Approximately 250 veterans from the 116th Eng. Battalion had a reunion Sept. 14-15 to celebrate 50 years since their deployment to Vietnam.
“It was a truly wonderful experience. The only way it could have been better is if we would have had more of them there,” said Jerry Jensen, who was a First Sergeant and served on the reunion committee. “We had an ice breaker Friday night to get together, slap each other on the back, and maybe shed a tear or two.”
They had a formal dinner on Saturday night and a guest speaker, Ferrin Schwartz, who is a Brigadier General with the Idaho National Guard. He had researched what the men accomplished in Vietnam and brought a book of the complete history of the Idaho National Guard up until the present.
“I read an article about the 116th and it started listing the accomplishments and it was unbelievable what we did over there,” said Ron Skinner, who was a driver for a platoon sergeant during the war and also helped on the reunion committee. “A few years later I realized what a big deal it was. It changed my life.”
Following the speaker, Jensen also spoke about his recent experience to go on an honor flight to Washington D.C. to see the historical monuments. He handed out paper work so all of the veterans could also have that opportunity.
They passed the microphone around. Many said how much they appreciated the camaraderie and how they pulled together and watched out for each other.
“It was a success. It’s the last full gathering we’ll ever have, I’m sure,” Jensen said. “It was great to see all of the guys. Some I knew. Some I just knew casually. Some have been very, very successful. Some didn’t fare quite so well. Some were deceased.”
“The program went really well,” Skinner said. “It just moved right along. Each veteran was presented with a pin. And the Color Guard—the Honor Guard—was fantastic. We’ve heard nothing but good things from all the people that were there.”
But his favorite part was seeing a bunch of men he hadn’t seen for ages, and meeting others from different companies.
Jensen said the 116th made up the perfect combination of people. They had concrete finishers, carpenters, power and light workers, professional mechanics, engineers, and many with farming backgrounds that made them hard workers.
“All in all they were very talented and could do almost anything and get most everything done,” Jensen said.
After action reports showed the 116th was pretty special.
“We were special,” Jensen said.
“We were more than elated about the amount of people we had show,” said Gaylon Hanson, of Annis who served on the reunion committee and was a senior mechanic during the Vietnam War. “We had over 400 people with their spouses. It was a real success.”
He had dog tags made up to give out at the reunion and gave each veteran one. They also had hats.
“I am proud of my service I did in Vietnam,” Hanson said.
“We had a tremendous reunion,” said Jake Cordova, of Idaho Falls, who served as a medic. “We had a good representation of the medics. There were only 15 of us, but I think nine of us were there. I wish we would have had a picture of us 50 years later.”
They spent time reminiscing. Like about the cook, Richard Davay, who went above and beyond by making sure those who had guard duty in the middle of the night had hot coffee or hot soup so help keep them awake and alert and comfortable. Also building swings and teeter totters for the local people.
“They liked us and that was a big help to us,” Jensen said,
Or when one of their soldiers got picked on at Fort Lewis and it started a huge ruckus.
“If you hurt one of us, you hurt us all and we’re going to get even. That’s just the way it was.” Jensen said.
Or when, on the way home from Vietnam, one of the airplane’s engines caught fire and had to turn back so Jensen’s plane didn’t get in until after midnight.
“At 1 a.m. there was still a large crowd to greet us,” Jensen said. “We were welcomed home much better than those on active duty.”
Skinner agreed that it was not a popular war but they were still greeted warmly when they returned.
“When we got home we didn’t go through the crap the other guys did in the big cities. They wanted us to come home.”
“War is not pleasant, but we had a common purpose, and the camaraderie and things we did together made me very proud,” Jensen said.
Jensen had a comment that perfectly summed up both the arranging of the reunion as well as for their memorable year of service in Vietnam:
“It’s a combination of everyone’s efforts, and when it comes together it’s something beautiful,” Jensen said.