FRESNO — World War II Army veteran Gome Ruiz of Tulare is 99 and a patient at the veterans hospital in Fresno. Often, he's in a wheelchair.
But Thursday morning, he stood up out of his wheelchair straight and tall in a room crowded with friends and family to receive a long-awaited decoration.
The ceremony was to honor his four years of service in the 164th Engineer Combat Battalion, replace some of his medals that were lost over time and present the awards he never received.
After Ruiz rose to his feet, Lt. Col. Shaun Skierka said "Attention, to order" for the rest of the room to stand up as she pinned the medals to Ruiz's jacket.
The room filled with laughs, smiles and tears of joy.
It was last Memorial Day that Roger Davis, the husband of Ruiz's great-great niece Mouretta Davis, thought that Ruiz was missing a lot of well-deserved medals after seeing him point out all the medals at the Avenue of the Flags event held in Visalia.
Roger Davis, 46, started writing letters and after months heard back from the Department of the Army, said Mouretta Davis, Ruiz's caretaker.
"Gome is 99, wants to make it to 100, but I was like, 'Hurry up,' " Roger Davis said with a chuckle.
Mouretta Davis, 45, thought the letter was another "we can't find the records, try writing here," like so many other responses.
"We opened it and both cried," she said.
Inside was a list of the awards Ruiz should have received: American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one Silver Service Star, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal with Germany Clasp, Marksman Badge with Carbine Bar, Honorable Service Lapel Button.
The Army had no explanation why Ruiz had not been given his honors. In corresponding with Roger Davis, officials simply said records were lost or destroyed.
Not that it mattered to Ruiz on Thursday.
"Oh boy, what a day," he said.
Ruiz was one of five brothers who went to war, said Stan Ruiz, Gome Ruiz's nephew.
Gome Ruiz was in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the Allied forces landed, said Stan Ruiz, 60, and ran into his brother during the Battle of the Bulge.
It truly was "the Greatest Generation," as the whole country was behind the war effort, Stan Ruiz said.
"If this generation had the attitude the Greatest Generation had, we'd be a lot better off," Stan Ruiz said.
"This man only shows me what I have to look forward to," said Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Huerta of the California Army National Guard, who joined other military personnel in the audience for the ceremony.
Then Huerta shook Gome Ruiz's hand and left.
Ruiz's family described him as always living life to the fullest.
"He still has his spirit," Stan Ruiz said.
Ruiz was 27 when he enlisted in the Army on March 7, 1941. He was honorably discharged Oct. 28, 1945, but re-enlisted the next day. He served another two years.
After the war, Ruiz married Patsy (she has since passed) and worked at Stanford Hospital as a mechanic, Mouretta Davis said.
He had spent time in Hanford and San Jose growing up, and moved near relatives in Hanford when he retired in 1979.
Recently, he moved in with the Davises in Tulare.
Ruiz was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about five years ago, but Mouretta Davis said he's doing really well.
Ruiz still tells stories from the war like it was yesterday, she said. One of them: spending seven months in a hospital after a plane he was in was hit by German artillery.
Ruiz was the only survivor. He received the Purple Heart.
He says it's the medal he's most proud of.
"If I was able to go back to war again, I would," he said.