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Ernesto Portillo Jr. : Ads for movie stir memories of Iwo Jima for Tucsonan
Arizona Daily Star ^ | Ernesto Portillo Jr.

Posted on 10/29/2006 2:05:44 PM PST by SandRat

A new movie about the bloody but heroic World War II battle of Iwo Jima, brought back 61-year-old memories for Manuel Rodríguez.

Seeing ads for Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers" brought into focus the sight of thousands of Marines disgorging from the flat-bellied landing craft, some falling the moment they stepped out on the dark sand.

In an interview at his Sahuarita home Friday, Rodríguez, 81, shared some memories. Others he left dormant.

The one memory that bolsters his spirit, invigorates his patriotic pride, is the movie's centerpiece: the Stars and Stripes being raised on Mount Suribachi, an enduring symbol of American resolve and guts.

Rodríguez was piloting a landing craft when he saw that flag wave high above the 8-square-mile volcanic island. The raising of the American flag in the first week of one of most intense island battles against the Japanese became an indelible part of our national memory of World War II. Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer who died in August, captured the bravery of five Marines and a Navy corpsman erecting a large American flag. One of the Marines was Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian born near Casa Grande.

Renewed interest in that day — Feb. 23, 1945 — got Rodríguez to recall that moment. When the flag went up, the second one that day, so did the morale of the sailors and Marines, said Rodríguez, a retired plumber. He said Marines and sailors shot their guns in the air — in celebration.

But they couldn't celebrate long. They had a battle to fight.

"I was afraid of being afraid," Rodríguez said. He and his three crew mates ferried some of the 77,000 Marines and thousands of pieces of equipment to the island from one of the largest flotilla assembled during the war. His landing craft would return to the ships with some of the 20,000 wounded and nearly 7,000 dead servicemen.

"Many of them looked like they were 16 years old," said Rodríguez, who was 19 when he signed up in Tucson. Rodríguez grew up in Barrio Membrillo, now a distant memory of a neighborhood that was wedged south of Congress Street and west of the Santa Cruz River.

Although Rodríguez had an exemption as the oldest in his family and its sole provider, he joined the Navy in hopes that his service would allow his father to return from Mexico. Antonio Rodríguez left Tucson during the Great Depression to escape the roundup of Mexicans, scapegoats for the country's economic woes. His son would see action in the battles of Saipan and Peleliu, and serve honorably for three years, but his father would never return to Tucson.

Rodríguez was in Seattle during his discharge process when the Japanese surrendered. He returned to Tucson and married Lucia Chavez, who grew up in the same barrio as Rodríguez. He joined the plumbers union, and the couple raised four children in Menlo Park. Several months ago, they moved to Rancho Sahuarita.

Estevan Rodríguez, the second son, said his father had always talked about his war memories. But in recent years, his father has talked more about the war, prompted by questions from family members.

"He's very much a patriot, very proud of being an American," said Rodríguez, 53, a political organizer. The elder Rodríguez never felt it so much as he did the day the flag unfurled on Iwo Jima.

*Ernesto Portillo Jr.'s column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach him at 573-4242 or at

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Mexico; US: Arizona
KEYWORDS: iwojima; memories; movie; wwii

1 posted on 10/29/2006 2:05:46 PM PST by SandRat
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To: SandRat
Jhonny Cash wrote a song about Ira Hayes.
2 posted on 10/29/2006 3:11:59 PM PST by Nateman
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To: SandRat

Nice story, thanks. God bless all of our service men and woman!

3 posted on 10/29/2006 3:22:06 PM PST by BlueAngel
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To: BlueAngel

Sorry, "service men and women".

4 posted on 10/29/2006 3:23:41 PM PST by BlueAngel
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