There’s a special wall at Ft. Bragg, N.C. It’s a memorial wall bearing the photos of 22 fallen soldiers, all members of the elite 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. One is Spc. Michael Rodriguez. He’d joined the U.S. Army two years earlier and trained to become a paratrooper and Calvary Scout.
Serving in Iraq’s Diyala province, Rodriguez was one of nine paratroopers killed in an attack on their patrol base on April 23, 2007. Insurgents drove two dump trucks – each laden with 2,000 pounds of explosives – through the walls of the base. Rodriguez was 20 years old.
Lorie Southerland, Rodriguez’s mother, believes her son was destined to serve in the military.
Growing up near Camp Merrill, Georgia – one of the sites where Army Rangers train – Southerland would often see her young son waiting and watching to see the troops marching in formation. “He’d grab his backpack and out the door he’d go to road march,” Southerland said. “One day, when I asked where he was heading, he said, ‘Mommy, I’m going to be a soldier’.”
His answer didn’t surprise her. The family history books she keeps bear the stories of more than four generations of family members who’ve made serving in the U.S. Armed Forces their life work. Great-grandfather, Navy, World War II. A grandfather in the Navy, and another in the Army, serving in the Korean Conflict and Vietnam War. His father, Army. Stepfather in the Air Force and Southerland herself served in the U.S. Air Force. Rodriguez is one of three family members who gave their lives while serving.
This year, he is one is one of the fallen heroes NASCAR drivers plan to pay tribute to at the Coca-Cola 600 race Memorial Day weekend in Charlotte, N.C. The Number 48 Team Lowe’s Chevrolet, driven by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, will carry the name of Spc. Michael Rodriguez on its windshield. Lowe’s is sponsoring the tickets given to approximately 1,000 soldiers, many from the 82nd Airborne Division, so they can be on hand for the tribute. Just prior to Memorial Day, at a ceremony where Rodriguez’s family members first saw his name on Johnson’s car, Lowe’s announced a $10,000 donation to Fisher House in Ft. Bragg, a home for military families to stay while their loved ones are being treated at nearby Womack Army Medical Center.
Southerland says she hopes everyone will take time out from celebrating the unofficial start of summer to remember that Memorial Day is a time to remember everyone who died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Today, the number who’ve died exceeds one million and Spc. Michael Rodriguez is one of them.
“It’s been 10 years now and it’s a comfort that Michael is still remembered. My son died doing what he loved,” she said.