After growing up in a rough part of Bellflower, Arturo E. Rodriguez enlisted in the Army soon after high school.
Later, deployed to Afghanistan, Rodriguez sometimes drew joking parallels between the conflict he witnessed there and in his hometown. During a firefight last year, he joked with a close friend, an Army buddy from a similar neighborhood in Los Angeles, saying they’d gone “from one war zone to another,” the friend said later.
Although he was just 19, the baby-faced soldier carried himself like a man several years older, those close to him said.
On March 12, during his first tour of duty, Rodriguez was working as a radio-telephone operator for his platoon, which was deployed in Paktika province along southeast Afghanistan’s dangerous border with Pakistan. He and other soldiers were on a mountaintop when insurgents opened fire.
“As the first rounds were coming in, Rod was already on the radio reporting the situation to the company,” a fellow soldier said later at Rodriguez’s memorial service in Afghanistan. “When I finally got the radio from him, Rod grabbed his weapon and, with complete disregard for his own safety, began engaging the enemy in an attempt to cover the mortar team.
“This is how he died. Taking the fight to the enemy,” the soldier said. The service was recorded and sent to Rodriguez’s family.
Rodriguez was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
He was killed only a few weeks before he was to return home, where he had made plans to celebrate his homecoming with a family reunion and barbecue.
Pfc. Arturo Emmanuel Rodriguez was born Aug. 15, 1991, at East Los Angeles Doctors Hospital, the son of a maintenance worker and a homemaker. His parents, who had moved to the U.S. from Mexico before his birth, took the family back to their homeland when he was young.
The family sometimes struggled to make ends meet. As a teenager, Rodriguez worked in a candy factory to help support the household. He returned to the U.S. for high school, accepting an offer from his uncle and aunt, Carlos and Maria Lopez, to live with them in Bellflower and attend Bellflower High. He graduated in 2009.
He loved to run, bicycle and play soccer. He enjoyed playing pranks with his cousin. He was known to sneak out at night to talk to his girlfriend.
After high school, he trained to become a mechanic, and got a job as a deli supervisor at a grocery store.
But in December 2009, Rodriguez told his uncle that he had enlisted in the Army, just days after his cousin, Carlos Alberto Lopez, also joined.
Rodriguez’s uncle said he feared for his nephew’s safety, but “he was really determined.”
“He was convinced he was doing the best for him, the family and the world,” his uncle said.
Rodriguez departed for training in February 2010. In letters, he told his family he missed L.A.'s weather.
From the war zone, Rodriguez asked his relatives to send Red Bulls, cookies and baby wipes because there were no toilets and no showers.
“They told us it was not easy. There was no lights sometimes,” his uncle said.
In addition to his aunt and uncle, Rodriguez’s survivors include his parents, Arturo Rodriguez Segura and Rosa Jimenez Davila of Guadalajara, Mexico; a sister, Rosa Guadalupe Rodriguez, also of Guadalajara; and his aunt, Maria Guadalupe Melendrez of Bellflower.
He was buried at Jardines del Eden in Tonala, in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
At the service in Afghanistan, his close friend who grew up in a similar Southern California neighborhood recalled chatting with Rodriguez when they were getting their Army physicals.
“Hey, Rod, why did you join the Army?” his friend asked.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Tu sabes, carnal. You know, bro. The life for you here, no es la major vida que vivimos. It’s not the best lifestyle. It’s the same reason — porque estas aqui — why we are here. Trying to better our lives, que no, carnal? Ain’t that right, bro?”
Later, the friend said, Rodriguez asked him, “Do you think what we are doing here is worth losing our lives? Do you think people will remember our actions and our sacrifice? I don’t. All I want is to be able to die knowing I did something — even the smallest thing possible — to make a difference in this world.”
The other man said he wished he could respond to Rodriguez now. “Yes, it is worth all the sacrifice. Yes, you will be remembered for what an outstanding soldier and person you are. And most of all, carnal, yes, you did make a difference.”