Friends and Neighbors: Rodriguez takes part in 'Honor Flight'

 

Tonia Copeland

Lupe Rodriguez, a Korean War veteran, recently toured Washington, D.C., as part of the Honor Flight program. He saw the Korean War monument while there.

Lupe Rodriguez, 82, a local Korean War veteran, recently returned from a memorable trip to Washington D.C.

Veterans from northern Colorado and Nebraska, including Rodriguez, were given the opportunity to make the trip because of a non-profit organization called Honor Flight. Honor Flight is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to ensure United States veterans have the ability to travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials of their respective war. The trip is free to the veteran.

Rodriguez said the group was able to visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial as well as other monuments in the capital city, including the Vietnam Memorial.

"We only spent five or six hours at the monuments," Rodriguez said. "I got to see the World War II monument, that's the newest one. Then I got to see, and I think I was the only who did get to see, the Washington Monument because I could move by myself."

Rodriguez said that the group was split into pairs and each pair had a caretaker, but he was able to go on his own most of the time.

"I just told her, 'Hey you take care of him and I'll take care of myself,'" Rodriguez said.

The Korean War Memorial was the one Rodriguez really wanted to see. He was drafted into the Army and served in Korea at the age of 20.

"The war ended the day that I got out of basic training, July 23, 1953," Rodriguez said. "They sent me over there and all I did was train some more."

Though Rodriguez did not sign up voluntarily to serve, he proudly displays his medals from the time he served.

"I didn't do anything to earn them, I just had to be there," Rodriguez said. "The only one I had to do anything for was the good conduct medal."

Rodriguez carried an M1 rifle with 30 caliber rounds, but for the first four or five months in the infantry he carried a Browning Automatic Rifle.

"You can knock down an elephant with (30 caliber rounds)," Rodriguez said. "But the BAR is a 20-pound rifle."

Of his two years in the Army, Rodriguez served 16 months in Korea.

"I didn't like it, it wasn't anything I wanted to do, but I knew there was nothing I could do about it. I toughed it out," Rodriguez said. "I don't remember ever being real comfortable over there."

Following his enlistment, he was placed on inactive reserves for an additional six years.

"That didn't mean anything unless there was a big war coming," Rodriguez said.

He was never called back to duty, instead returning to Kimball for a short time to work at The Western Nebraska Observer, where he was employed prior to the draft.

After a while he quit work at The Observer, worked in the oil field for a while, and then on a whim he took a trip and did not return to live in Kimball until last year.

"I got a lot of speeding tickets here and Nebraska said I couldn't drive here anymore. They took my license away," Rodriguez recalled of the time decades ago. "So a buddy of mine, Lyle Story, said, 'Lets take a vacation and go somewhere.'"

The friends drove to San Diego, Calif., to visit Rodriguez's brother, Ray. While they were there, Rodriguez got a job as a printer to finish his apprenticeship. He worked at the San Diego Union, the evening newspaper, for some time. There was a daytime newspaper as well, the San Diego Tribune. They merged into one newspaper, the San Diego Union Tribune.

"There were about three newspapers in San Diego and now there is just one," Rodriguez said. "It's (the news) going to go on the computer."

After about 20 years, he said he could see that hot type was no longer going to be used, so he became a realtor and worked in that field until he retired.

Rodriguez currently works at the Kimball County Courthouse. He joined the Veterans of Foreign War when he returned stateside, he is no longer a member.

"They would want me to march in the parades and I don't want to do that. I don't fit in my uniform anymore," he said.

Though Rodriguez cannot fit into his uniform any longer, he is in great shape - not just for his age, but in truly great shape.

In 1998, Rodriguez, then 66 years old, visited and ran in the Farmer's Day Fun Run with an average of 11.15 minutes per mile. Today he said he can still run it, but not that fast.

"I can still do 14 minute miles though, piece of cake," Rodriguez said. "I can still do that because early on I just started running. I was about 50 years old."

 

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