By Mr. Brian Hill (Leonard Wood)October 30, 2019
The 509th Clearance Company hosted a veteran's appreciation day and reunion Oct. 24 on Fort Leonard Wood for veterans of the Vietnam War -- specifically members of what was then called the 509th Panel Bridge Company, the precursor to the 509th of today.
More than 60 veterans and their family members toured facilities and met with Soldiers doing the work they did a half century earlier.
Acting as tour guide, Capt. David Hoy, 509th Clearance Company commander, found many commonalities in conversing with his predecessors, especially as the company redeployed from supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan a year ago.
"This was an outstanding opportunity for our Soldiers," Hoy said. "(We) were able to connect … through shared combat experiences. It was great to watch their interactions, from the newest private in the company, to the most senior NCOs, exchange stories, discuss old and new challenges and lessons learned across the decades."
The 509th was active in Vietnam from 1965 to 1971, and worked as bridge builders and combat engineers.
One of the highlights of the visit for both the veterans and current service members was getting to have a dialogue that bridged past and present.
"It was pretty exciting to listen to their stories," said Spc. Tyreek Dixon, 509th combat engineer. "From them to us -- to know how much the Army has evolved was really interesting."
"We've integrated a lot of technology, but we still hold the same values," added Spc. Jacob Jones, another 509th combat engineer.
One of the visitors -- who came from Louisville, Kentucky, to attend the reunion -- was company commander in 1968 and 1969.
"It's really great to see the modern Army," said retired Col. Cliff Burnstein.
Burnstein and Hoy had a chance to talk, one company commander to another.
"Talking with Cliff gave me a great appreciation for what the 509th Panel Bridge Company endured and accomplished in Vietnam," Hoy said. "To hear his stories and learn of the unit's heroic actions when they were ambushed in Vietnam, truly gave me and our Soldiers a better appreciation for (the) vehicles we operate today."
The unit was activated as the 509th Engineer Light Pontoon Company on July 15, 1942, and saw combat in Europe during World War II. They were re-designated the 509th Engineer Company in 1963, reactivated and deployed to Vietnam as panel bridge builders from 1965 to 1971.
The 509th participated in Vietnam campaigns such as the Tet Counteroffensives of 1968 and 1969, and the Sanctuary Counteroffensive of 1970.