Following the Vietnam War, Jerry Jensen, of Rigby, who served in Company A of the 116th Engineer Battalion, was selected for a National Guard project at the Pentagon.
“I was this wide-eyed kid from Idaho but they told me, ‘You’re from the 116th? You did a helluva job!” Jensen said. “We were pretty highly thought of.”
And for good reason.
The 116th Engineering Battalion, including Company A from Rigby, had completed 22 projects including reconstruction of the Phan Thiet airfield and had 26 projects under construction in their first nine months in Vietnam.
They cleared over 1,000 acres of jungle, repaired bridges, replaced bridges, repaired thousands of barrel tanks, cleared minefields, constructed over 14,000 square feet of administrative buildings and over 18,000 square feet of mess halls, produced millions of potable gallons of water, and all in addition to civic action and moving supplies and equipment.
The battalion’s main mission was to clear and repair roads including Highway I, a major north-south supply route. They also built bases, and taught English to children ages 10 to 16.
In recognition of their landmark anniversary of 50 years since that momentous deployment, the 116th is hoping to spread the word for a Grand Reunion that they will be holding Sept. 14 and 15.
“We’re trying to get the whole battalion together for the reunion,” Jensen said.
About 800 local men served in the 116th Battalion.
“Which is a lot for our population,” Jensen said.
Headquartered in Idaho Falls, the Idaho National Guard battalion was comprised of Company A from Rigby, Company B from Rexburg and surrounding areas, Company C of St. Anthony, Ashton and Driggs, and Company D of Grangeville and Orofino. They served from May 1968 to September 1969 and were the only National Guard unit to remain intact during the war.
For the reunion they plan to have a Friday night ice-breaker and on Saturday to gather at the Vietnam Memorial at Freeman Park in Idaho Falls with dinner to follow at the Elk’s Lodge.
Jensen said working alongside the men was a tremendous bonding experience and he calls those men his brothers.
“At the time I was 41 and they thought I was an awfully old guy,” Jensen said. “Now they are in their 70s. That is hard to imagine.”
Besides their many accomplishments, working alongside their fellow Idahoans was a highlight for many battalion members, who wrote about their Vietnam experiences in a binder with a directory of names and addresses, newspaper clippings and photographs complied by Jerry Jensen’s wife, Betty Jensen.
“Being with the 116th Engr Bn. And Co A in itself was an outstanding experience. Especially in Viet Nam,” wrote Thomas Hogan. “It was an experience I will never forget. I made a lot of friends and have never known a better bunch of guys to be in war with. I still remember and grieve over the ones we lost. They will be in my heart and memory forever.”
Patrick Jay Moss agreed, saying his most remembered experience of Vietnam had to do with the quality of people he served with.
“I never felt that we weren’t prepared for any contingency. Everyone pulled together from the beginning to the end of the tour,” he wrote. “Our training was excellent, we had good competent leaders and we enjoyed the best chow in the army. Like everyone, I mourned when any of our people were killed or hurt. My memories of Vietnam are for the most part positive and I credit that to the great group of guys in company A.”
Paul Drake is serving with Jensen on the reunion committee and recognized that the friendships and bonds with others that he forged in Vietnam have helped him all his life.
“Everyone knew their job and never failed to do what was necessary no matter how hard or dangerous,” he said.
Committee members look forward to the reunion.
“I’d like to see a good turnout,” Jensen said.