(Courtesy: Rep. Michael Capuano)
Alexander Scott Arredondo has always had strong ties to Jamaica Plain.
He lived on the neighborhood’s main corridor, went to daycare there, played at Jamaica Pond, attended youth activities at the firehouse and a large number of family members on his mom’s side live there.
Jamaica Plain is also where loved ones paid their final respects to him when his wake and funeral were held at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish six years ago.
Now, Arredondo’s connection to the neighborhood will be remembered – permanently.
The post office in the neighborhood’s center, no more than a 10-minute walk from Arredondo’s childhood home on South Street, will be named in the honor of the 20-year-old Lance Corporal Marine who was killed committing a heroic and selfless act during a battle in Iraq in 2004.
“It just seemed so appropriate to have Alex remembered in Jamaica Plain,” his stepmother, Melida Arredondo, said in a phone interview Friday. “After we’re gone, that building will still be here, and that’s how he and his legacy will be remembered.”
In what would be his last mission, Arredondo led fellow Marines to clear and secure a two-story building in Najaf, Iraq. Under intense, close-range enemy fire, as bullets from small arms, machine guns and RPGs whizzed by, grenades exploded and debris flew, Arredondo fearlessly and swiftly led his platoon to complete the mission’s objective, according to a statement by his commander read aloud last month before Congress.
In the midst of battle, Arredondo was “personally clearing rooms and assuming the greatest risk … never slowing down and never showing any fear,” said a written account by the lieutenant general.
During his three weeks fighting in Najaf while on his second tour of duty, Arredondo displayed “the highest levels of selflessness and courage,” his commander said, and what would be his final moments were a testament to his bravery.
After the building was secured, the young man set his fellow soldiers up in a strategic defensive position preparing to reengage the enemy. As he walked to each squad member to check on their security and well-being, an enemy sniper fatally shot Arredondo on August 25, 2004, “giving his life fighting for freedom and defending his fellow Marines,” the commander wrote.
“I think that that alone – that one paragraph – clearly underscores exactly what kind of a person Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo was,” said US Representative Michael E. Capuano, a Somerville Democrat, reading the commander’s account aloud before fellow House members voted to pass legislation to name the post office at 655 Centre St. in Arredondo’s honor on Nov. 29.
The bill passed the Senate Thursday, and an official naming ceremony will be held at a to-be-determined date next year, according to a joint release from Capuano, who authored the legislation, and US Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, who each wrote letters to Senate committee members urging the bill’s passage.
“For a man to give his life at such a young and tender age is an incredible thing, and I am proud,” Capuano said on the House floor late last month. “I want to be very clear, this is the first time I’ve been here on something like this. I don’t take this lightly at all. This is not just naming another thing after another person. This particular one is very important to me, to my constituents and to his family because of the service he rendered for this country, because of the fact that he gave his life fighting for our freedom and our rights.”
Arredondo earned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with combat "V" and the Purple Heart for his actions during that battle. And, a federal building in the middle of what his stepmom called his childhood “home turf,” will now be designated as the “Lance Corporal Alexander Scott Arredondo, United States Marine Corps Post Office Building.”
“I am personally very, very happy to honor Alexander and remember other sons and daughters of military families,” his father Carlos Arredondo said Friday. “It’s just overwhelming … It’s a moment of peace with so much violence going on here.”
Alexander died on Carlos’ 44th birthday.
When Marine officers arrived in a government van to tell the father his son had died, Carlos Arredondo initially thought it was a surprise birthday visit from Alexander.
On the driveway of what was his home at the time in Florida, the father picked up a sledgehammer and smashed the windshield of the parked vehicle that had delivered the word of his son’s death. He poured gasoline on the van and himself and lit a torch which caused an explosion and serious burns on over 20 percent of his body before the Marines rescued him.
After nearly a year of recovery, Arredondo, began travelling the country with Melida to raise awareness “about the cost of war” as well as about rules, laws and other issues with military service they feel are unjust either for soldiers or their families. The duo has aligned with other families and groups committed to a similar cause. They’ve done public speaking at protests, rallies, memorials and before politicians in the nation’s capital.
The couple, who now live in Roslindale, said that their son’s death is “still very painful,” but both remain committed to the outreach aspect of their grieving process. Because of how the traveling – much of which was self-funded – took a toll physically, mentally and financially, they are currently working on efforts closer to home, including assisting other Boston-area families fund-raising for a scholarship they established 5 years ago at Blue Hill Regional Technical high school in Canton, where Alexander graduated from in 2002 before joining the Marines.
Carlos made national headlines for his immediate reaction and he and Melida have become well-known for their work afterward. Carlos, a Costa Rican native, received U.S. citizenship in 2006 with the help of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and through a bill signed in 2003 by then-President George W. Bush allowing parents of fallen soldiers to become citizens.
With Kennedy’s continued support, the couple, around two years ago, began discussing ways to have Alexander’s legacy live on permanently, but when Kennedy died of brain cancer on Aug. 25, 2009 – Carlos’ 49th birthday – the plans hit a snag.
An aide of Kennedy helped the couple reach out to several other local politicians before the Arredondos connected with Capuano who represents most of Jamaica Plain and was eager to help the couple, but was also in the midst of a busy campaign, competing to fill the Senate seat left vacant when Kennedy passed.
“It’s been a long process,” said Melida. “But, it finally happened.”
E-mail Matt Rocheleau at firstname.lastname@example.org.