By Doc Watson
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | In part 1 of this story last week, we began our look at a different kind of “Renaissance Man,” one who is just as significant to his local community, and even wider country, as was his namesake to the whole world.
Soon after Tom Kilduff “came back to the world” (a Vietnam veteran’s expression), on New Year’s day in 1971, he and a friend were driving (actually creeping along) towards town in a blinding snow storm when they came upon an accident. The identity of the victims quickly became apparent.
“I was walking and saw the bright red, 1920s wool coat that my mom wore,” Kilduff said. As he looked further, and to his horror, his mom had already passed away and his father lived only another 32 hours. After what he had already been through in Vietnam, this compounded the grief.
Kilduff comes from deep ranching roots, even having a great-great uncle as another namesake. Born in 1855, that Thomas Kilduff came to Colorado 20 years later and had multiple successes both in the hotel business and retail merchandising, but tired of both and turned to something else by way of a unique twist.
As the result of a whiskey debt, the K Bar T Ranch was born in 1884. After losing both stock and store by fire, Kilduff turned to his creditors, Isaac and Adolf Baer, who sold whiskey both retail and wholesale. So he could eventually pay his $2,000 debt, the brothers grubstaked him to settle 160 acres six miles upriver from Meeker. They chose their cattle brand for two reasons: it was Kilduff’s initials and it could be applied to the animal with one straight iron instead of a stamp.
And so it was that upon his return to the world, the 20th-century Kilduff also returned to ranching. Starting as a cowboy hand for the K/K in 1971, he worked his way to foreman for the lower ranches on Highway 64 for the next 22 years. Eventually bad knees contributed to the need for a career change.
“A soil conservation job opened up with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS),” he said. “It required two years of college, but I was six months short of that. My lifetime of agricultural experience made up for it so I got my two year degree and worked there for 18 years as an agricultural engineer/technician.”
One of Kilduff’s accomplishments while working for the NRCS was designing a ditch break for the Powell Park Ditch. Such a structure provides greater erosion control.
Many Meekerites will recall one of Kilduff’s greatest deeds of almost 21 years ago, namely, bringing the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall to Meeker, a half-scale replica of the Wall in Washington, D.C., that stood on the courthouse lawn from June 30 to July 6, 1997.
When he first saw the wall in Colorado Springs in 1990, it helped Kilduff put at least some of the ghosts of the past to rest. That spurred him to bring the wall to Meeker so it could do the same for others, as well as make non-veterans aware of the sacrifice of those 58,196 who gave their lives (that number is now 58,220).
While Kilduff spearheaded the project, he credits many others with their help: the V.F.W., all the Meeker veterans, the Range Call personnel and sponsors. He was concerned about how many people would actually come to view the wall but was pleased when 17,000 signed the guest book.
In that same year, Kilduff returned to Vietnam with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines for the 29th anniversary of the Battle of the Dia Do, which brought some more healing. He even decided to adopt a Vietnamese family. While the family stayed in Vietnam, he put their two children through college there.
Following that trip, Kilduff started working for the Military Historical Tours as a Vietnam expert. He took veterans back to battle sites to help turn them into places of healing instead of horror.
Kilduff’s concern for veterans has not been limited to those who served in Vietnam. Via Military Historical Tours, he’s been to Italy, Germany, France, Iwo Jima, Peleliu, Okinawa, the Philippines and Korea. He was also the commander of our V.F.W. Post (5843) for many years and has been involved in several other endeavors.
Kilduff readily admits to the missteps he took and the mistakes he made along the way, and is proud of none of them, but he is no less a Renaissance Man who has impacted many lives in our community, our country and even our world.
By Doc Watson