MSGT Cleto Luna Rodriguez

The Journey Continues -- Cinco de Mayo


     My journey this week takes me to Cinco de Mayo. In Mexico it is observed to commemorate the Mexican Army’s unlikely victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. It was the bravery and blood of the outnumbered Mexican soldiers that won this battle against a much larger and well-organized French army.

     In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated with respect and pride in Hispanic culture and heritage. Certainly “valorous service to the nation” in any country deserves recognition and respect. I have chosen to highlight a hometown example of Valor -- Medal of Honor recipient Cleto Luna Rodriguez, born in San Marcos!

     My brother, Michael Lee Lanning, is an authority in United States military history and the Congressional Medal of Honor*. I quote: “The Medal of Honor is the highest award for bravery in the United States Armed Forces for combat against an enemy force. It is awarded to those who distinguish themselves by gallantry and intrepidity beyond the call of duty at the risk of their own lives. Generally presented by the President in the name of Congress, it is often called the Congressional Medal of Honor." More than 40 million men and women have served in the United States armed forces since the formation of the Continental Army in 1775. Fewer than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded in the century and half of its history.      Sixty of the recipients are Hispanic. And one of these is Technical Sargeant Cleto Luna Rodriguez who was born in San Marcos and buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio.

     MSgt Rodriguez worked as a newspaper carrier selling papers in the famous Gunter Hotel in San Antonio until he enlisted in the US Army in 1944. He later served in the US Air Force before rejoining the army and retiring as a master sergeant in 1970. He died in 1990. An elementary school in San Antonio and a firing range at Camp Perry, Ohio, are named in his honor, as is an 8.5 mile stretch of Texas Highway 90 between Interstate 410 and Interstate 35.

     Rodriguez received his medal as a member of the 148th Infantry Regiment, 37th Infantry Division for actions on February 9, 1945, at Paco Railroad Station, Manila, Philippine Islands. His citation states:

Technical Sergeant Rodriguez was an automatic rifleman when his unit attacked the strongly defended Paco Railroad Station during the battle for Manila, Philippine Islands. While making a frontal assault across an open field, his platoon was halted 100 yards from the station by intense enemy fire. On his own initiative, he left the platoon, accompanied by a comrade, and continued forward to a house 60 years from the objective. Although under constant enemy observation, the two men remained in this position for an hour, firing at targets of opportunity, killing more than 35 hostile soldiers and wounding many more. Moving closer to the station and discovering a group of Japanese replacements attempting to reach pillboxes, they opened heavy fire, killed more than 40 and stopped all subsequent attempts to man the emplacements. Enemy fire became more intense as they advanced to within 20 yards of the station. Then, covered by his companion, Private Rodriguez boldly moved up to the building and threw five grenades through a doorway killing seven Japanese, destroying a 20-mm gun and wrecking a heavy machinegun. With their ammunition running low, the two men started to return to the American lines, alternately providing covering fire for each other’s withdrawal. During this movement, Rodriguez’ companion was killed. In 2 ½ hours of fierce fighting the intrepid team killed more than 82 Japanese, completely disorganized their defense, and paved the way for the subsequent overwhelming defeat of the enemy at this strongpoint. Two days later, Private Rodriguez again enabled his comrades to advance when he single-handedly killed six Japanese and destroyed a well-placed 20-mm gun by his outstanding skill with his weapons, gallant determination to destroy the enemy, and heroic courage in the face of tremendous odds, Rodriguez, on two occasions, materially aided the advance of our troops in Manila.

     I feel this verse best represents Technical Sgt. Cleto Luna Rodriguez: Joshua 1:9—"Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

*The Veterans Cemeteries of Texas, 2018, and Hispanic Medal of Honor Recipients (forthcoming), 2020, Texas A&M University Press

Jim Lanning – San Marcos Daily Record, May 2019