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Arizona veteran's personal war memorial touches hearts

Oscar Rodriguez of Coolidge built a memorial to veterans in his front yard. (KTAR Photo/Bob McClay)

COOLIDGE, Ariz. -- Americans find different ways to salute and pay tribute to veterans.

Oscar Rodriguez of Coolidge has found his way.

He was 17 when he volunteered for the military and went off to fight in Vietnam. He said the experience "wasn't good."

But he did make a friend named Andrew Lira. "We were together in Okinawa, and we went to Vietnam," Rodriguez said. "We were supposed to meet afterwards, but he died before we could get together."

Rodriguez searched for Lira for five years before finding out that his friend had died in a car accident after the war.

Rodriguez said he often thinks about Lira, and that led to also thinking about all veterans. He decided to build a memorial to them, right in the front yard of his home.

"I started with just the flagpole circle, and then I started the wall, the block, everything, just by myself," said Rodriguez.

He's paid for the entire project by himself.

The memorial includes a wall with the names of veterans of all wars. "There's veterans from WWI, Korea, Germany," said Rodriguez. "I've got a couple of vets of Iwo Jima. They're just from all over, different wars, including Iraq and Afghanistan."

The American, POW and 173rd Airborne flags flutter in the breeze over the memorial, and there's a silohuette of a soldier kneeling on the left. There is no HOA in Rodriguez's neighborhood and his neighbors are supportive. Some have help watch over his work.

The memorial is there for any and all to see. "Anybody can come and look at it, take pictures, whatever they want," he said.

The construction is ongoing. Rodriguez is looking to put up to 600 pavers in front of the memorial, engraved with the names of veterans. "If anyone has a family member that served or is in the service, they're welcome to give me a call or come down, and I will put the paver down for them," said Rodriguez.

There is a $15 charge that goes to an engraver in Tucson to engrave the name on the paver.

Rodriguez's wife, Lilian, said the best time to see the memorial is at night. "The night view of this memorial is beautiful," she said. "He's got the red, white and blue lights that shine towards the wall, and a light that shines toward the soldier. It's beautiful at nighttime."

Lilian said the memorial has helped her husband. "It's really opened up my husband's heart, and it's changed his life."

Since Rodriguez opened the memorial in March, hundreds of people have come by, including Arizona Rep. Anne Kirkpatrick. Sen. John McCain sent his information, and his name is on the wall.

Rodriguez said that people are filled with emotion when they see the memorial. Some stop by on a regular basis. "I have a gentleman who is a Vietnam veteran whose name is on the wall," Rodriguez said. "On Sunday mornings, once a month, he'll bring a flower and put it down on the memorial."

Rodriguez said the memorial will remain in place until the day he dies. And the City of Coolidge has vowed that it will become part of a city park once he passes away. "They would move it to the park when I leave this world," he said.

"They're willing to move it for me, to keep it going forever, I hope."

Rodriguez lives at 213 W. Palm Court, Coolidge. Those wishing to have a name engraved on a paver and placed at the memorial can call Rodriguez at 602-206-2397.

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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