Thirteen years after her death, Marine Lance Corporal Juana Navarro-Arellano of Ceres was remembered during a Friday morning ceremony at the Ceres Post Office formally renaming it in her honor.
Navarro-Arellano, 24, was killed on April 8, 2006 in Anbar Province, Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Then Congressman Jeff Denham introduced a bill in July 2018 to name the Ceres Post Office after Juana.
Both private citizen Denham and Rep. Josh Harder appeared at the short ceremony in the lobby where her photo was on display. Denham joined Juana’s mother, Evelia Navarro of Ceres, and sister Beatriz Lopez, in unveiling a plaque now hanging above the mail drop-off slots near the entrance.
Lopez said her sister was loving, genuine, humble, kind, unique, simple and honest.
“She was such a special person, always willing to give at least 100 percent,” said Lopez. “She did not like attention nor wanted it. She was more like an unsung hero who walked life and made a difference without expecting recognition. That is simply what she was.”
Born in the Mexico state of Michoacan, Juana came to the California from Mexico with her family at a young age and became a U.S. citizen at age 13. In 2001 Juana moved to Ceres with her mother and four of five siblings from their cramped home in Empire. The family participated in a Habitat for Humanity project on Sequoia Street in which they helped built a new home in record time. Juana helped hang drywall and helped with other construction.
Lopez said her sister liked to hang out at the Smyrna Park skate park with a nephew after moving to Ceres.
In 2000 Juana graduated from Johansen High School in Modesto and enlisted in the Marines in 2005, following the example of her two younger twin brothers. After she graduated from boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C., she served in the Bulk Fuel Company of Camp Hansen, Japan. She had left combat training and bulk fuel school to enter the Fleet Marine Force. A member of the 9th Engineer Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Navarro-Arrelano was initially stationed in Okinawa, but her specialization as a bulk fuel specialist was needed in Iraq. In February 2006, she headed to the Middle East and kept the news from her family until the last minute.
While holding down a defensive position guarding other soldiers during their mission near Taqaddum, Juana died from a gunshot to the head. Her body was sent home for a hero’s burial at Lakewood Memorial Park. She left behind her parents, three sisters and two brothers.
“This is something my daughter deserved,” said Juana’s mother, speaking through an interpreter.
Denham, who served in Somalia, said he returned for the event because it was “personal.” In introducing HR 6405 – which was signed into law by President Donald Trump – Denham said Navarro-Arellano represented “the brave spirit of those who risk everything to come to our country, and as a Marine, she stands as an inspiration for all who go above and beyond the call of duty.”
Denham had scheduled the ceremony on his last day as a congressman in December after being defeated by Josh Harder but scheduling problems arose.
Rep. Harder said Juana was “an American hero and this renaming is long overdue but it guarantees that she will be permanently remembered for her sacrifice in defense of our country.” He said hers was a life of service, sacrifice, patriotism and “of the American dream. She was an immigrant but she quickly became part of the American family.”
Ceres Postmaster Lee Hoskins welcomed the crowd and called the American Legion Post #491 Color Guard to present flags. Patty Castillo Davis sang the National Anthem.
Neil Gonzalez, the regional manager of Post Office Operations, welcomed guests, which included Ceres councilmembers Channce Condit, Bret Durossette, Mike Kline and Linda Ryno. A large contingency of Juana’s family members also attended.