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Rodriguez, Estan J.

Estan J Rodriguez was born 13 November 1934 in Ault, Colorado. Sixth of ten children born to immigrants who in 1912 fled the Mexican revolution and the poor economic conditions of that time. To earn a living, parents and siblings did migrant labor in the fields of Colorado and Nebraska. Estan graduated valedictorian of the class of 1952 in Kimball, Nebraska after beginning school in Merino, Colorado in 1940 not knowing even one word of English.  Estan attended the University of Nebraska for one year on a scholarship and then ran out of money. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1954 to avoid being drafted into the Army and went through Aviation Cadet training. He graduated from pilot training in May 1955 with pilot wings and commissioned a second lieutenant. Served at several air bases in the US and Europe flying jet fighter aircraft. During a tour in Italy, he met and married his wife with whom they produced four fine children. Upon returning from Germany he finished his college degree on the Bootstrap program at the University of Omaha. Within eight months of returning from Europe Estan was assigned to train as an airborne forward air controller. A quick check-out at Hurlburt AFB Florida in the O-1 Bird Dog and was attached to the 4th Infantry Division, which was training for duty in Viet Nam. Captain Rodriguez arrived in Tuy Hoa, Viet Nam in October 1966. The first three months at Tuy Hoa were fairly uneventful. In January of 1967 the entire first brigade of the 4th Infantry (along with the attached Air Force personnel) was transferred to Pleiku, where Captain Rodriguez served out his year-long tour. Captain Rodriguez flew 317 combat sorties, which totaled more than 700 flying hours while in Viet Nam. He was involved in ten major battles (battalion size and over) that lasted from a few hours to several days and nights.  On 20 May 1967, Captain Rodriguez was flying his 0-1 Bird Dog  in support of friendly ground forces being attacked by a large hostile force. Darkness, haze and smoke from the battle made it extremely difficult for the fighter aircraft to differentiate between the locations of the hostile and friendly forces. Captain Rodriguez, with complete disregard for his own safety, repeatedly flew his aircraft at an extemenly low altitude and through intense automatic weaspon fire with his aircraft llights turned on to enable the fighter pilots to successfully locate teh desired target area which they subsequently destroyed.  His professional competence, aerial skills and heroism earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was awarded 15 Air Medals for the 317 combat sorties. His family has a proud military history. In WWII his oldest brother, a cousin, a brother-in-law and an uncle (who was not yet an American citizen) served in the Army. His brother and uncle fought from Normandy through Belgium and Germany, and finally met the Soviet army in Czechoslovakia. Both received the Purple Heart medal for wounds sustained in combat. Another two of his brothers served in the Navy and the Army.  Captain Rodriguez's two sons are retired officers in the US Coast Guard. His daughter served four years as an officer in the Air Force. The latest military member is his grandson presently serving in the Air Force special operations force.