SAN ANTONIO – Active and retired military along with their families gathered at VFW Post 76 not only in celebration for the United States Marine Corps’ 244th birthday, but also in remembrance of Rodney Buentello, a retired Master Sergeant.
Buentello was in the Marines for 20 years. Two weeks prior to his 44th birthday, he lost his life saving two teens from drowning at Bandera City Park on June 8, 2016.
“He was a life member here at the post,” said Albert Mireles Jr., house committee chairman for VFW Post 76. “As a Marine and with any military personnel, we are taught to do one thing and that is to react. That is exactly what Rodney did that day. He took it upon himself, and without second guessing himself, he faced danger and saved them.”
Buentello’s family said that normally, they wouldn’t have been in the area where the incident took place.
“He decided they would go to Bandera to that river,” said Raul Buentello, Rodney Buentello’s father. “This day, he decided to stay by the dam. They would always go further up where the water was shallow, but he stayed there for a little while there. Prior to that week, it had been raining a lot and water was rushing a lot over the dam.”
“You have to believe that for some reason, he was there to do something and only the good Lord knows what he was there to do,” Mireles said.
Though she is proud of Buentello’s heroic actions, Lisa Buentello, his wife, said his death is still heartbreaking.
“We do out best to keep his memory alive,” Buentello said. “All of the happy memories. It is easy to think of him because he was such a happy person. He was such a great mentor and leader, and, for us, he was just the rock of our family.”
Lisa Buentello said saving those teens was her husband’s calling.
“That was just the person he was,” Lisa Buentello said. “He struggled with PTSD. He worked at John Jay High School to influence the teenagers. He was going to save those teenagers’ lives no matter what. It hurts every day and we miss him every day. It is hard not having him here with us, but he went out as a hero.”
They said they will forever miss Buentello’s fun and competitive personality.
“He always wanted to outdo his dad,” Raul Buentello said. “I played football, he wanted to play football. I was in the Marine, he joined the Marine. I have one Purple Heart, he has more. I was an E-7, he ended up being an E-8. I was so very proud of him. I was so so proud of him.”
The family said they have mixed emotions toward the teens involved in the incident. Though they have not reached out since, Lisa Buentello said she plans to contact them in the future.
“He gave his life for them and he would want for them to live the best life that they can,” Lisa Buentello said. “I pray they are living their best life because that is the reason he did what he did. I would think he would want everyone to live life to the fullest. You never know what their life will bring. Live a life that is peaceful and kind and influences other people.”
With Nov. 10 being Buentello’s favorite holiday to celebrate life as a Marine, his father said it is bittersweet because he misses his son. He hopes others learn from his sacrificial actions.
“Being a Marine, the first thing they tell you is to save your fellow person,” Raul Buentello said. “He was always trying to follow that. Help other people in need. Don’t wait to be asked can you help.”
In addition to having a brick laid in Buentello’s honor Sunday evening, the family set up the Rodney Lee Buentello Memorial Foundation to help students in financial need get scholarships.