First Lt. Nick Zalduendo speaks at the annual Veterans Day ceremony at Culver Academies
Nov. 11, 2022
First Lt. Nick Zalduendo ’14 told students at Culver Academies on Friday that they should thank veterans for their service every day, not just on Veterans Day.
“Thank a veteran when you see an older gentleman sporting his Vietnam War hat in the grocery store or the airport,” Zalduendo said. “Make it a point to go out of your way to thank a veteran when you can -- don't be scared, embrace courage.”
Speaking during the annual Veterans Day ceremony held on the steps of the Legion Memorial Building, Zalduendo told the students “there are many veterans who have walked the same steps as us here at Culver Academies.”
“Sometimes these heroes seem faint and distant but a few of them are in attendance today dressed in their military uniforms. Please take a moment to observe these individuals. Thank you to all the veterans who are here today,” he said, urging those in attendance to applaud.
“Although heroic veterans might seem far and distant, they are actually closer than you might think,” he said.
There are more than 35 veterans currently working at Culver, and there have been many, many others in the past.
Zalduendo specifically pointed to Col. Michael Squires, Culver Military Academy’s commandant of cadets, saying Squires “led some of the Army’s most elite forces to close with and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.”
As a junior officer, Squires led a 39-man airborne infantry unit in Kosovo and Tunisia and then commanded a 135-soldier mechanized infantry company in Iraq. Squires, who graduated fifth in his class from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and later served as the brigade tactical officer of the entire 4,500 Cadet brigade with a staff of approximately 85 commissioned and noncommissioned officers.
Zalduendo, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2018, also gave the students a brief history lesson on Veterans Day, telling them that it originally was known as “Armistice Day” because the truce began on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month even though the war didn’t officially end until the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28,1919.
But Nov. 11, 1918, is the date that is remembered.
“And 104 years later here we are commemorating our nation’s veterans on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - Veteran’s Day,” he said.
He told the students that people hoped when World War I ended it would “be the war that would end all wars.”
“Our great nation has fought in numerous wars since then: World War II, the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the Gulf War and the Global War on Terror have all unfortunately followed the war that was supposed to end all wars,” he said.
He also reminded the students, including his sister Ava ’23, that Culver has produced five Medal of Honor recipients: Jonas Ingram ’03, Henry Drexler ’17, George Cannon ’33, Jay Zeamer ’36, and Gordon Yntema ’63. The medal is the nation’s highest military honor, awarded by Congress for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty.
“I remember memorizing their stories during my boards in Company B back in 2010. Each of these men have incredible stories of valor,” he said.
He specifically talked about Yntema, who served during the Vietnam War. Yntema led his platoon within 50 meters of Viet Cong bunkers and got pinned down on three sides. Running out of ammunition and coming under heavy fire, other troops withdrew and Yntema was ordered to withdraw. He refused and stood his ground even after running out of ammunition, using his rifle as a club to fight off 15 Viet Cong until he was fatally shot.
“Sgt. Yntema was 22 years old when he sacrificed his life for his brothers in arms and for his nation. Twenty-two years old,” Zalduendo said. “This is one of countless stories of a brave American displaying courage and love for their brothers and sisters in arms.”
Zalduendo, who now serves as chief of battalion operations at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he is the short-term operations planner of an 800-personnel organization, said Yntema’s story makes him ponder “what is service?”
“Many of us have heard of the stories of a CEO taking out the trash for the workers in the office or the team captain mopping the floors for the team. These are examples of ways to serve others, but I think other examples could provide us some more insight on service,” Zalduendo said. “I think the ultimate act of service is someone laying down their life for their brothers and sisters, much like Sgt Yntema.”