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Veteran Credits His Korea, Vietnam Success to Teamwork

Oct. 4, 2016 — As he moved up from infantryman to squad leader to section sergeant to platoon sergeant and then to first sergeant, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars said, one theme was clear throughout his 22-year career: teamwork.

Retired Army Master Sgt. Santos Rodriguez of Lajas, Puerto Rico, entered the Puerto Rico Army National Guard in 1947, while he was still in high school.

“I didn’t have enough money to go to college, and I was the oldest one in the family,” he said. “Mother and father were poor, so they gave me permission to join the National Guard, and from there, I stayed on active duty. I liked the Army.”

The Korean War broke out, and Rodriguez went to basic training in Panama. He said when he got to Korea, the war wasn’t as aggressive as it had been when it started a year earlier, but it was still bad.


“I saw kids eating from the trash cans; everything was destroyed,” Rodriguez said. He said he was told, ‘If you stay here one week, you’ll learn and you’ll see. If you listen and you follow orders, you will return back home.’

“They were trying to tell us to follow instructions, because if you didn’t, you were a dead man,” he said. “I was in charge of a bunker. The patrols, the unit infantry, used to go down to patrol, but when they came back, I cried like a baby. I’m not kidding. I cried when I saw those people coming through my position back through the lines wounded and dead.”


Rodriguez deployed twice to Vietnam as a platoon sergeant, and said many of the soldiers in his platoon had been squad leaders in Korea.

“They had been in Korea, and they knew and they listened,” he said. “I never had anybody hurt or killed. We worked together as a team. We worked well together. There was no rank between us. It was just one for each other.”

He said the team received a new platoon leader who wouldn’t listen to him, and who wouldn’t work with the squad leaders, so he had to follow orders. The new leader sent them through open terrain, and two of Rodriguez’s best friends, a squad leader and a telephone operator, were wounded.

“I had to get them out, and that’s when they gave me the Bronze Star with the [valor] device. I never expected that, because I never wanted to leave anybody behind. We worked for each other in those days,” Rodriguez said.


Rodriguez passed on his love of the military to his grandson, Marine Corps Cpl. Yul Estrada, who was killed in action in Afghanistan.

“He saw my medals. He saw the way I work, and that inspired him,” Rodriguez said. “I guided him because of my experience and told him what to do and not to do, and those things helped him join the service. I’m proud of his service. If I had to go into the Army again, I’d do it.”

He often helped his fellow Hispanics in the Army, he said, because some of them had trouble with English. “The battalion commander would call me and ask me to speak to my people,” he added. “Puerto Rican people, we work together, and we help each other. We’re hard workers.”

His Army service taught him discipline, obedience and how to follow orders, Rodriguez said. “Whatever you learn in the Army, you can apply in your civilian life,” he added. “You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.”
Distribution channels: Military