By Steve Robinson | April 25, 2019 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

NORMAL – No community should ever forget that its sons and daughters go into the military. And as a result of a ceremony on Thursday in Uptown, the Normal Post Office located on North St. will have a permanent reminder of one local son who died doing his duty in the service of his country. The facility is being renamed in honor of Army Ranger Joshua Rodgers who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. A plague was unveiled in a ceremony in front of the facility.

Between 75-90 people attended the ceremony which was held in front of the facility, North St. blocked off between Fell Ave. and Broadway St. for the occasion. “Josh felt called to service at an early age, and it was his goal to serve at a high level,” explained U. S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-18th Dist.). He recalled for the gathering that Josh played football and ran track as a student at Normal Community High School, and enlisted in the U. S. Army upon graduation. He moved up the ranks to become a member of the Special Operations Force of the Army Rangers.

“Josh led an admirable and heroic life, always putting service before self, and was never afraid to lead at a young age,” LaHood said. April 26 marks two years since Rodgers’ death at age 22, during what was his third deployment. “He answered the call to serve to defend the liberties we have each and every day in this country.”

Those attending the ceremony also heard from Joshua’s parents, Kevin and Vonda Rodgers. “I can’t thank you enough for your surrounding us with your love,” Kevin Rodgers, Joshua’s father, said, directing his comments toward veterans in attendance. “I feel this service honors your dedication as well for you, also, are willing to risk your life.” He thanked LaHood for his pursuit of this dedication taking place.

The service, although solemn, had a father’s sense of humor at one point when Kevin Rodgers explained that he, his wife, and one of his daughters all attended Illinois State University, then added, “And well, Josh like Pub II right down the street.”

“The last two years have been an amazing journey,” Kevin Rodgers said. “You have helped us heal more than you could ever imagine. Thank you. Josh would certainly think that all this attention would be ridiculous. “

Kevin Rodgers struggled to maintain his composure after telling the audience his son “was a team player and never wanted to be singled out.”

“On the night he perished, his ranger brothers put themselves in great harm to bring Josh home, though they knew he had already perished,” Kevin recounted for the gathering. “They kept their promise, and I would like to think Josh would have done the same.” He reminded the Rangers fought their enemy in a three-hour battle.

Vonda Rodgers, Joshua’s mother, told the gathering, “Our tribe has grown considerably over the last few years despite losing one member, and our circle will be complete again one day, and I look forward to embracing Josh again that day.”

Nick Rohde, an NCHS classmate who met Joshua as freshmen together, told the gathering, “The older I get the more I realize life isn’t about the duration you live,” he said. “It’s not about the duration you live, it’s about the life that you lead. When I think of an impactful life, Josh’s is the first that comes to mind. He said Joshua was a “quiet but surprisingly swift athlete. He was always soft spoken, humble, and one of the best people I knew.

“Josh was always the underdog, the one who surprised us all.” Rohde continued. “He always showed up when it counted.” Rohde recounted how, as a freshman, and the Ironmen were losing to crosstown rival Normal Community West, the coaches opted to put reserves in the game. Joshua scored twice that night, Rohde recalled. He also recounted Joshua being the first of his classmates to be the first to be able to drive, usually with the top of his Jeep down, even in cold weather. He said usually when Josh did that, his friends would grumble about that. Rohde said Josh usually had the same reply, “Quit complaining.”

“After six or seven years of maturing, I finally figured out why he said that,” Rohde said. “It was because he was grateful. He had the means to get from point A to point B and he was mature enough to understand that.” Rohde said Joshua understood it was important to be grateful for what he had.”

Fellow Ranger Casey Van Pelt served with Joshua for a year and a half from 2015-17 in Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regimen. He recounted for the audience all of Joshua’s assignments in uniform: Completing Basic Training at Fort Benning, Ga.; Attending U.S. Army Airborne School learning to exit airplanes; Assigned to Army Ranger Assessment and Selection Program; and Assigned to Charlie Company in May 2014.

“Josh never wasted his words,” Van Pelt said. “You asked anyone who knew Josh, they would all agree. He said what he meant and meant what he said, leaving no doubt or room for interpretation.” As a young Ranger, Van Pelt admitted, he was a little afraid of Josh, but came to understand Josh was there “to help make my life better” while in that part of the service.

Van Pelt recalled details of what was Josh final mission for the crowd who listened intently to every detail.

Capt. Michael Broussard aided in treating Josh after he was wounded, and spoke to the gathering about the parallels between Josh and himself as they entered into being Army Rangers. “I certainly think of every one of my Rangers as brothers,” he told the gathering. “They chose this life with me.”

Broussard recounted for the gathering that Josh “died with distinct courage leaning forward into the fight.” He called the battle in which Josh perished “the fiercest and most contentious I had ever experienced. That being said, I want you to know that Josh didn’t give his life in some mundane, forgettable mission.”

Broussard said had Joshua survived, “he would have continued to do bigger and better things in the Special Operations community, and he would have done bigger and better things in his own community here with you.”

“Anyone who spent any time with Josh would tell you he was a quiet, calm, stoic leader, one that firmly displayed firmness and maturity beyond his years,” Broussard added.

State Rep. Dan Brady (R-105th) told the gathering he thanked LaHood for his diligence in seeing the Post Office’s renaming becoming a reality. President Donald J. Trump signed a measure last December approving the change to be authorized. LaHood said after the ceremony it took about a year and a half to go from considering the idea to holding the ceremony.

Brady also thanked local leaders, including the Town of Normal and Normal Postmaster Jennifer Kanta for their assistance in making the dedication a reality. He also quoted Korean War Commander Douglas MacArthur by saying, “Duty..Honor…Country. Those three words summed up the service of Army Ranger Josh Rodgers.” In addition to having the honor at the Normal Post Office, a section of Airport Rd. in Bloomington was named in Rodgers’ during a ceremony Friday.

“Many of you will return to this building and think of it in a whole new way, thanks to Josh,” Brady told the gathering. Brady, who has an office in the next block up from the Post Office, said the walk will be different now because “Each trip, I will think of Josh. In my own way, I will think of and remember Josh.”

A moment of silence was followed by a 21-gun salute before the plaque honoring Josh was unveiled with approving applause from the audience.

Among the dignitaries at this event were: Normal Mayor Chris Koos, Normal Town Council Members Kathleen Lorenz and Kevin McCarthy, City Manager Pam Reece, Unit 5 School District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel, and NCHS Principal Trevor Chapman.

The event was attended by Joshua’s siblings, sisters Emily and Hannah, and brother, Ashton, as well as his grandparents.

Following the ceremony, LaHood explained, “After the unfortunate death of Sgt. Rodgers, we tried to figure out what was the best way to honor him locally.” Following discussions with Koos, Brady, and the Rodgers, “we were going to try to pass legislation to rename the post office.” He said that process began roughly two months after Rodgers’ death. With going through committee and running through both houses of Congress for approval through to President Trump signing the bill making it possible, LaHood said it took a little over a year.

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