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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.

Bob McClay, Reporter

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