GRIC Veterans Killed in Action Honored at Run for the Fallen

March 3, 2023


Emma Hughes, 

Community Newsperson




Nearly 200 people attended the St. Peter Indian Mission School’s Run for the Fallen on Saturday, Feb. 25, at the school’s campus in Bapchule- to honor 24 Gila River Indian Community members who died in combat.  


The Run for the Fallen event also included special recognition of the seven GRIC soldiers who fell during the Vietnam war:


· Sgt. Harold J. Marrietta, U.S. Army

· Pfc. David D. Perkins, U.S. Army

· SP4 Dudney N. Arlentino, U.S. Army

· SP4 Franklin D. Pete Jr., U.S. Army

· Pfc.Gregory B. Chiago, U.S. Army

· LCpl. Edgar Acunia, U.S. Marine Corps

· 1st Lt. Dwight Blackwater, U.S. Army


Five of the seven were awarded the Arizona Gold Star Military Medal, established by the Arizona State Legislature as a symbol of appreciation for honorable service and sacrifice to the United States. The families of Arlentino, Blackwater, Acunia, Chiago and Pete were presented with the Gold Star medal on their behalf.  


In 2017, the family of Perkins received the Gold Star medal in a private ceremony. Marrietta is also set to receive the medal.


The school’s military culture program, a class for junior high students who work with and learn from veterans in the Community, coordinated the event with the help of Haskell Osife-Antone Post 51 and Ira H. Hayes American Legion Post 84. The Community’s Veterans & Family Services Office helped to obtain the medals for the families.


“We are honored to host this event which honors our young men who died in combat. We thank these warriors for serving our country and their families,” said Sister Martha, a teacher for St. Peter Indian Mission School.


Attendees filled the courtyard of the school, where students from the military culture class performed color guard duties for the event and shared a cultural song and dance. 


GRIC member Pamela Thompson, who assisted with the initial event, was recognized and asked to announce the Gold Star medals given to the families, while GRIC Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier, and GRIC Vietnam veterans Douglas Juan, Jewel Whitman, David Molina and Gary Anderson presented the medals to families. 


Pamela Rinesmith, a member of the Veterans Advisory Board for the town of Gilbert, presented Gold Star coins to the families on behalf of the town. 


“We are very grateful for the ultimate sacrifice that the families have given,” said Rinesmith. 


Many of the families shared that while it was difficult to remember their loss, they were pleased with the recognition of their loved ones. It provided the opportunity for younger generations to learn about their family members and their Community.


Joyce Lopez, sister to Dwight Blackwater, U.S. Army, said it was like “coming home” for him, and she thanked the school for putting the event together. Blackwater, 25, died in Vietnam when a fragmentation grenade was unintentionally detonated.


“This is a celebration to honor veterans, especially from Gila River Indian Community, for their patriotism, for their love of country, their community, and their willingness to serve and sacrifice for the Community,” said guest speaker Lancelot Lewis, Vietnam veteran. 


Lewis, who served in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a medic for the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam — Studies and Observation Group, reflected on his time in the military. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star medal for his heroism during a classified operation where he aided and shielded a wounded soldier with his own body.


“We all have those important stories of valor, of sacrifice, in our families, in our villages,” said Gov. Lewis, who remembered his grandfather, Cpl. Richard Lewis (U.S. Marine Corps), who was killed in action on Jan. 13, 1943, in the Pacific War.


“I’m proud of all of these heroes that we honor and that we’ll continue to honor,” Gov. Lewis said. “They are truly heroes. Because of those veterans, we have a place and are a part of America’s veteran and military history. The Gila River Indian Community is an important part of this history.”


Jennifer Thomas, sister of Pfc. Gregory Chiago, said it was “amazing and beautiful” to see so many of the youth participating.


“Sincere thanks to both leaders for acknowledging and honoring families who never heal from the loss of their family members,” said Thomas. “It was a moving tribute.”


She added, “My heart will be filled with happiness and appreciation for years to come. Our brother rests in peace and honor now.”


Chiago, 20, was killed in action in South Vietnam on Nov. 22, 1968, from multiple fragmentation wounds. Thomas explained that their mother was a GRIC member and their father was from the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC), where Chiago was enrolled. SRPMIC President Harvier presented the medal to the family.


The event concluded with a one-mile run/walk where each mile is dedicated to a veteran. Students, staff, veterans and attendees made their way around the school’s track. After completing the run, they received commemorative T-shirts.