A.C. Jones High School graduate Nieves Rodriguez Jr. remembers the day a roadside bomb blew up a U.S. Army fuel truck he was riding in near Falad, Iraq, in April 2005.
The explosion ripped his right arm almost off.
Now, three years later, Rodriguez considers himself lucky.
“I served two tours of duty in Iraq and I was the only one in my company that was ever injured,” said Rodriguez, 36, who lives in Temple with his wife and two daughters and who is stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen. “I have a lot to be thankful for, but mostly I’m thankful that no one in my company other than myself was killed or injured.”
Rodriguez was among several dozen Bee County residents who paid tribute on Monday to those men and women who were not as fortunate in times of war.
“Today is the day we honor those who sacrificed their lives for us,” said Frank Gonzales, commander of VFW Post 9120 in Beeville, said during a Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Beeville on Monday morning. “Today is a day of remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us to have our freedoms and liberty we have today.”
Bernard Henke, who retired from the U.S. Navy and served as commander of the Veterans of Foreign War Post 9170, was the keynote speaker at that ceremony.
“As we stand together today on this day, we are reminded that the cost of freedom comes with a high price in human terms,” he said. “Today, we celebrate the contributions of those who paid the ultimate price in the name of freedom and peace. We celebrate those who served in conflict to protect our land, those who surrendered their dreams to preserve the hope of our nation, and who fought to keep America free.”
Henke cited part of a Memorial Day speech in which Gen. George Patton thanked God that the Americans who died for their country had been alive to fight for their nation: “In my mind, we came here to thank God that men like these lived rather than regret that they died.”
“I ask that today you embrace those words in their entirety,” Henke added. “And as we as a nation remember the lives lost, we celebrate the lives lived and are forever grateful.”
Some 84 men from Bee County are known to have died during times of war. Of those who died, 10 were killed during the World War 1, 47 during WWII, seven during the Korean War and 20 during the Vietnam War.
A second Memorial Day celebration was held in front of the Justice Center in downtown Beeville on Monday afternoon.
Bee County Judge David Silva thanked those gathered for taking the time to pay honor to “those that have given their lives for their country.”
“One of the greatest gifts that God gave us is the ability to remember,” he said. “And I think we as a nation are grateful to those that have given their lives, made the ultimate sacrifice that you and I might be able to enjoy the freedoms that we do. And for that we pause as a nation, and as a city, and as a county, and as a state, and we remember the sacrifice made by so many so that so many could enjoy the fruits of freedom.”
Four veterans of the second World War attended the ceremony. Veterans from the Korean War, Vietnam War and Iraq War also attended.
Bee County Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez also paid tribute to those who served their country in times of peace and those who are presently serving in the military: ‘We salute you.”
Gonzales, who spoke at the earlier ceremony, paid tribute to those servicemen and women nationwide who were injured or killed during times of peace by terrorists, citing the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the attack on the U.S. Cole on Oct. 12, 2000.
Moreno Middle School history teacher David Vickers performed “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. A.C. Jones High School band instructor Chuck Knowlton played Taps on the trumpet to close the ceremony.
Joe Richard Rodriguez, commander of the Vietnam Veterans of America post in Beeville, said Americans should not remember those who died fighting for their country only on Memorial Day.
“We honor (them) every day of the year,” he said.