Filmmaker's Journey: Interview with Joe Rodriguez | Unforgotten 24

Filmmaker's Journey: Interview with Joe Rodriguez

April, 14th 2016 Blog

Today I found myself back in south Florida. It's an uncanny coincidence that several key players in the Unforgotten 24 storyline all live within a few miles of each other.

Flagpole outside of Joe's home

Vincent and I met with Joe Rodriguez to cover the first recipient storyline. He welcomed us into his home with lunch and a brief discussion of his uncle's heroics. He shared with us the day he received a call from the president and the joy he experienced when he received the Medal of Honor on behalf of his uncle Miguel Vera. Miguel was originally awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic acts in Korea during the summer of 1952. 

Miguel, like the other 24 men who received Medal of Honor upgrades was believed to have been overlooked because of his hispanic heritage. 

Joe, like is uncle, is a native Puerto Rican. They both shared a common love for America that ran as deep as the love for their Island. It was Miguel's valor and sacrifice that inspired Joe to join the Marines many years later.

Joe shows us Miguel's Medal of Honor

We learned that Miguel was a selfless and quiet man. He was an artist by trade and often would stop to help destitute people while taking young Joe into town. It was those early memories of Miguel that shaped Joe's character and laid the integral foundation of Vera's actions in Korea.

Being raised in a poor area of Puerto Rico, Miguel seized the opportunity to earn an education and a consistent paycheck from the US Army. His dream was to buy his mother a house with his earnings and so he took the opportunity to enlist at the age of 17.

Listening to Joe's heartbreaking account of Joe's valor really set in the gravity of this project. While in some respects this story does have a happy ending, there was certainly ample heartache that preceded the long awaited medal ceremony. Joe's account of learning that his uncle had been killed in action left me speechless and with a sick feeling in my stomach. There is no doubt that the sacrifice that these men made was enormous.

The takeaway for me was how important it is to communicate the gravity of the sacrifice when editing this film. It's clear that these men should have received the Medal of Honor from the outright and it's a sad reality that they weren't properly recognized for laying down their life to save a fellow soldier's.