He joined the Army as a teenaged boy. Ray Adam Archuletta knew there were few opportunities for adventure or employment for a 17-year-old in his hometown of Florence, Colorado. The Army would give him both. (Archuletta is the non-traditional spelling of the surname.)
“It was the opportunity to pursue a dream,” said his cousin, Rick Archuletta, one of the moving forces behind the christening and renaming of a local park along with the designation of a stretch of state highway that runs through the town.
Sergeant First Class Archuletta found exactly what he was looking for in the Army. The Army also found exactly what it wanted and needed in a soldier in Archuletta. He served with distinction, earning a series of medals and commendations, including the Bronze Star for heroism. The Bronze Star is the fourth highest medal awarded by the military. He also earned two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star.
The Army said Archuletta died helping carry a wounded comrade to a helicopter landing zone. “Sergeant Archuletta was seriously wounded and in one last valiant effort,” the Army said, “he ordered the medic to take the wounded man to safety as he stayed behind and expended his ammunition to prove covering fire.” Those who knew him, said his cousin, would have expected nothing less. He was, before all else, a soldier.
Archuletta’s last firefight was neither his first taste of combat nor first tour in Viet Nam. “In 1966 he was wounded” and sent home to recuperate, said the younger cousin, who still lives in Florence. During the recuperation period, he remembered asking his older cousin, “Why are you going back?” The answer was ‘pure older cousin to younger cousin,’ he recalled. “The Army’s my second family…the Army’s in Viet Nam and that’s why I’m going back.”
It wasn’t long after returning to the war that ‘the Knock’ came to Archuletta’s front door. The ‘Knock’ is a long military tradition, one that families dread because it portends the worst news a family can receive; their loved one is not coming home. That moment is frozen in time for Archuletta.
“I was sitting at home. I answered the door,” he remembered. When he opened it, an Army officer stood there and asked if this was the home of James Archuletta, the sergeant’s father. Florence is a small town. The officer had come to the wrong Archuletta home. “They got that mixed up.” Still, the memory is as fresh in his mind as if it were only recent.
“I’m here to inform you,” the young officer began before he was stopped by Archuletta’s father. “Ray’s not my son. He’s my nephew.” They then went to the sergeant’s family’s home.
Despite that moment more than a half century later, Archuletta remembers his older cousin vividly. “He would talk about serving all over the country,” he said. “He would tell our family about where he’d been. He felt it was his duty to be with the Army.” His visits were special. When he came over, the then teenaged boy recalled, “He was all shined up and in his uniform.”
The Florence City Council recently approved renaming Husky Park in honor of Sgt. Archuletta. A stretch of Colorado Highway 115 that connects Florence to Colorado Springs and El Paso County was also christened the Ray Adam Memorial Highway this past weekend in an official ceremony. Governor Polis signed the order.
The family, including Sgt. Archuletta’s siblings, two brothers and three sisters, is working on a video to be shown at Florence’s movie theater. “It’s about seven and a half minutes,” he said. It will cover the sergeant’s Army life, including his time as a member of the 82nd Airborne.
The honor of a local park bearing the sergeant’s name will serve to remind the locals that a hero once called Florence home. It will also serve as a grim reminder of the words of philosopher and poet George Santayana. ‘Only the dead have seen the end of war.’
Sergeant First Class Ray Adam Archuletta, 24 Dec 1936 – 7 Sept 1967.