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Iwo Jima veteran Rodriguez dies at 77

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Longtime Ann Arbor resident belonged to famed Marine company that raised flag on island during World War II, was active in local causes
News Staff Reporter
Ann Arbor lost a link to history Sunday.
Joe Rodriguez, best known for his membership in the Marine company that raised the American flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II, died at the Veterans Administration Medical Center. He was 77.
A photo of Marines raising the flag was captured by photographer Joe Rosenthal and immediately became a symbol of American valor. The image later was repeated in a marble monument near Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Rodriguez was not among the Marines captured in that photo, but he is part of a group of them photographed afterward, standing in front of the already raised flag. According to Rodriguez, Rosenthal then asked some Marines to raise the flag again for another photo.
Because they were having a hard time getting the pole into the rugged ground, Rodriguez and some other Marines were gathering rocks to help hold it up when the famous photo was snapped.
Rodriguez is quoted several times in a book about the flag raising called "Flags of Our Fathers," written by James Bradley and Ron Powers and published in 2000.
He died on the 58th anniversary of the event, which took place Feb. 23, 1945.
Winifred Rodriguez, his wife of almost 49 years, said her husband died after suffering multiple illnesses, including a stroke and Parkinson's disease.
Born in Texas in 1925, Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor with his family when he was 6 months old, she said.
While being part of that historic event was important to him, he never talked about it until all of his four children were out of high school, Winifred Rodriguez said.
"We were married a long time before I even knew he was (at Iwo Jima)," she said. In later years, a Marine recruiter convinced her husband that talking about the event was important because it was so historic, she said.
A cement finisher by trade, Rodriguez was a coach for many sports teams in the Ann Arbor area. He also was active with Toys for Tots and at the St. Louis Center in Chelsea, a home for mentally impaired children, his wife said.
"He was very good with children of all types and ages," Winifred Rodriguez said.
Leo Wagner was coach at St. Thomas High School in the 1950s when Rodriguez volunteered to help coach football and baseball, and also helped start a wrestling team.
"He just wanted to be with kids, I think that's probably the reason (he volunteered)," Wagner said.
Rodriguez was a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2408 and American Legion Post 282, both in Ypsilanti, and a member of the Marine Corps League. He helped organize and was a participant in many Ypsilanti Fourth of July Parades, said Dutch Jordan, who also organized the parades. The last year he participated in the parade, he sat in the receiving stand a received a salute from the Marine honor guard, Jordan said.
"Whenever there was an event that had a military aspect to it...(Rodriguez liked to appear) in his dress blues and present himself as a proper Marine,"Jordan said.
Muehlig Funeral Chapel in Ann Arbor is handling funeral arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations go to the Joe Rodriguez Memorial Fund, in care of the Marine Corps League, to help some of the organizations in which Rodriguez was active, his wife said.

John Mulcahy can be reached at or (734) 482-2829.