72-year Oshkosh Corporation veteran helps company celebrate centennial
Clarence Jungwirth recalls sitting in a foxhole beneath a radiant New Guinea moon, updating the daily log of killed and wounded infantrymen on his portable typewriter set atop a discarded box.
“The army needed that record every day, so during lulls in combat I would do the paperwork by moonlight,” says Jungwirth, an Oshkosh native.
It was early January 1943, the moon was full and Jungwirth was serving in combat with the 32nd Infantry Division of the United States Army in World War II. Jungwirth will turn 98 years old this year, but he still remembers the crystal clear tropic air and brilliance of that South Pacific moon like it was yesterday.
“You can’t imagine how bright the moon is in the Southwest Pacific,” he says. “I mean, you could read a newspaper under the full moon.”
Jungwirth possesses several traits that aided him not only during his military service, but in his remarkably long civilian career that followed with Oshkosh Corporation. First is that ironclad memory. Next, is his independent spirit. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is his ability to adapt.
In 1945, after three years at war, Jungwirth returned home and began his career at a relatively young Oshkosh Corp. running the company’s new blueprint machine, despite having no engineering education or experience.
“God blessed me with an adaptability,” Jungwirth says. “When I started at Oshkosh in the engineering department, there was no room for mistakes, but I adapted like a duck takes to water. I became an engineer by osmosis.”
Oshkosh Corp. founders William Besserdich and Bernhard Mosling knew a thing or two about adaptability. Not quite 30 years prior, the duo had founded the Wisconsin Duplex Auto Company using designs for four-wheel-drive vehicles that had been rejected by more than 50 automakers.
The first four-wheel-drive truck prototype, known as “Old Betsy,” drove the company’s early growth. By 1945, the company topped 100 employees, including Jungwirth as the fourth employee to join the engineering department. Today, the Fortune 500 Company employs more than 13,000 people worldwide and their specialty trucks, truck bodies and access equipment can be found in 150 countries across five continents.
As an engineer, Jungwirth designed components for various truck models. He was on the team that designed the WT-2206 snow removal vehicle as part of the company’s first major defense contract in the mid-1950s. In 1976, Jungwirth worked on the development of a Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) which would land Oshkosh Corp.’s first U.S. Army contract. This contract was a milestone in the company’s history as a major supplier for the U.S. Armed Forces and some of these vehicles, the largest product in the company’s defense portfolio, are still in use today.
Standing at 5 feet 4 inches tall, Jungwirth jokes, “The smallest guy was working on the biggest trucks.”
Due to the success of the HET program, Oshkosh Corp. won another major contract to supply Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks (HEMTT) to the U.S. Army in the 1980s. Jungwirth retired in 1987, but as a self-described workaholic, he began looking for work after only six months out. Because of his vast engineering knowledge, Jungwirth was rehired in 1988 to work in Oshkosh Corp.’s service department. He continues to work every weekday morning, fielding calls from drivers worldwide who need to locate parts for the company’s longest-running trucks.
Working at Oshkosh Corp. for 72 of its 100 years gives Jungwirth some perspective. He says the company’s commitment to producing long-lasting, quality vehicles (as well as his unparalleled memory) is what affords him his job today.
“We have trucks that were built in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s that are still in the field today and I know what kind of parts to get for them,” Jungwirth says. “My memory has enabled me to help customers all over the world.”
Bryan Brandt, vice president of global branding and communications, says empowering employees like Jungwirth to be problem-solvers is vital to the company’s people-focused culture, a value that has remained constant since its inception.
“If you look over the course of our 100 years, there’s a thread of perseverance and it’s always our people persevering, making this company what it is today,” Brandt says. “As we look forward, we try to keep building that culture of perseverance. It doesn’t matter what comes at us.”
That shared desire to persevere has kept Jungwirth coming into work every day for the last 72 years.
“I love a challenge,” says Jungwirth, with a spark in his eye that belies his age. “If I can solve a problem, I get a thrill out of it.”
100 Years of Making a Difference
Oshkosh Corporation will be hosting a 100 Year Anniversary parade on July 15 from 10–11 a.m. The parade will begin at the corner of Knapp Street and 20th Avenue, heading east on 20th Ave. and south on Oregon Street, ending at Oshkosh Corp.’s Oregon Street facility. The parade will feature more than 60 vehicles and products, be both old and new, from the Oshkosh Corporation family. An open house following the parade will take place at the company’s E-Coat and South Plant Facilities from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Visit oshkoshcorp.com for more information.