Rita Rodriguez (52 years old) felt her heart sink as she heard the TV explain that a young soldier from Smithville, Texas had been killed in action in Afghanistan. In June 2010, Rita was working as a caregiver in Austin, TX; all three of her sons were active duty Army National Guardsmen. Rita told StoryCorps that she felt she had lost a piece of herself after watching the news that day; her worst fears were then realized when a phone call confirmed that her son, Mario Rodriguez Jr. had died in Afghanistan.
In August, StoryCorps Door-To-Door traveled to Smithville, Texas as part of the Military Voices Initiative; a project to record the unheard stories of veterans and and their families. Smithville, a town of only 5000, has been devastated by the recent loss of several active duty service members.Â In their honor, the town constructed a memorial park to remember their heroes forever.
In her interview, Rita explained that the worst heartbreak a mother could experience is the loss of her child. However, despite the pain of her loss, she did not feel angry or blame anyone; she said Mario had chosen the life he lived and was aware of the danger. Although Mario experienced many hardships during his time in service, Rita was sure that he would have no regrets.
Rita remembered the late night calls from Mario, searching for guidance under the heavy strain of armed conflict. Rita remembered the despair her son felt when he could not save an Afghani girl wounded in a combat zone; he rushed her to medics but was too late. On leave, Mario frequently expressed his sense of duty by telling to his mother that he âhad to go back to bring his soldiers, his brothers, home.â Rita emphasized that Marioâs mission and calling in life was to protect others from danger. She explained that Mario had been a leader since his early school days, often putting himself at risk for the safety of others.
As young boy, Mario often found himself as the leader of his sports teams; he wanted to be everyoneâs hero. Rita and Rosalva, Marioâs sister, agreed that he chose to live his life according to his beliefs. Although it was painful to lose a loved one, Marioâs family remembers and honors their lost son. He is their hero.