Blackfoot High School held a school assembly on Veterans Day to honor those who have been in the service of the nation. It featured musical numbers from the BHS Choir, Band and Orchestra, as well as a keynote speech from Dave Archuleta, a former tribal court judge and a veteran of the United States Navy.
The choir opened the event by singing a rendition of the National Anthem, and the band, orchestra and combined choirs performed the Armed Forces Salute, a medley of the songs for each branch of the military. The veterans in the audience stood during their service branch’s song. The drama students honored the veterans by presenting the flag for each branch.
“Each Veterans Day we aim to honor our veterans for keeping us out of harm's way, for ensuring we have the opportunity to pursue our dreams and live our lives the way we want to. We never want to pass up an opportunity to honor each and every veteran,” said Jonathan Cederburg, an English and social studies teacher, in the introduction to the event.
Before Archuleta took the stage, Jolyn Thomas, the master of ceremonies, gave him an introduction. Archuleta went to Pocatello High School where he was involved with the ROTC program and became operations officer. He was also hired as a radio announcer when he was 16 years old and did that until graduation.
After graduation, he joined the Navy on Aug. 1, 1974, where he sailed out to Vietnam, eventually ending his service as an E-3 Seaman.
He was then hired as a news reporter and did that for the next 15 years and was a guest host on National Native News on the NPR radio network. In 1985 he joined the Shoshone-Bannock tribal council and served as chief public defender, chief tribal prosecutor, and associate tribal judge.
Archuleta took the stage as the auditorium applauded, and started his speech with, “Today is a great day to be alive in America.”
Archuleta then told the students the oath he took when he became a service member in the Navy.
“Every one of these veterans in a seat today took that oath. The day I took this oath I believed it then and I believe it today,” Archuleta said.
“Freedom, young people, is not free. There is a price that every veteran in the United States of America, whoever served, even in wartime and peacetime, have paid,” Archuleta said.
Archuleta, a member of the Warrior Society, sailed off to war in April 1975. He was on the U.S.S. Benjamin Stoddert, a Charles F. Adams-class destroyer, which would end up being the last ship to leave Vietnamese waters after American forces withdrew.
Archuleta’s journey to Vietnam began, of all places, in Idaho falls, where he flew to Los Angeles, and then to San Francisco. From there he got on board a Military Airlift Command, or MAC flight, where he learned an important lesson about the military. They boarded the plane at 8 a.m. and then didn’t take off until 6 p.m. due to repairs.
“Welcome to the military. Hurry up and wait,” Archuleta said.
From there they flew to Anchorage, Alaska, “Then we took off and headed out to sea.”
“Soon as we’re walking on the gangplank, you could see the boilers running,” Archuleta said. “As soon as the last man got onboard, we were underway.”
Something Archuleta learned quickly in the military is that every role on the ship is important.
“I’m going to tell you, if you join the service, no matter what service you join, your job counts. I don’t care if you’re peeling potatoes, your job counts,” Archuleta said.
As the American withdrawal was underway, the Stoddert ended up being the last ship out because it was sent back to rescue the crew of a sinking allied south Vietnamese ship. After loading the crew on board, they salvaged the ship and then sank what was left so no one else could use it. And then they were sent back again to carry out a secret mission that the crew didn’t know about.
“Some of this stuff when you’re E3, you don’t know because it’s not your job to know,” Archuleta said. “Our job is to carry out the intelligence.”
Archuleta only learned about this secret mission years later when he read the book "War in our Wake" by Jonathan Malay, one of the officers he served under.
Both times when they left Vietnam, they picked up refugees trying to escape the soon to be invaded southern faction of Vietnam.
One of those times, it resulted in them having 300 additional people to take care of on their ship. Their engineers had to design a system to accommodate the extra usage of the bathrooms.
“Our cooks had to feed an additional 300 people, find the food to do it, but they did,” Archuleta said.
Archuleta saw the result of this 15 years later when he went to a conference in Colorado, where one of the people running it was a young Vietnamese woman. She was just a little girl when his ship picked her up and brought her to the United States.
Archuleta related the experiences he had in his youth to what teenagers today are experiencing.
“Again, freedom is not free. You’re watching this war that’s going on right now, you’re hearing the same things we were hearing as young kids during the Cuban missile crisis,” Archuleta said.
He referred to the threats made by Vladimir Putin, of using nuclear bombs against Ukraine. He said that as a veteran, he takes threats like that seriously. He also told the students about what war looks like on a human level.
“People come back hurt. They come back mentally messed up. That’s the reality of war,” Archuleta said.
In his speech, he read a Veterans Day message that was addressed to his fellow Warrior Strong brothers.
“We all started out with dreams as an 18-year-old. We were tested in war,” he said.
“The biggest accomplishment we made, my fellow warriors, is not running from adversity but running towards danger and prevailing, and placing ourselves in harm's way for a cause that is greater than ourselves, which is freedom,” Archuleta said.
“God bless America and God bless us here today. I want to thank my fellow veterans and thank them for their service. And ladies and gentlemen, you have a great day. And remember, you be warrior strong, and warrior proud,” Archuleta finished, again to the applause in the auditorium.