Annual Veterans Day assemblies held at WSD schools

Former Marine AV-8B Harrier fighter pilot Eric Grunke presents the family of Kenneth Webb, a Korean War Veteran, a flag during the annual Veterans Day assembly held at Weiser High School on Thursday, Nov. 9. Webb passed away on Sept. 15, 2023 in Bremerton, Wash. Photo by Nancy Grindstaff

The annual Veterans Day assemblies took place throughout the Weiser School District on Thursday, Nov. 9, recognizing the federal holiday, which was Saturday, Nov. 11. Above, from left, Brad Attebery, Charles Marvin, Jana Hill, and Dick Bergquist. Photo by Nancy Grindstaff
Philip A. Janquart
Assemblies were held at schools throughout the Weiser School District on Thursday to recognize veterans and the sacrifices they made on behalf of all Americans.
 The federal holiday is observed annually on Nov. 11, regardless of what day it falls on, but since it landed on a Saturday this year, and because WSD schools now have Friday’s off, it was celebrated at school gymnasiums on Thursday, Nov. 9.
 A group of local veterans organizes the assemblies each year. At Weiser High School, the National Anthem was sung by the school choir, military medleys were performed by the school band, and speeches were given by various guests.  
 In addition, a color guard presented “Old Glory.” It was all in an effort to teach youth about the price of freedom. This year, a special guest speaker made an appearance. 
 A 1997 Weiser High School graduate, Eric Grunke flew to Idaho from his home in Raleigh, N.C. where he lives with his wife and five children.
 Grunke came at the behest of his father, Jim Grunke, a Weiser resident and U.S. Navy veteran who spent two years on active duty and the remainder of his 37-year military career with the Navy reserve. Jim joined the military in 1951 and has traditionally taken part in the Veterans Day assemblies in Weiser and has organized the annual Fourth of July Day procession up State Street to Veterans Memorial Park.
 For 40-plus years, he owned a business located off Highway 95 specializing in restoring military vehicles.
 Eric Grunke, who served 20 years in the Marine Corps, 17 of them as an AV-8B Harrier fighter pilot, told the Signal American that his dad served as inspiration in his desire to join the military. 
 “I grew up out there playing Army on the vehicles in his field, always dressed up as an Army guy,” he said of his dad’s five-acre yard. “That’s what I sort of fell in love with at a very young age and, actually, the Navy was the first place I went looking to go to flight school because of my dad’s influence, but they just didn’t have a program that would guarantee me a flight school spot, but the Marine Corps did, or I would have pursued the Navy further. The Marine Corps said, ‘pass this test and you’ll have the opportunity to go to flight school.’”
 Following high school graduation, Grunke attended the College of Idaho where he initially studied biology with the intent of transferring to a pre-med institution, but soon realized that medicine wasn’t his life’s calling. 
 Looking back, it was obvious he was meant to fly.
 “It was one of those things where I was building models of airplanes and asking my mom and dad to take me to air shows in Boise or Mountain Home whenever possible,” he said. “As a young kid, that was always something that really excited me.”
 Instead of pre-med, Grunke sought a path that would lead to flight school and the Marine Corps was the one that allowed him to do just that.
 “I was able to take an academic exam, sort of a battery test, if you will, that would guarantee me a spot at flight school,” he said. “That didn’t mean I would become a pilot; that would be based on my performance while at flight school … but that was the path I was able to secure.”
 Initially, while still attending college, Grunke took part in the Platoon Leaders Course, which comprises two, six-week summer trainings held in Quantico, Va. between academic years.
 “I was still just a civilian going to college, but after the summer of 2001, that was when I was actually commissioned as a 2nd Lt and went on active duty,” he explained.
 He completed Officer Candidate School and the Basic Infantry Officer Course at Quantico before moving on to Pensacola, Fla. where he would attend flight school.
 “Some of my fondest memories of my career was where your sole responsibility was to learn how to fly; you showed up to work, you studied the books on whatever maneuvers or procedures you were supposed to be doing for the day and that was it.”
 He trained on the T-34, a single-engine, fixed-wing turbo prop and theT-45 training jet aircraft. When he finally transitioned to the AV-8B Harrier, a jet fighter capable of vertical takeoff, it was like getting his driver’s license for the first time.
 “It’s a feeling of freedom, something you’ve been working towards, and it’s an exhilaration,” he said.
 Grunke went on to serve in combat, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Odyssey Dawn (Libya), and Operation Unified Protector (battling back ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria.).
 He accumulated over 500 hours combat flight time.
 Grunke also served as an instructor, beginning in 2008, in several different instructional roles, including the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron, the Marine Corps version of Top Gun.
 He retired in 2022 after 20.5 years of service and now works as a Delta Air Lines pilot, flying the 757, but mostly the widebody 767. As for serving his country, Grunke said it has provided him with a sense of purpose.
 “It was pure joy, to be honest,” he said. “I loved every second of it.” 
 He added that he always holds Weiser close.
 “I’m proud of where I come from and will always consider myself a smalltown guy at heart,” he said. “I cherish those times growing up in Weiser.”


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