Rodriguez and Reese, Men of Valor

That section of Highway 90 between IH 410 and IH 35 in San Antonio bears the name “Cleto Rodriguez Highway.” My father remembered him as “Anacleto” Luna Rodriguez, when Cleto was just a kid living in San Marcos, during a time in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s when everybody knew everybody else, in and around small towns. Cleto moved to San Antonio upon the death of his parents, and in early 1944 enlisted in the United States Army, where he was eventually assigned to Co B, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Also in Company B was a boy from Pryor, Oklahoma, John Noah Reese. They were the same age, and became steadfast buddies. It was at Paco Railway Station in Manila, that together, they made their mark. Prior to this action in the Phillipines, Rodriguez had already been wounded in action, and twice awarded a Bronze Star. He was a Browning Automic Rifleman, and the 16 pound weapon he carried is capable of putting out in excess of five hundred .30 caliber bullets a minute, and is used to support and even replace an infantry squad’s machine guns. The BAR, as it is called, is equal to five or six M1 rifles in action. Rodriguez, the BAR man, was also the recipient of the prestigious Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action. On February 9, 1945 their platoon of less than forty men was ordered to take the Paco Railroad Station, which was held by some three hundred Japanese soldiers entrenched in pill boxes, supported by three 20 MM guns, one 37 MM gun, and several mortars. When the platoon’s attack stalled one hundred yards from the station, Rodriguez and Reese took it upon themselves to go hunting. The two moved forward to a house sixty yards from their target, and from that point began picking off enemy soldiers, killing thirty five and wounding many others. They moved forward from this vantage point toward the station, where they encountered a large group of enemy soldiers making their way toward the pill boxes. The two men killed forty of the enemy. Twenty yards from the station, Reese provided covering fire as Rodriguez moved forward toward the station, where he tossed in five grenades, killing another seven of the enemy, and destroying a 20MM gun and a heavy machine gun. Running low on ammunition, Rodriguez and Reese began making their way back to their platoon. On the way back, Reese was picked off by a sniper and killed. Rodriguez later told Reese’ cousin that “Reese saved my life. He told me to go first while he covered me, because I had a family waiting for me.” The fact is that Rodriguez did not get married until after the war, and the two men were “bounding,” or leapfrogging one another. When one moves forward, the other provides covering fire, and then the one providing cover moves forward, while covered by the first. The company commander, who knew that the entire platoon had been watching the two men’s two and a half hour foray, explained to Rodriguez that while both Rodriguez and Reese were deserving of the Medal of Honor for their actions in killing eighty two of the enemy, he felt he could only recommend one of them for the Medal. Because Reese had been killed, he would get the Medal. Rodriguez was understanding, at least he appeared so. He certainly was no whiner; (one didn’t whine about things like killing folks, and it was combat, and besides, his buddy had just been killed.) But as he later confided to his understanding friends back in San Antonio, fellow Medal of Honor winners Jose M. Lopez and Luciano Adams, that company commander certainly could have recommended both of them for the Medal. He could have. After all, the actions of the two men was at times in plain view of an entire platoon. And while he and PFC Reeves had been out there doing what needed doing, the rest of the platoon (to include that reluctant company commander) were laying low. Yeah, there was no rule or reg keeping that commander from putting his name in. Just maybe, he allowed later, the commander’s failure to recognize him in writing riled him a bit. After all, back in Texas folks like him were still getting the short end of things in the written word, particularly about matters involving courage under fire. Now killing another man is an awful thing, and most men go through war without ever knowing if the weapons they fire in the general direction of the enemy even find their mark. But, those Japanese soldiers and a 20MM gun, (spewing out some 400 armour piercing rounds a minute) were still out there barring the platoon’s advance a couple of days later. Somebody needed to take them out, and when no one volunteered, Rodriguez headed out again, this time without the supporting fire of his buddy Reeves. It was a sure fire way to either get killed, or demonstrate that his actions at the railway station two days prior were no fluke. The latter proved to be true, for his one man assault again cleared the way for his platoon to advance, when he single handedly destroyed the 20MM gun, killing six more enemy soldiers in the process. This action, on its own merits qualified him for a Medal which so often, as in Reeve’s case, came at so high a price. Only then did the commander put him in for the Medal of Honor. Rodriguez was ever modest about his acts of heroism, and was ever inclined to defer any credit to the memory of his departed buddy, John N. Reese, who had paid so high a price for the recognition he received posthumously. Reese’s body was returned to Oklahoma. He was buried in the national cemetery in Ft Gibson, Oklahoma. Rodriguez lived another forty five years, passing away at the age of 67, on the 7th day of December in 1990 in San Antonio, Texas. He is buried at Ft Sam Houston Cemetery.
6403986_122929478157 John M Reese
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.* (Wilfred Owen)
*(That is to say, “It is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country”)