been shot in the chest, arm and through the finger. A helicopter evacuated him to a field hospital.
“I didn’t feel any pain until after I was in the hospital and I realized what happened and I started to come around,” he said. “Then the shock hit me about what had happened. That’s when it really tears you up.”
Morris was taken to a hospital in Saigon, then on to Japan, and finally to Fort Bragg, N.C.
He was hospitalized for about three months total.
Mary said she ran as fast as she could to greet him when he arrived back in the United States. “When I saw him, wow, it was a blessing,” she said.
“I was home,” he said.
But his time with his family was short. Again, he volunteered to return to battle, and in six months he returned to the country where so many Americans made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen to him. He survived the first time. The next time I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was just hard, hard, hard, hard,” Mary said.
She lived in a military community; families around her lost loved ones in Vietnam. It broke her heart, knowing wives would be without their husbands, children no longer with fathers.
“I always heard something about somebody’s husband [being killed in action]. I knew the husbands. When you heard of one person, it put another heavy burden on your heart,” she said.
With 23 years of distinguished service in the United States Army, the military life agreed with Morris and his family, providing them security and a safe, familiar community.
“I never regret not one day of being in the military. Not one. The bad days are good and the good days are good,” he said.
As a paratrooper and jumpmaster, Morris remembered fondly his time in the skies, “I was as high as I could go, and that was great, to hang out of the door of that aircraft.”
Morris left the Army for three years, but his devotion to duty and commitment to the nation were too strong and beckoned him back into the uniform.
“Call of duty, I just couldn’t get away from it. Military was in my blood and I wanted to go back,” Morris said. “I was 36 years old and started over as an E-4, which didn’t bother me. I’m Army. That’s it. I wanted to finish my career.”
In addition to the two tours in Vietnam, his Army assignments also took him to Panama, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Fort Bragg, and his last posting, Fort Hood, Texas. He retired in May 1985.
Being in a military community, Mary and Melvin both say they were insulated from the virulent anti-Vietnam War protests and the racial tensions and discrimination against black Americans in the United States.
The military was an old, familiar friend with a supportive community. Leaving was bittersweet. “I was ready to retire, and I wasn’t ready to retire,” he said.
After he took off the uniform for the last time as an active-duty Soldier, the institution that was his life, the only life his children had known, was in the rearview mirror. Morris, the career Soldier, was out of his “comfort zone.”
He found himself short-fused, irritable and not able to deal with people well. He didn’t want to be around others; he withdrew into his own world. He replayed the events of Vietnam over and over in his head, always questioning if he could have done something different that day.
“I think I was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder all the way through the military after Vietnam, but I was in an environment that was conducive to me, and it helped me out,” he said.
“After [retirement], I didn’t have it, and it started to compound and I had one heck of a struggle,” Morris said.During his time in the military, Soldiers didn’t talk about having problems; they had to “man up, or else,” Morris said.
Times have certainly changed for the better, Morris said. It was hard, he said, but he had to face the past to be able to move forward in the present. He said he went for counseling and was able to work through his problems and struggles with the support of Veterans Affairs and his family.
Morris said he hopes to reach out to other veterans and share his story, to show them that help is available and it does make a difference — a life-changing difference.
HOME SWEET HOME
Morris and his wife settled into a comfortable, post-retirement life in a small Florida town.
In their three-bedroom home, decorated with photographs and mementos from their life together, they enjoy visits from friends, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A swing in the backyard beckons those wanting to relax. Fruit trees, flowers and vegetables grow nearby, and Lucky, their dog, a friendly white poodle they rescued from Oklahoma, greets visitors as the hot mid-day Florida sun beats down.
Morris proudly displays his military decorations in a shadowbox; framed certificates of his achievements from his years in the military hang nearby on the wall.
He spends time reading his Bible, fishing and boating with his faithful canine companion Lucky, spending quality time with friends and family, and sharing his days with Mary.
“It’s slow,” Melvin said with a laugh. “This is a laid-back town. Laid back. You can’t get more laid back than this.”
It’s a quiet and peaceful life, both Melvin and Mary agree with a smile.
to receive Medal of Honor Hero of Vietnam War
February 26, 2014
By David Vergun
Department of Defense
Rodela distinguished himself during combat in Phuoc Long Province, South Vietnam, Sept. 1, 1969, while serving as the company commander of a mobile strike force with 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
Rodela’s entire company was made up of Cambodian soldiers whom, he said, he helped recruit from Cambodia.
