Ralph Rodriguez, Jr. was born October 27, 1917 in Bernalillo, NM. He was drafted into the Army when he was 18 years old.
He was serving in the Philippines as a medic in the 515 Coast Artillary when World War II broke out.
The day after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attacked the Philippines, where about 1,800 men from the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery Regiment were among those deployed. The New Mexico group is credited with being the "first to fire" on the enemy. Against overwhelming odds and with little support, U.S. and Philippine fighters withstood the Japanese assault for four months before being ordered to surrender.
After being taken prisoner they were forced to endure the Bataan Death March, on which 1,000 Americans and 9,000 Filipinos perished en route to the POW camps where they would be interned for three years. And where they suffered under horrific conditions until they were liberated in 1945. Ralph would say many years later he still had "very vivid memories" of the torture he and his fellow soldiers suffered: the "denial of medicine," the "beatings," the "brutality that was not human. I was very lucky," he said. "I never was afraid of the Japanese, and I didn't have to beg them for anything."
Rodriguez, at 94, recalled in another interview how the prisoners would sleep underneath "hospital" buildings that stood on stilts as blasts blew the leaves off trees. Conditions were unsanitary, with prisoners sharing food like unclean cooked rice. "We managed to accept it. That's why we made it back. We didn't fight it. We didn't fight the situation, but we took care of each other."
Rodriguez is a native New Mexican. He moved to Albuquerque when he returned from war. He celebrated his 100th birthday there with family and friends in October 1917.