‘Once in a lifetime’: WWII veteran from San Antonio returns from visit to France for 80th D-Day anniversary

SAN ANTONIO – Gazing at his collection of medallions and challenge coins, Martin Rodriguez cherishes what each one represents.

“I don’t know how many other guys received this,” Rodriguez said, showing off a silver challenge coin recognizing D-Day.

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It serves as a reminder of what the 97-year-old has done and where he served.

“I was called, and I answered,” said Rodriguez, who returned to San Antonio on Saturday after visiting France.

After losing both parents, Rodriguez joined the Army in 1945 when he was 18. Among his posts in Europe — Austria, Germany and France.

“I was there after the invasion,” said Rodriguez, a humble hero. “They command me, and I did what I was ordered to do.”

After nearly 80 years, Rodriguez and other WWII veterans got to go back to mark D-Day.

“I never thought I’d get there,” he said, choking back tears. “It was once in a lifetime.”

The father of five, who retired from Kelly Air Force Base in the 1980s, met with dignitaries in Paris.

“I happened to be in the front row, and I happened to be greeted by, some general and some commissioner and some lady — a lady of the President or something,” he said.

The group also visited the beaches of Normandy, feeling both the beauty and the heaviness.

“I survived,” he said. “I survived and thank God.”

But others didn’t. It’s why Rodriguez wanted to go back and honor them.

“It is so bad that we lost so many people,” he said.

Even with 80 years gone by, the loss is still fresh.

Despite the victory, Rodriguez hopes the war serves as a lesson that future generations won’t forget.

“I would hope that people would learn that killing other people is not going to solve anything,” he said.

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