Colonel Eusebio Arriaga, USAF (Ret), a decorated Air Force fighter pilot and Sun Valley's first non-Austrian ski instructor, passed away on 21 May 2011 in Boise, Idaho. Seb was 91.
Few people can claim to have had the breadth of life experiences as Seb, so much so that the Idaho Statesman devoted a full page in the 4 June 2008 Lifestyle section to highlight Seb's extraordinary life.
Born to Basque immigrants in Hailey, Idaho in June 1919, Seb grew up under tough circumstances after his father died when he was only two, thereby leaving his mother to raise four children in an old mining community on the verge of the Great Depression. Fortunately, the emergence of Sun Valley as a Hollywood playground would create opportunities for Seb that would shape his character and commitment to excellence.
In December 1939, only two years after taking ski lessons under Roland Cossman's instruction, Seb was hired by Friedl Pfeifer to serve as the first director of the Sun Valley Trail Maintenance / First Aid Patrol. In April 1940, "Sebby" taught his first ski school class on Dollar Mountain and was transferred to the ski school as a full time instructor by Pfeifer in December 1940. During this period, Seb skied in three movie productions, including I Met Him in Paris with Claudette Colbert (1937), Mortal Storm with Jimmy Stewart (1940), and Sun Valley Serenade with Sonja Henie and John Payne (1941).
Additionally, "Sebby" was only one of 17 men who won the coveted Diamond Sun Race, earning himself a Diamond Sun pin after hurtling from the top of Baldy to the base in under three minutes.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Seb enrolled in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) at the College of Idaho and was later commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in April 1943. As a young junior officer during WWII, Seb was trained to fly B-17 and B-29 bombers and served as an instructor pilot stateside.
In June 1945, Seb married Evadean "Dean" Eash in Tucson, Arizona and immediately relocated to Pyote, Texas where he began preparations for deployment to the Pacific theater. Fortunately, the war ended before Seb had to depart for Saipan. In March 1946, Seb left active duty for the reserves and briefly flew as a civilian freight pilot with Continental Sky Van, flying routes between Omaha, Chicago, and Newark.
During the war, Seb had promised himself a final season as a ski instructor if he survived. Thus, in December 1946, Seb and Dean moved back to Idaho where he returned to life as a Sun Valley ski instructor and had numerous distinguished students, including Ernest Hemingway, Ingrid Bergman, Veronica "Rocky" Cooper, and Robert Pabst. For three seasons, Seb lived the glamour life alongside Sun Valley skiing legends such as Hans Hauser.
In April 1947, Seb was personally asked by Friedl Pfeifer and Fred Iselin to accompany them to Aspen, Colorado to help establish a new ski school. Seb passed on the offer, however, and resolved to focus on his other lifelong passion - flying. In January 1948, Seb returned to the cockpit and finally had his chance at fighters. While attached to the 190th Fighter Squadron and the Idaho ANG, Seb flew the venerable P-51 Mustang and continued to raise his growing family with Dean.
In February 1951, Seb was called back to active duty which later resulted in jet upgrade training, continued promotion, and assignments far from Idaho. For the next few years, Seb flew the F-86 Sabre in Korea, F-100s during the mid-1950s, and was a Tactical Air Command representative during operational testing of the F-104 Starfighter at Eglin AFB in Florida (1957-58). Seb held numerous HQ staff positions during his career but always maneuvered his way back into the cockpit.
From 1962-65, Seb was assigned to various fighter squadrons, including the 479th, 436th and 476th at George AFB, California. Seb flew the F-104 and deployed to locations such as Eielson AFB, Alaska to train on nuclear weapon delivery and to test Soviet air defense responsiveness.
Seb also deployed to DaNang, Vietnam from June-October 1965 and flew 49 combat missions. In July 1966, Seb received three year orders to Germany and was assigned to NATO and the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force (4ATAF) at Ramstein AB where he evaluated the tactical proficiency of Canadian F-104 units and US/German fighter and air defense units.
At 4ATAF, Seb served alongside notable German fighter pilots from WWII, including Eric Hartmann (352 victories on the eastern front) and Gerhard Barkhorn (301 victories eastern & western front). Seb and Eric Hartmann became good friends and maintained contact until their health conditions began to deteriorate in the late-1980s. Shortly after his return to the US in July 1969, Seb completed F-100 refresher training and was once again deployed to Vietnam. He served as the 3rd Tactical Fighter Wing Deputy Commander of Operations at Bien Hoa AB and flew F-100s and A-37s. In November 1969, Seb became the Deputy Commander, 504th Tactical Air Support Group and flew OV-10s as a Forward Air Controller from Bien Hoa.
In November 1973, having amassed over 6000 flight hours in various fighters and bombers, and with prospects of permanent desk duty looming, Seb retired from the Air Force and returned to Boise, Idaho. After a full career of combat deployments, military relocations, and living abroad, Seb was finally home.
He and Dean lived in the same house overlooking "Fort Simplot" for the next 38 years and continued to ski in Sun Valley until the late-1990s. Seb lived a remarkable life and left an indelible mark on his family. The people he knew, the places he went, and the things he saw and accomplished can hardly be summarized in a few paragraphs. Seb was quite simply an extraordinary man.
Seb was preceded in death by Dean, his loving wife of 60 years, in May 2005.
Seb leaves behind a large family, including two daughters, Lisa Sams, of Arlington, Virginia and Teresa Barker, of Wake Forest, North Carolina; a nephew, Ralph Harris, of Hailey, Idaho; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
A graveside service will be held 10 June 2011 at the Hailey cemetery at noon.
Published in Idaho Statesman on June 5, 2011
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