REFUGIO – U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Tom F. Rodriguez was just stepping out of a grove of bamboo after relieving himself.
The jungles of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands offered numerous alcoves to use as a restroom, but they also offered hiding places for the enemy.
In this case, a Japanese soldier was headed right for Rodriguez with intentions to kill.
Rodriguez in a quick response shot the enemy from his hip.
Rodriguez had to use his bayonet because the enemy would not die.
The look on the Japanese soldier was something burned into Rodriguez’s mind.
The Japanese wore tourniquets all over their bodies so they would not die quickly.
“He never forgot the look on that guy’s face,” said Arturo “2D” Rodriguez, Tom’s son.
Arturo, 60, said his dad was born April 14, 1914, in San Benito, Texas.
Tom made it through the sixth grade in San Benito.
“And he migrated this way (toward Refugio) working,” said 2D, who is a lieutenant at the Refugio County Jail.
After he returned home from active duty, Tom took care of family.
And he was awarded numerous medals upon his exit from the Army: Silver Star, Bronze Star, Good Conduct medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal and Bronze Star, World War II Victory medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Philippine Liberation Ribbon and Bronze Star, Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII.
He also brought some terrible memories with him.
He had gotten malaria while serving in the tropics.
“And he had night terrors when he came back,” 2D said.
Growing up, he remembers a pounding on the family’s front door.
Looking through the peephole, all 2D could see was a man’s chest.
“Who is it?” he asked, a little afraid.
“Is this the house of Tom F. Rodriguez?” the big man bellowed.
Then from an inside room, a yell came out: “Cisco?”
“They told me you were killed,” Cisco said as the two Army buddies hugged.
“They told me you were killed, too,” Tom said.
Cisco was a big man, 6-foot, 4-inches tall. The pair of friends were odd sized, as Tom was 140 pounds and 5-foot, 6-inches tall.
The young 2D learned that Cisco shot a .30 caliber machine gun while holding it off the tripod.
Tom opened up a bar in Refugio, simply called Tommy’s Place. The place was first a junk yard, then the bar, and now it is a church for Joy Ministries.
He operated it for 32 years.
“He had opened it with everyone in mind. It was where people could come and mingle,” 2D said.
“He was always whistling. He had played in a band,” 2D said.
“He loved hunting and being outside. He loved to cook and fish,” he added.
“One thing I carried with me from him was respect,” 2D said.
Tom had always said, “Show people respect, and they will show you respect.”
“He didn’t see color in people. He saw people in people,” 2D said.
Tom had noted that in war, “They’ve got your back, and you’ve got their back.”
Then while 2D was in college, a military officer appeared at his apartment door one day, and said, “You need to go home, son.”
He left immediately.
“I spoke to him that morning,” 2D said.
“I told Dad, ‘your heart is bad because you are not doing stuff,’” 2D said.
His dad responded, saying, “I know, Son. I understand I need to do something.”
But it was not to be.
Tom F. Rodriguez died that night because of a massive heart attack on Jan. 17, 1979, at the age of 65.
“I felt bad when I found out. It was like I had scolded him,” 2D said.
Veterans from all around came to Tom’s funeral to pay respects.
Many of them told 2D he should be proud of his dad.
“I am proud of Dad,” 2D said.
“He was always my hero!” he added.
Tim Delaney is the Refugio editor at the Advance-Guard Press and can be reached at 361-526-2397, or at refugio@mySouTex.com.