Jose (Joe) Ramon Rodriguez will accept the Medal of Honor from President Barack Obama on March 18, 2014 on behalf of his uncle, Private Miguel A. Vera. Joe was close to his uncle, who he called “Nando.” Following his uncle’s footsteps to serve, Joe enlisted in the Marine Corps and was stationed in Guantanamo, Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Below Mr. Rodriquez shares memories of his uncle:
My Father’s brother, Miguel Armando Vera was the youngest of five children.
My earliest recollection of my uncle was when my parents migrated from Puerto Rico to New York. They left my sister with my Grandmother, Miguel’s mother and left me with my Aunt, Miguel’s older sister.
It was when I was reunited with my parents that I got to know Miguel or “Nando” as we called him. He showed me a lot of compassion and always talked to me about education and how proud he was that he was going into the Army. He watched over me like a father. Nando was a frustrated artist. He liked to draw cartoons and used to do drawings for the local newspaper. He told me he was going into the Army to see if he could further his education and to help his mother buy a house she could call her own. In those days, a military career was a way for a young man in Puerto Rico to proper and get out of the country. When he left, he said “Goodbye” to me and I felt heartbroken. The third person I had grown to love was leaving me again. Finally, my mother and father were able to afford to take me to the Bronx where we lived in a furnished room. A year after that, my sister joined us and we all lived in the same room until we moved to New Jersey.
I overheard my father talking about a letter he got from Nando saying how difficult it was in Korea. He had to adjust to the food, to the language barrier and especially to the cold weather. First time in his life that was in weather below 70 degrees. He said what kept him going was his religious beliefs in God and the “espirit de corps” of the Puerto Ricans serving in the unit. If I’m not mistaken, it was almost 90% Puerto Rican. The next thing I remember was my father receiving a package from Nando with an inexpensive Timex watch and Nando asking if my father would have it fixed. I remember my father walking on a Saturday, his only day off, to the town jeweler to have the watch fixed and he mailed it out to Nando two weeks later. Four weeks later we received the package back saying “deceased”. My father didn’t even know that Nando had been killed. It was the first time I saw my father cry. Nando was his baby brother and he always took care of him.
I didn’t really understand what had happened until I was older. We used to go to Puerto Rico every summer for vacation. Not to stay in a hotel, but to stay with family. At that time, my father would visit Nando’s grave. I asked my father once why there was a big statute with Nando’s name on it. He said because he was killed in Korea. As I got older, at 17, I wanted to join the Marine Corps to follow in my uncle’s footsteps. When the recruiter asked me what I wanted to do I said “Machine Gunner” – he just laughed. After I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I often thought about Nando. Now I understood why religion is so important in the military.
In 1960, I was able to serve in Guantanamo, Cuba during the crisis. Even though my skills were sharpened, I was never able to prove my worth. I kind of regretted it. I often think about Nando’s mission and what he accomplished, even after his death. He did buy that house with the money the government gave his mother. Later on in life, I gained a little more interest in what happened to my uncle Nando and found that he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. To me that was a “Wow!” And now that I am honored to receive the Medal of Honor for Nando, it makes me really proud for the family and for those who served, not only in Korea but also Vietnam and were never recognized. My dream was not to get the Medal of Honor for Nando, but to have him buried in Arlington (National Cemetery). I always felt he should have been a candidate for the Medal of Honor. It makes me very proud to receive and accept the award for my uncle Nando. I only wish my father was alive to see this. I don’t think he even fully understood the importance of the Distinguished Service Cross.
I would like to thank President Obama and his administration for taking the time off their busy schedule to do this service for my uncle Miguel Armando Vera.
God bless the United States of American and all of our fallen heroes.
To read Pvt. Miguel A. Vera’s bio and award citation, visit http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/valor24/recipients/vera/.