SAN ANTONIO – The Marine Corps flag flew at half-staff outside the home of Rodney Buentello's parents, while family members mourned inside.
"Being the hero that he was, he set his life to save somebody else," Raul Buentello said of his son.
Rodney Buentello, 42, was in the Bandera City Park with his wife and their eight and nine-year-old sons Wednesday when, according to the Bandera Marshal's Office, a teenage girl who was walking on top of the nearby dam fell into the Medina River. A male teenager jumped in to help but both struggled in the undertow at the bottom of the dam.
With his family looking on Buentello, a retired Marine master sergeant with two Purple Hearts, jumped in and saved both teens. Though Buentello had made it back from a tour in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, he did not survive the Medina River.
"The last thing they saw was Rodney pushing that boy to rescuers with a rope, and then he went under," said Buentello's brother-in-law, Vaughn Williams.
Buentello had resigned in May from his position at his alma mater, John Jay High School, where he was a teacher's aide in the in-school suspension program. His family said he was about to start another job but also wanted to pursue a teaching certificate. They said he also helped coach football at John Jay.
"He just loved his family and loved being with other kids and being a role model was what he really liked being," Williams said. "That's why he went to try to be a teacher, to be a role model for the younger kids."
Buentello's family is proud of his actions that day.
"No matter if he knew what was going to happen, he would still do it because that was the Corps entrusted in him to be able to do," said his father, a former Marine gunnery sergeant.
Still, the grief weighs heavily on them, and they know life without him will be tough, especially for his wife and sons.
The elder Buentello said he'll miss just talking and being around Rodney. Williams says he doesn't like to think about what life will be like without him.
"When you lose somebody like that you love like that, it's tough," he said.
The Bandera Marshal's Office said the teenage girl would be cited for walking on the dam, which is a city ordinance violation.
Buentello's family said a memorial will be held at John Jay High School at 8 p.m. Thursday night.