A solider who sacrificed his life forhis country was honored at a street renaming ceremony. The corner of East 156th Street and Courtlandt Avenue was renamed Sergeant Jose Velez Avenue on Saturday, May 28, in honor of Sergeant Jose Velez, a father who died while serving in Iraq.
Velez, who was known as ‘Java Joe’ by his comrades because he would always have a pot of coffee ready in the barracks, was killed when a bomb exploded near his Humvee in Kirkuk, Iraq on June 9, 2006.
He was assigned to the U.S. Army’s 773rd Transportation Company, based in Fort Totten. Velez was manning a gun on the transport unit when he died in the explosion.
Velez’s mother, Rosa Velez, and two children Chris Velez, 16, and Melody Velez, 12, were on hand as statements were read from Mayor Bloomberg, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo and members of his unit.
“It is a bittersweet day,” his mother Rosa said. “For the ones who didn’t know him, maybe they will think of him and decide to do some volunteer work at the VA Hospital. For the ones who did know him, I think they will look up and just smile.”
His children said that they were proud of their father, who had volunteered for the mission where he lost his life.
“People thinking of my father and remembering him is definitely a good feeling,” Chris Velez said. “We can walk by here, hold our heads up high and be proud of him.”
Chris Velez said that he was remembering his father’s laugh and smile during the ceremony. His daughter Melody said that she was surprised when she learned that a street was being dedicated to her father.
Velez took home a large number of honors, including the bronze star, the purple heart, and armed service medal. He was 35 years old when he died, and had been promoted to an non-commissioned officer.
“Everyday serves as an opportunity for residents walking past East 156th Street and Courtlandt Avenue to remember Sergeant Velez and his service to his country,” stated the message from Mayor Bloomberg.
Event emcee Joe Mondello, a member of Borough President Diaz’s veterans advisory panel, said that the event highlights the purpose of Memorial Day.
“This is a special day for Sergeant Velez and his family,” Mondello said. “I hope when they come downstairs and step out onto the street, they will look up at the sign and it will be like he never left the community. He is gone, but not forgotten, and his service is appreciated.”