Former Soldiers saw how future Soldiers will be equipped when the 25th Infantry Division Association visited the Natick Soldier Systems Center Sept. 16 as part of its annual reunion.

The veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam and their spouses - 140 visitors in all - received briefings, toured facilities in groups and ate lunch at the Lord Community Center.
They had a chance to compare equipment from their eras to what's being developed by the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center for tomorrow's Soldiers.

"This is quite a facility," said Harold Kuehnel, a Korean War veteran. "My wife says to me, 'Didn't you have any of that stuff'' When we went to Korea, we had fatigues, combat boots, steel pot, and that's it."

For Butch Sincock, executive director of the 25th Inf. Div. Assoc., the trip was a homecoming. The Vietnam veteran was born and raised in Natick.

"We used to come to the Natick Labs all the time for Armed Forces Day," said Sincock of his youth. "A lot of my classmates' parents worked here."

Sincock pointed out that the "Tropic Lightning" reunion is held in a different region of the country each year.

"We try to move it around the country so that every five years, somebody will have a reunion within driving distance of a day or two," Sincock said.

Some of the association's approximately 4,000 members come every year, including WWII veteran Neil Croarkin, who was impressed by what he was shown at Natick.

"One of the most interesting things was the development of food," said Croarkin, "the improvements over the old C-rations."

Croarkin also enjoyed the evolution in uniforms.

"When we were on Guadalcanal, we were just wearing old dungarees," Croarkin said. "The equipment has improved so much, it's unbelievable."

Jerry Headley, a Vietnam veteran and Silver Star recipient who retired from the Army as a major, once worked in combat development at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

"I was aware of Natick," Headley said. "I knew what they did, pretty much, but I never visited. This is truly amazing what they've accomplished here."

Sincock said the day at NSSC seemed to be a big hit with all the veterans.

"People were giving me thumbs-up signs," Sincock said. "It was an excellent program."