“Every three months we’d go to Cambodia, load up the volunteers in C-130s, and take them to war,” he said, during an interview in December 2013. He added that he trained them how to fire the M-16 rifle and other combat skills prior to action.
For some missions, Rodela said he helped recruit Vietnamese fighters, but never mixed them with Cambodians in the same unit because they “didn’t like each other.”
Rodela said he spoke some Vietnamese and Cambodian, but had a Cambodian interpreter. During their free time, he’d help the interpreter improve his English.
He credits his extensive Green Beret training with not only learning the art of war, but also advanced first aid, which he said became especially useful for treating the wounded and injured in his company, which was without a medic and far from garrison.
On that fateful day in September, his company was in search of the enemy, he said during an interview Sept. 30. “We looked for them, found them and killed them,” he said. “That’s what we were there to do.”
Unfortunately for him and his men, the North Vietnamese Army troops they were up against outnumbered and outgunned them, he said. “They were well prepared, just like we were.”
As soon as they engaged, they came under an intense barrage of mortar, rocket and machine-gun fire, according to the Medal of Honor citation, which continues:
“Rodela disregarded the withering enemy fire, immediately began to move from man to man in his company, physically pushing them into defensive positions to form a half moon perimeter.
“His clear thinking and quick action prevented much heavier casualties in his company and relieved the pressure of the remainder of the battalion, providing time to organize a defensive perimeter.”
The citation describes the ensuing battle in which 33 in his company were wounded and 11 killed. A supporting document to the citation notes that the battle continued for 18 hours.
Later in the battle, according to the citation, “Rodela suddenly jumped up. He was the only member of his company who was moving and he began to run from one position to the next, checking for casualties and moving survivors into different positions in an attempt to form a stable defense line.
“Throughout the battle, in spite of his wounds, Rodela repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to attend to the fallen and eliminate an enemy rocket position.”
Looking back on that day, Rodela said matter-of-factly,”we trained for this and I would have done it again.”
Prior to the day he was medically evacuated, Rodela said he and his company would be on continuous, extended missions where they would often make enemy contact, based mostly on intelligence from locals. He said he did these types of missions for a total of 20 months.
They supplemented their rations, which were airdropped from C-130 cargo planes, by foraging for vegetation and animals. The men in his unit knew what was edible and what was not, and Rodela himself had survival training and skills, learned during his Green Beret training.
During a recruiting mission into Cambodia, Rodela said he came across a 12-year-old Cambodian orphan who wanted to join his unit. With no one to care for him in his village, the unit took him in.
Rodela said he was making plans to adopt the boy and bring him to the U.S. Unfortunately, the boy stepped on a mine during a night mission and was killed. Rodela was injured on his right side during the explosion, but later returned to duty.
That incident was the hardest he faced during his service in Vietnam and he said that he cried a lot whenever he thought about it. “I already considered him my son.”
After recovering from his wounds, Rodela said he continued to serve in the Army “doing similar things we did in Vietnam,” only now training and leading militaries in Central and South America. Rodela said his perfect Spanish came in handy, in addition to his extensive combat experience and training skills.
In December 1975, Rodela retired after serving in the Army 20 years. He prefers not to discuss what he did after retirement and was hesitant to even discuss his service in Vietnam. He said he was surprised to learn that he’d receive the Medal of Honor, and added that the greatest honor he ever had was serving with his men.
Rodela now lives in San Antonio, Texas, in the state he’s always called home. He had enlisted right out of high school in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1955, “because my friends did.” He also later joined the Green Berets because his buddies did.
Rodela said he’s never gone back to Vietnam or Cambodia to visit, but has been in contact with some of the Special Forces Soldiers he served with who live in the San Antonio area. He said “it would be interesting” to meet some of the Cambodians and Vietnamese he served with someday.
A lot of his wartime experiences he describes as “painful memories” because “I lost a lot of people.” He hasn’t even told his two sons and daughter about what he’d experienced.
Some painful memories still haunt him, however, “because you have the mission of giving them orders and they don’t come back.”
“I feel better keeping to myself,” he added.