By Staff Sgt. Kevin Abbott, New York Army National GuardJanuary 29, 2010
YOUNTVILLE, CA--Growing up, Celia Ruiz, never heard much about her father Alejandro Ruiz's World War II service with the New York Army National Guard's 69th Infantry Regiment.
Her father was always telling the story about how he was charged with stealing a cow-which just happened to be in the back of his truck one day -- and given the choice between the Army and jail, she recalled. But her father, who died on Nov. 23, 2009, never said much else about World War II.
"Dad always smiled and had a twinkle in his eye when he told that story. He had a great sense of humor so we have never been sure how true it is," she said. "As far as what happened in Okinawa he never really talked much about it."
What happened on Okinawa, according to Army records, is that on April 28, 1945 Pfc Alejandro Ruiz, a riflemen in the 165th Infantry Regiment (as the 69th was then designated) earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On Jan. 24-25, Lt. Col. John Andonie, the Commander of the 1st Battalion 69th Infantry, and battalion Command Sgt. Major Jorge Vasquez , traveled to California to remember Ruiz with a wreath laying ceremony, and to present their respects to his daughter.
"We've been trying to keep in touch with Ruiz for many years," Andonie explained. "But due to the distance involved, we just couldn't keep in touch for our veterans' reunions. As soon as we saw the news of his death, I made a commitment to come pay our final respects."
The two presented a wreath on behalf of the 69th Infantry Regiment's Veterans' Association at Ruiz' final resting place in conjunction with California's Yountville Veterans Home in Napa Valley where Ruiz spent his final years
"The Fighting 69th has served in every major conflict since the Civil War. And Master Sgt. Ruiz is an important part of our unit's history." he said, referring to the rank Ruiz held when he retired from the army.
According to 27th Infantry Division records, Alejandro Ruiz earned his place in the regiment's history when his platoon moved out to clear a Japanese strong point during the bloody battle for Okinawa that began on April 1, 1945.
The platoon got pinned down, with all the men killed or wounded but Ruiz, between an enemy bunker and a ravine. Ruiz grabbed a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) and walked alone into the enemy fire to destroy the bunker. The weapon malfunctioned so he used it as a club to kill one Japanese soldier.
Then he went back for another BAR and more ammunition, and assaulted the pillbox alone again. He straddled the enemy position and emptied magazine after magazine on the Japanese troops inside.
When he was done, he had killed 12 Japanese, captured two light machine guns, and mortars, destroyed the enemy position, and saved the wounded men in his platoon.
President Harry S. Truman presented him with his Medal of Honor on June 12, 1946.
Today a picture of that event sits outside Vasquez's office in the 69th's Lexington Avenue Armory, in New York. Soldiers heading into his office see that image of Ruiz, and know that 69th Soldiers can do tremendous things, Vasquez said.
"For these young soldiers to see a hero like Ruiz, a fellow Hispanic is very moving. It' hits home with them", Vasquez said.
Ruiz, who died of natural cases at age 86, was buried at the Yountville Veterans Home on Dec. 1, the forth Medal of Honor recipient to be interred there.
On Jan. 25, Andonie and Vasquez, joined the Veterans Home Chaplain, to remember Ruiz and his connection to the 1-69th.
Standing in the rain, Andonie read the poem "Rouge Bouquet" written by 69th member and poet Joyce Kilmer, about the regiment's dead from a World War I battle. Kilmer, a scout in the 69th, was killed in World War I.
A bagpiper played "Gary Owen", the regimental song, and the wreath was laid at Ruiz's grave site.
Andonie and Vasquez also met with Celia Ruiz and her husband Dr. Mike Palomino at their home the day before the event.
Ruiz and Palomino shared stories about the life of the late Ruiz and gave pictures and a Medal of Honor Society coin for the unit to add to it's historical collection.
"Dad served in the Army a long time and with many different units," Celia Ruiz said, " but it was the "Fighting 69th " that he most identified with."