A reindeer-drawn sleigh is Santa’s traditional transportation, but when he comes to Beeville, he roars in on a 1984 Honda Goldwing 1200, visiting children in front of H-E-B, Walmart, the shopping center, downtown Washington Street, child care centers and a few homes.

Children love him, and take many pictures with him. He’s been enjoying these Beeville visits for the past six or seven years.

In addition to his furry red hat, Santa wears many others in Beeville. His alias is Eloy Rodríguez – one of my classmates.

As a child, his father gave him the nickname “Pimpo,” Spanish for “a small (plant) sprout” or “a handsome lad.” Rodriguez prefers the latter translation, although his dad said he intended the first one.

When he started school at Our Lady of Victory, the teacher, calling the roll, read “Eloy Rodríguez.” No one answered. She asked Rodriguez if that wasn’t his name. “No,” he replied. “My name is Pimpo.”

“Well, you’re the only one who hasn’t answered, so you must be Eloy,” the teacher said.

He attended Jackson School for first through third grades, then went to Maddera School for fourth. He and I were both in Ida Lee Blackburn’s class that year, and we had classes together off and on until we graduated in 1964.

After graduation, Rodriguez worked, first in Beeville, then in California, where he joined the Marines when he learned he was about to be drafted in 1966.

After boot camp and radio school, he was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, then to Puerto Rico for war games before his orders to Vietnam in 1967.

“They needed radio operators, since they were all getting killed,” Rodriguez explained. Arriving in time for the important Khe Sahn Battle against two to three large North Vietnamese divisions, he expected that would be his fate, too.

Over 200 members of their regiment were killed and another thousand were wounded in 77 days of fighting.

Rodriguez received a Presidential Unit Citation from President Lyndon B. Johnson for his extraordinary heroism in one of the most brutal battles of Vietnam. He also received a combat action medal and a Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.

In September, 1968, his regiment participated in the Landing Zone Margo battle, at which they lost 29 young Marines, with 149 more wounded, in just a 20-minute period.

Rodriguez was in a shallow hole with three other Marines, with men dying all around them. When they got out of the hole to return fire, they discovered a mortar round beside them that had not detonated.

“What we Marines experienced that day has affected every one of us, every day, for the past 50 years,” he said at a reunion of his division 50 years later.

After his service in the Marines ended in 1969, Rodriguez enrolled at Bee County College (now Coastal Bend College), then completed his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M-Kingsville with a degree in elementary education and history and a principal’s certificate.

He taught at Thomas Jefferson Junior High and A.C. Jones High School, then served as high school principal at Pettus for two years.

“Then I went to prison,” Rodriguez says with a laugh. He was principal at McConnell Prison and then assistant superintendent for the South Texas region of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 10 years.

Since 1974, Rodriguez has officiated for countless basketball, football and softball games, including some college competitions.

Former County Judge Stephanie Silvas, with whom he later served on the County Commissioners Court, remembered that, when he refereed her high school basketball games, “he was always giving me technical fouls.”

He was elected to the A.C. Jones Sports Hall of Fame as a sports official in 2006 and, in 2014, his name was added as a member of the 1964 Trojan baseball team.

In 1995, Rodriguez was a co-founder of the Bee County Veterans’ Honor Guard, which has conducted over 400 military funerals in Beeville and surrounding communities.

They have also participated in many parades and Veterans’ school functions.

In 2002, he founded the local Vietnam Veterans of America, Tomás Gonzales Chapter 929.

When he served on the Beeville ISD board of trustees, Rodriguez led the effort to name the high school football field Veterans Memorial Stadium, honoring all military veterans.

He also suggested naming the new kindergarten for teachers Alma Hampton, Leopoldo Moreno Sr. and Jean Dugat.

Rodriguez was elected to the Commissioners Court for Precinct 3 in 2004 and served 11 years. His friend, the late Judge David Silva, was an inspiration for him.

Again, Rodriguez worked for veterans, serving on the committee that built Veterans Plaza, where over 300 veterans’ names are engraved, across from the courthouse

Along with members of the local Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Legion, Rodriguez was instrumental in having the Bee County Veterans Wall erected at the Veterans Memorial Stadium.

In February 2013, Rodriguez organized the local chapter of the Iraqi/Afghanistan Veterans of America. In March, he was invited to participate in the ground breaking for the Vietnam Veterans Monument at the Texas Capitol.

Later that year he helped organize the “Parade That Never Was,” honoring all military veterans, and served as Parade Marshal for the Diez y Seis Parade.

When asked about his plans after he decided to retire from the Commissioners Court in 2016, Rodriguez replied that he was going to travel, spend time with his grandkids (he has nine grandchildren and two great-grandkids), and sleep in a little later.

So far he has only gone to Detroit for his Vietnam Veterans’ reunion.

He was elected to the CBC board of trustees in 2020, so he’s still busy contributing to his community.

And now he’s gearing up to make lots of children happy during the Christmas season. Good luck, Santa Eloy!

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