YOUNTVILLE — Sixty-six years ago, Alejandro R. Ruiz was honored for a near-suicidal charge to save his fellow soldiers during World War II. Now, his name will live on locally, at a post office near his final home and burial place.
The post office at the Veterans Home of California officially received its new name during a ceremony Wednesday morning — the Private First Class Alejandro R. Ruiz Post Office Building.
Before an audience of some 30 residents, Rep. Mike Thompson, who introduced the Congressional bill honoring the late Second World War veteran, spoke of Ruiz who lived his final years at the Yountville home following an Army career highlighted by his single-handed rescue of soldiers pinned down by Japanese gunfire during the battle for Okinawa in 1945.
“The reason we’re here is to pay tribute to a fellow who went far above and beyond the call of duty,” the St. Helena Democrat said during the dedication.
“I tear up when I hear about a Congressional medal winner, when I talk about one, when I read about one,” Thompson said.
“He was a great American, a true hero, and this post office should be named after your dad,” Thompson told a visibly emotional Celia Ruiz, daughter of the late soldier.
The wooden sign marking the post office had been removed before the ceremony, and a replacement bearing Ruiz’s name is expected to be installed in September, according to JaNell Olsen, senior operations manager for the U.S. Postal Service.
Wednesday’s dedication brought the postal building into the public eye for the second time this year, and the first since the Postal Service backed off a plan to shut it down.
The Veterans Home branch originally was on a list of more than 3,700 post offices — mostly in smaller and more remote communities — the agency slated for closure amid mounting financial losses, but announced in March it would keep the building open.
Ruiz spent his career in the U.S. Army, serving in the Korean War and eventually rising to sergeant, before retiring to the Veterans Home. He was buried on its grounds after his death on Nov. 20, 2009 at age 85.
Born and raised in Loving, N.M., Ruiz enlisted in the military shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. A member of the Army 27th Infantry Division, he was on patrol during the battle for the island of Okinawa on April 28, 1945 when his unit came under heavy machine-gun fire from a camouflaged Japanese pillbox. Every member of the unit was killed or wounded except for one.
Grabbing an automatic rifle, Ruiz charged the pillbox alone, but his weapon jammed, according to media reports of the time. He returned to where his unit was pinned down, grabbed a second rifle, clambered atop the pillbox and killed 12 enemy soldiers despite being shot in the leg, single-handedly saving his fellow platoon members.
Ruiz’s exploits earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, one of only 44 given to Latinos, statistics show. He also was one of five medal recipients among the more than 55,000 people to have lived at the Yountville Veterans Home since its opening in 1884.
Thompson introduced the legislation honoring Ruiz last November, with the sponsorship of California’s 52 other members of Congress as well as support from both the state’s U.S. senators.
Celia Ruiz, describing her father’s actions, expressed her thanks for the post office’s dedication even as she also recalled Ruiz’s humility about his achievements.
“Dad never talked about his service; I found out about his heroic acts by reading about it, and it painted a picture even more dire than I knew,” she said. “And I asked him, ‘Why did you do this?’ He just said, ‘Somebody had to do something.’”