This Day in History: Alejandro Ruiz's bravery at Okinawa
On this day in 1924, a future Medal of Honor recipient is born. Alejandro Ruiz was perhaps an unlikely hero? Indeed, he might never have been at Okinawa but for a somewhat humorous legal scrape that he got himself into.
A 20-year-old Ruiz had been transporting cows across Texas in 1944 when he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to propose to his girlfriend, Eliza Martinez. He was supposed to take the cows to Carlsbad, but he detoured to Barstow to find Eliza instead. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he soon found himself before a judge, answering a charge of allegedly stealing livestock.
Maybe he lucked out and found a judge with a sense of humor? The judge gave Ruiz a choice between jail or the Army. Ruiz chose the Army.
“I know you all wanted to hear a more patriotic story, but this is the story my dad told me,” Ruiz’s daughter, Celia, later explained.
And that’s how Pfc. Ruiz found himself landing at Okinawa with the 165th Infantry, 27th Infantry Division during April 1945.
Trouble came on April 28 as Ruiz’s company patrolled an area near a deep ravine. The Japanese had established a well-camouflaged pillbox there, but our soldiers couldn’t see it at first. The Japanese let our men get close before opening their attack. Ruiz’s unit was soon pinned down by a barrage of grenades and machine-gun fire.
Everyone had been injured or killed except for Ruiz and his squad leader.
Ruiz swung into action, seizing an automatic rifle and charging through enemy fire. Unfortunately, his rifle jammed just as he reached the pillbox. A Japanese soldier lunged at him, but Ruiz clubbed the soldier with his jammed rifle. He was soon running back towards his company where he grabbed more ammunition and a different rifle. Then he turned and ran back through the enemy fire again.
“Enemy fire now was concentrated on him,” his Medal citation describes, “but he charged on, miraculously reaching the position, and in plain view he climbed to the top. Leaping from one opening to another, he sent burst after burst into the pillbox, killing 12 of the enemy and completely destroying the position.”
Another miracle? He’d put his life on the line but still emerged from the conflict without serious injury.
Perhaps you’ll be happy to hear what followed. After the war, Ruiz married Eliza, the girl he nearly went to jail for. Not too long afterwards, he received his Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman at the White House.
Many years later, Celia would ask her father why he’d leapt into action as he did. “Well, mi hija,” he responded simply, “somebody had to do something.”
DeJanay Booth, Veteran Alejandro Ruiz Sr. inducted in Carlsbad Hall of Fame (Carlsbad Current-Argus; Nov. 12, 2017)
Medal of Honor citation (Alejandro R. Ruiz; WWII)
Peter Collier et al., Medal of Honor: Portraits of Honor beyond the Call of Duty (2d ed. 2006)
T. Rees Shapiro, Alejandro R. Ruiz Sr. dies at 85; WWII vet received the Medal of Honor (L.A. Times; Dec. 12, 2009)