Thursday, May 03, 2007

Michael Rodriguez remembered

The body of Spc. Michael Joel Rodriguez, the former Central High School student killed in Iraq, will come home next week to Knoxville for burial.

"He thought of this town as home," said his stepmother, Dona Drake of Greensboro, N.C., who raised him. "So I'm bringing him home."

Rodriguez, 20, and eight other paratroopers with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division died April 23 in a double suicide bombing in As Sadah, Iraq. Army officials have called the attack one of the deadliest since the 2003 invasion - and the unit's heaviest single loss since the Vietnam War.

Services for Rodriguez are set for 6 p.m. May 11 at Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church, which he attended as a teenager.

The 82nd Airborne held a service Thursday in memory of Rodriguez and the other fallen paratroopers at Fort Bragg, N.C., the unit's headquarters.

"Even though we've lost Michael, that unit took an even greater loss," said his father, George Rodriguez. "We need to remember them."

Rodriguez was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and lived around the country as part of a military family. He came to Knoxville as a boy and attended Berean Christian Academy and Central High School in Fountain City, where he spent his sophomore and junior years.

The family lived in Holston Hills in East Knoxville, but Rodriguez transferred to Central to study ROTC. Friends there nicknamed him "Rot-see" for his devotion to the military.

"That's what Michael wanted to do all his life," Drake said. "I can remember him jumping off the front porch when he was 7 years old with a backpack on. He was airborne already."

Rodriguez left Knoxville his senior year and joined the 82nd Airborne after turning 18, making him a fourth-generation soldier. He deployed to Iraq in August 2006.

"The last time he called, I told him how all the flowers were blooming. He said, 'I wish I could be there for spring,' " Drake said.

Despite his many moves, Rodriguez considered Knoxville his hometown and talked of coming back to East Tennessee after finishing his military career. He last came here in January, when he proposed to his fiancee, Caitlin Stone, at Adair Park.

"That's why I'm bringing him home," Drake said. "I know that's what he would have wanted. Michael knew so many kids there, and we want all those kids to know what Michael did for them as a soldier."

From the Knoxville News Sentinel

Related Link:
Michael J. Rodriguez dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his location'