Some of the best bonds of friendship come when two (or more) people have a shared experience, like serving together. Recently, the Doug Oberhelman Caterpillar Visitor’s Center in Peoria, Ill. hosted the annual reunion of a group of Vietnam veterans that served together in the U.S. Army 169th Engineers.
With the help of Altorfer Cat, the veterans toured several Caterpillar facilities in the Peoria area, including the Mapleton foundry, dozer assembly facility and the Caterpillar Visitors Center. After lunch, the group heard presentations from Caterpillar’s Defense and Federal Products group and the Caterpillar Armed Forces Support Network.
The veterans have been meeting annually for the past 10 years; when asked why they continue to travel each year to meet up, the old camaraderie shone through in some good-natured ribbing between old friends: “We don’t get together because we like these guys” and “one of these times I’m going to start liking these guys…”
“To be serious, it just comes down to fellowship,” said Jim Clifford, one of the veterans and road commissioner of Walnut Township. “You’re 19, 20 years old when you’re over there and haven’t seen each other in 40 years.”
Altorfer worked with Clifford – an Altorfer customer – to schedule the reunion of this group of heavy equipment operators at Caterpillar facilities. While serving together, the 169th Engineers cleared jungle and helped build airfields and helicopter pads. Their tour of duty took them from Okinawa in 1965 where they operated two Cat D8 dozers before transferring to Vietnam in 1966.
While in Vietnam they again relied on Cat equipment, including a generator that helped keep the lights on through some tough conditions.
“That big Cat generator came in later and it ran forever and we never had any lights out with that one. With the other one, there were lights going out all over.,” said Roger Noble, member of the 169th Engineers.
“That Cat generator was as dependable as the sun coming up.”
Along with Clifford, most of the rest of the veterans operated various Cat machines after their time in Vietnam. After 10 years of reunions and more to come, the group continues to support each other…and kid each other in good fun.
“Jim’s still trying to learn how to operate a grader,” said one of the vets. Jim responded without missing a beat, “Well if you’re not still learning, you’re not doing it right!”
Special thanks to the Caterpillar Global Government & Corporate
Affairs Division for contributing this story.