CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A few weeks ago, a shiny object caught the eye of Dora Mireles as she had just finished shopping at the H-E-B store in Moore Plaza. She walked up to it and picked it up.
It was a coin that was neatly tucked away in a tiny, clear resealable plastic bag. But it wasn’t just any coin.
Mireles noticed that it looked like it belonged to someone from the military. So, she gave it to someone who she thought could help: fellow church parishioner and Air Force veteran George Rosas.
“Luckily no one ran over it or damaged it in any way,” Rosas said.
Rosas knew KRIS 6 NEWS anchor Pat Simon was an Army veteran and figured he would know what to to with this special coin.
He immediately noticed it was a challenge coin that belonged to a brave war hero. The military has a tradition with these challenge coins. They come in various shapes and sizes, mostly depicting inscriptions of military units or installations or of someone famous or significant, like a general.
The “challenge” meaning goes something like this. If you are among a group of military folks who own the same coin, and some one presents it and you don’t have yours, then you pay for the first adult beverage.
Pat Simon asked the only person he knew that could help find the owner of the parking lot coin: Ram Chavez, a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
So Chávez and I took a road trip - all the way to San Antonio to find its rightful owner - Master Sergeant Jose Rodela, a native of Corpus Christi.
On Sept. 1, 1969, Sergeant First Class Jose Rodela, company commander with the 5th Special Forces Group, faced an overwhelming enemy force in Phuoc Long Province, Vietnam.
Rodela put his life at risk numerous times the 18 hour firefight. Despite his wounds, Rodella found the courage to lead his men, preventing the enemy from overrunning them.
For that heroic action, Rodela was originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
When he returned home from combat, Rodela had one more battle to fight; bias in the ranks. He should have been awarded a higher award: the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Rodela would have to wait 45 years for that part of history to be corrected.
On Feb. 27, 2014, Rodela and 23 other veterans of various wars dating back to WWII, were awarded the Medal of Honor they deserved.
“Discrimination is the reason that Jose was deprived from it, but he (Rodela) never complained about it," Chavez said.
When KRIS 6 News arrived at the nursing home where the one-time Green Beret calls home, they got to meet Rodela.
This once strong fighting hero was now frail and suffers from dementia.
But when he was presented him with his challenge coin, displaying an image of him on one side and the image of his Medal of Honor on the other side, Rodela beamed with patriotic pride.
“I knew that he was going to be humble … but I never expected the twinkle in his eye that really touched him,” Chavez said.
In return for the kind gesture, Rodela made sure that two of his challenge coins were given to those two individuals, Dora Mireles and George Rosas, as a gesture of thanks for helping preserve and return the symbol of his service.
“I get chills because I know what he went through,” Rosas said. “The man is a hero and a half.”
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