MEEKER I Thomas L. Kilduff served as the 3rd RD Force Reconnaissance in the Marine Corp from 1967 through 1969 during the Vietnam War. The 3rd RD Force Recon consists of a group of five teams that go behind enemy lines to gather information.
Kilduff crossed enemy lines several times into Laos and DMZ (which included North and South Vietnam).
While serving, Kilduff was awarded 16 medals, which included two bronze stars and two purple hearts one month into his third tour, Kilduff was hit with an AK47 in his right leg while running, and the leg was partially severed with both bones broken and hanging from his calf.
He was put on a temporary landing zone getting medical help, when the landing zone was struck with a B-40 rocket.
Shrapnel hit Kilduff in the head on his left side, causing a brain concussion, and when he awoke seven days later from a coma, he had a steel plate in his head and was paralyzed from the neck down.
He spent the next two and one-half years in the hospital, learning to walk again. Nurses had to do his physical therapy for 11 months, lifting each limb one at a time, until the swelling went down, and he had to learn his motor skills all over again.
Kilduff remained in the service until he was released in 1970. He was headed home to Rio Blanco County on New Year’s Eve of 1970 to visit his folks, when he came upon a car wreck upriver, and discovered his folks had been in the accident. He turned his mother over, only to find out she had not survived the impact, and his dad had lived for another 32 hours. Tom was devastated by the turn of events, and everything he had been through.
Kilduff worked for the K/K Ranches in 1971, starting as a cowboy hand and worked his way to foreman for the lower ranches on Highway 64 for the next 20 years.
Kilduff met and married Jeannie Johnson on Feb. 3, 1974. They have three children, Kimberly who resides in Grand Junction, Patti who teaches at the Meeker High School, and Kathy Jo, also of Meeker. They have six grandchildren, two of whom they are helping raise in their home now.
Both of Kilduff’s grandparents of were homesteaders in Rio Blanco County. He has a deceased brother James Kilduff, and a deceased sister, Patty Howard. Kilduff is the youngest of the three children.
Kilduff went to work for the USDA/NRCS as a technician engineer, and worked for them 16 years before retiring.
In 1996, he went on a trip to Vietnam for the 29th anniversary of the Battle of the Dia Do, with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. That trip helped Kilduff with a lot of the negative feelings he had against the Vietnamese people.
He made the decision to adopt a Vietnamese family 12 years ago. He put their two children, Chau Ging and T Dung, through college by paying $100 a year for each child. He also donated a motorbike to the family so they could get around their village.
Chau Ging has graduated, is married now and is a teacher. She has one son named Ben. Dung took six years of schooling in economics and is now a banker in Saigon. He no longer lives in the thatch house, but lives in the city. This family has become Kilduff’s extended family now.
After acknowledging the healing he went through by taking that trip back to Vietnam, Kilduff decided he needed to help other veterans do the same.
Eighty percent of the country of Vietnam is under 40 years of age. They don’t know about the war.
Kilduff started working for the Military Historical Tours Inc., following his trip to Vietnam, and is considered the Vietnam specialist. He meets with veterans, they cry, pray and laugh together and then he takes them back to their battle sites and helps them heal by meeting their past enemy.
He has gone to Bellow Woods for World War II veterans, as well as Italy, Germany, France, Iwo Jima, Peleliu Island, and Okinawa, Philippines and Korea for the Korean War veterans, as well as China.
Kilduff is commander of the VFW Post 5843 in Meeker, and has been for the past 10 years. He was instrumental in getting a Western Slope Chapter established for the Honor’s Flight, which is a nationally sponsored event for veterans of World War II. They leave in August to see the monument in Washington D.C., which was built in their honor for serving during WWII.
Kilduff helps in getting donations to send these veterans back to see this monument. The youngest of these veterans are 80 years old. An estimated 1,200 of these veterans die every day, and in 10 years they will be all gone. They are called the “Greatest Generation.”
Kilduff also works within the schools by giving scholarships and speaking on patriotism. His Post hosts a “Say No To Drugs” coloring contest, sponsors a speech contest on “Voice of Democracy,” hands out Patriot Pins and provides a $10,000 Savings Bond.
His post also gives back $50,000 to the community every year, as well as performing the 21-gun salute for funerals of local veterans.
Kilduff also works with recovering alcoholics in the community, and has for the past 25 years.
If a past veteran is interesting in going back to their battleground, or as an individual you would like to donate to the Western Slope Honors Flight, you can contact Kilduff at PO Box 412, Meeker, CO 81641 or at email@example.com.
Kilduff is all about veterans and present military people. “No matter what your politics are, you need to be behind your troops or get out in front of them. They are the reason for our free society today,” Kilduff said.
He truly is to be recognized as a Father of our Community.
Editor’s note: Tom Kilduff of Meeker was announced Monday at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Convention as the winner of the Father of Our Community contest for Father’s Day. He will receive $100 from the Colorado CattleWomen. Kilduff’s application competed against others that were submitted from around the state.