By Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Kosterman, B Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation RegimentJune 20, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 20, 2013) -- It was a friendship of Aviation warriors that spanned for more than four decades and is now linked on the ground where Army Aviation began.
A street dedication ceremony was held June 18 at the post headquarters' regimental conference room to officially rename 5th Avenue to Ruf Avenue in honor of CW4 William "Willie" L. Ruf. Ruf Avenue intersects with Novosel Street, which is named in honor of Medal of Honor recipient CW4 Michael J. Novosel.
"He and his best friend, Mike Novosel, were inseparable," said Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, during the dedication speech. "(They had) a friendship that lasted decades and one that will endure as those two streets intersect."
The intersecting streets named in their honor ensure the two Aviators remain together through eternity, added Mangum.
Brian Crawford, Ruf's grandson and a retired Army Aviator, said his grandfather would probably be humbly pleased with the street renaming in his honor and that news of the dedication was a "happy shock" for the Family. He also said the relationship of the two long-time friends was one of healthy competition.
"Behind closed doors I'm sure it's a competition of, 'well more cars drive on my road than yours,'" said Crawford.
Mangum reiterated this in his speech, saying the two old Soldiers would probably debate whose road is better.
"I'm told they were known to bicker some. I am sure they are looking down and bickering over which street is more important. The one that goes in front of the headquarters or the one that is the longest," said Mangum.
The building where Ruf instructed student pilots during his teaching years at Fort Rucker sits very near the newly-renamed Ruf Avenue. Ruf's desire to share his knowledge and passion for life is one thing his grandson remembers most fondly of him. These qualities endeared him to those who knew Ruf.
"He had a passion for teaching us what's important in life," said Crawford of his grandfather. "He didn't know a stranger anywhere he went. He was dedicated to people."
Ruf proved his dedication to country time and again. He served as an infantryman in WWII, and Korea, making the rank of Sergeant Major at the age of 22.
Along with his dedication, Ruf was a pioneer of Army Aviation. He graduated from the first rotary-wing flight class at Fort Rucker in 1955. Following several other assignments he eventually volunteered for combat as an Aviator in Vietnam.
"We owe a lot to (Ruf) for his bravery and his foresight," said Mangum.
As a result of his skill as a pilot and dedication to mission success, Ruf was selected to serve as a member of the Army Executive Flight Detachment (Presidential Flight). He flew four presidents and numerous heads of state and was the first presidential helicopter pilot to fly outside the United States during his stint.
Upon his retirement, Ruf had accumulated more than 50 years of federal service. Even then, he continued to volunteer at the Fort Rucker Red Cross at Lyster Army Health Clinic, a tour guide at the Army Aviation Museum and as a guest speaker during helicopter flight training graduations. During his service to country, he accumulated more than 16,000 total flying hours. He flew 1,200 hours in combat. He died Sept. 20, 2007, in Dothan, Ala.
The Fort Rucker memorialization committee approved the renaming of 5th Avenue shortly after Ruf's death.
The entire span of Ruf Avenue will see the new street name signs posted in the coming months, as the full changes of the renamed a street go into effect. Some of those changes include updating emergencies services and mapmakers of the change.
For more photos of the event, see www.flickr.com/fortrucker.