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Decorated veteran had a calling to serve, protect others

By INGRID WILGEN | San Antonio Express-News (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 12, 2016

Veteran Rodney Lee Buentello was a Marine to the core.

Born into a military family and community, he was a retired master sergeant who had participated in four combat tours, three in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

"While in Iraq, he coordinated night watches, led patrols, and made sure his men had what they needed to complete their mission," his wife Lisa Buentello said.

He received two Purple Hearts, one after being injured when an improvised explosive device hit the Humvee he was traveling in and the other for protecting Marines from enemy fire.

Buentello's need to protect others extended beyond the military.

On June 8, he saved two teenagers from drowning at the Bandera City Park dam. After rescuing the two, he succumbed to the strong current. He was 42.

Growing up, Buentello looked up to his father, Raul, who was a Vietnam-era Marine, his wife said.

"He was surrounded by military men, and he wanted to be part of that," Lisa Buentello said.

After graduating from John Jay High School, Buentello took a few courses at Palo Alto College. He left early to become a Marine.

Lisa Buentello met her husband in 2001 at a Marine Corps Ball in Austin. They discovered they were both John Jay alumni at the event.

"He had an immediate connection to me," Lisa Buentello said. "He later came to my work and asked me out, and that was it," she said.

The couple married in 2004.

"We were the 'Dynamic Duo;' together, we were amazing," his wife said.

Buentello traveled a lot throughout his military career, but his favorite place was home.

"He loved to barbecue and have friends over," his wife said. "He didn't like to leave home very much."

Buentello moved his family to San Antonio after completing more than 20 years of military service.

He went back to his alma mater to work as an in-school-suspension instructional assistant and volunteer coach.

"The students took to him just like his Marines did; they hated him, and then they loved him," his wife said.

On the last day of school, his students posted sticky notes all over his car telling him how much they appreciated him, she said.

"Ultimately his goal was to help people see that they can be so much more than they think they can be," his wife said.

He put everyone else before himself, even when it came to his own health, Lisa Buentello said.

"From him, I learned how to be strong," Lisa Buentello said. "He had the best sense of humor, and he could dance, and I loved him," she said.

iwilgen@express-news.net

(c) 2016 the San Antonio Express-News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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