The will be renamed next year for Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander "Alex" Arredondo, a JP native who was killed in action in Iraq six years ago.
"This is not only for us [as] family," said Alex's father, Carlos Arredondo, in a Patch interview. "It's also for many other families who lost sons and daughters. It's good for them to know the fallen soldier is being honored."
Alex, a 20-year-old Marine on his second tour of duty, was killed on Aug. 25, 2004 by a sniper while checking on the safety of his troops after a battle. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy Cross for valor in combat.
The U.S. Congress in recent weeks approved the renaming of the 655 Centre St. building as the Lance Corporal Alexander Arredondo Post Office, which will have a dedication plaque in the lobby. It is a rare honor, and no other local post offices have had such renaming, according to the United States Postal Service.
A renaming ceremony will be scheduled sometime next year. The Arredondo family is hoping for August, which was Alex's birth month. The ceremony will be an open community event "because Alex, he really loved JP," said Alex's stepmother, Melida Arredondo.
Alex is already memorialized in JP thanks to the efforts of Carlos and Melida, a Roslindale couple who have become nationally known peace activists.
The intersection of St. Rose and South streets—in front of the house where Alex grew up—was dedicated as a "square" honoring Alex by the City of Boston several years ago. And Carlos has drawn national press attention for his striking mobile anti-war display: a pick-up truck towing a flag-draped coffin packed with Alex's childhood possessions. Carlos frequently parks the truck in front of the Civil War memorial in JP's Monument Square, where Alex once hung out.
But the Arredondos have long sought a more prominent memorial to Alex. Originally, they attempted to get part of the state-owned Southwest Corridor Park dedicated to him, according to Melida.
"We wanted to have a park named for Alex there," she said, recounting how he enjoyed the green space as a child. But talks stalled, she said, and the family turned its attention to the post office.
"It was basically his home turf," Melida said of the Centre/South corridor. Alex's childhood activities included attending the former art center in what is now the next to the post office. And Alex's mother, Victoria Foley, comes from a JP family with neighborhood roots going back generations. Foley was not involved in the post office effort, but supports it, according to Melida and Carlos.
The Arredondos first got the support of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy. But Kennedy died last year on the fifth anniversary of Alex's death, "which was astounding to us," Melida said. The date already had another grim coincidence, with Alex dying on Carlos's birthday.
In an incident that made the national news at the time, the grief-stricken Carlos set fire to the van belonging to the Marines who notified him of Alex's death, badly burning himself in the process.
The family quickly regrouped from the loss of Kennedy. Backed by such military family organizations as Gold Star Mothers, the post office renaming drew the support of the state's entire Congressional delegation and U.S. Sens. Scott Brown and John Kerry.
U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, whose district includes most of JP, was the lead sponsor of the renaming, which required Congressional approval. Capuano spoke passionately in support of the renaming last month on the House floor.
"I want to be very clear. This is the first time I've been here on something like this," Capuano said. "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."
Carlos said he hopes the renaming will make people remember a man "who sacrificed his life for the well-being of others." But the family sees other layers of meaning as well.
Noting the rising street violence in Boston, Melida recalled that Alex joined in anti-violence activism during the neighborhood's last tide of gang warfare in the 1990s, and that he was known for protecting schoolmates from bullies. She said she hopes the renaming ceremony can send "messages about peace being important not just internationally, but here at home."
Melida also noted the significance of the renaming in a neighborhood with a large Latino population, but few public buildings named for Latinos. Carlos came to Boston from Costa Rica in the 1980s, making Alex a first-generation Latino immigrant solider.
While the renaming ceremony is yet to be scheduled, Carlos has already made the honor part of his anti-war display. A sign on his truck reads "Boston 02130"—JP's main postal ZIP code—alongside Alex's birth and death dates.
"A lot of people know what it means," Carlos said of the JP ZIP code.
Alex will appear on at least one more memorial. A planning effort is under way to create a statewide memorial to Iraq and Afghanistan war dead, to be erected somewhere in Boston. The Arredondos attended the memorial's inaugural fund-raising dinner earlier this month at the Boston Convention Center.
The memorial effort comes from various veterans and military family organizations and is backed by all major public officials, including Gov. Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Still, the actual details of a memorial can be controversial, and so can its timing when the wars last for many years.
"A lot of people have said that we should wait for the wars to end," Melida said about memorial efforts. "As one of the people who parented Alex, there's something in [me] that wants to remember him [now]."