Close to a hundred people gathered at the corner of 177th Street and Audubon Avenue on Sunday to honor one of their own, Sgt. Jose Enrique ‘Ricky’ Ulloa. The soldier lost his life in Iraq in 2008, but now the street where he grew up is named after him.
“This means a lot to us, because we feel like his death wasn’t in vain,” said Ulloa’s niece Stephanie, who was raised with him across the street corner that now bears his name. “Every time I pass and see it I’m going to smile, knowing that he’s probably very proud up there.”
In an emotional speech to the crowd that left several members of the family and community in tears, Stephanie remembered her uncle, whom she considered more of an older brother, as a prankster with a large heart. She said that given Ulloa’s dedication and compassion, it was no surprise that he volunteered to go to Iraq.
Born in the Dominican Republic but raised in New York City, Ulloa always wanted to serve in the Armed Forces and signed up soon after graduating from Washington Irving High School in downtown Manhattan. He was stationed in Germany as a truck driver for the 515th Transportation Company.
When an undermanned unit shipping off to Iraq in 2005 asked for volunteers from his company, he was the only person to raise his hand. Ulloa was killed by a roadside Improvised Explosive Device in Iraq’s Sadr City in August 2008.
Ulloa’s family was joined by a handful of city officials, including State Senator Adriano Espaillat, State Assembly member Gabriela Rosa, Gregorio Malena of the Dominican consulate and City Council member Ydonis Rodriguez, who proposed the bill to secure the streets co-naming.
“There is not a street co-naming that will bring back Sgt. Ulloa,” said Rodriguez, who put forward the bill to secure the street’s co-naming. “But at least we can celebrate in our community the contribution of talented young people who are here to be part of the history of the United States.”
The size of the congregation at the ceremony was testament to how much Ulloa meant to the community. Marlen Santana, 31,who grew up with the sergeant, said that he always spoke about being known and remembered one day.
“He got what he wanted, he accomplished it,” Santana said. “Unfortunately he wasn’t here to see it happen, but I know he’s up above smiling.”
Ulloa is survived by his wife Melanie and their six-year old son Steven, who live in Germany.