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11-11-06, 09:00 AM
Marines family gives uniform to school

Veterans Day had extra meaning for the students at Daiches Elementary School on Friday morning. During an emotional ceremony, the family of fallen U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Juan Rodrigo Rodriguez presented his uniform to the school that he attended as a youngster.Rodriguez was killed in Iraq on Jan. 13, 2005, while serving his country as an infantry assault man on the Syrian border. At the time of his death, the 20-year-old soldier was assigned to Charlie Company, First Battalion of the 23rd Marines based in Corpus Christi.

His parents, Rodrigo and Juanita Rodriguez, presented the formal black uniform bedecked with medals. Also joining them was his sister, Fatima.

The Marines platoon commander, Warrant Officer John Schneider, spoke to the students and veterans in the audience at Fridays ceremony. The students learned that the local hero "stood security posts duties to protect our defensive perimeter near the Euphrates River," Schneider said.

"There were many times the enemies attempted to penetrate our lines," Schneider said. "His job was critical in keeping all of us safe. He participated in numerous patrols both mounted and dismounted with the Rapid Assault Force. Juan performed his duties in a superb manner.

"One might ask the question, Why was Juan like that? and How did he get there?" Schneider said. "I think the best way to answer these questions is to remember that he is a product of his family and the schools that he attended and the friends who were close to him."

Rodriguezs first-grade teacher, Maria Antonietta "Toni" Laurel, recalled that Rodriguez "would come into my classroom and hand a flower to me with a sweet smile."

Laurel, who has been a teacher with Laredo ISD for 31 years, said Rodriguez "proudly served his country and will always be a hero to me and the rest of our country."

"When people come to Daiches Elementary School in Laredo, Texas, and this memorial, I hope the young and old alike will be inspired to perform great things and have the courage of Juan Rodrigo Rodriguez," Schneider concluded.

"It is important that people become a part of something bigger than themselves."

The U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard presented the flags at the beginning of the ceremony. They were later congratulated by Daiches Principal Connie Vela on the 231st anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. Daiches fifth-grade students sang and signed the song, "God Bless America." Students Kassandra Gaona, Enrique Guerrero, Kassandra Diaz and Mario Cortez read the poem, "Freedom is Not Free."

Veterans attending the ceremony were presented with certificates of appreciation by school administrators and LISD Superintendent Daniel Garcia Jr.