INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Those who fought in Vietnam are the focus of Veterans Day ceremonies across the nation this month. It’s been 50 years since America first sent ground troops to Vietnam.
A Jackson County Vietnam vet fought at the height of the war and received a Bronze Star for his service.
“Unless you were there you wouldn’t understand,” said Bob Nichols.
Nichols arrived in Vietnam as a fresh faced 20-year-old infantryman on Valentine’s Day of 1968, during the Tet Offensive, one of the largest military campaigns of the war. In less than two months of fighting, Nichols would face a battle that forever changed his life.
“A little bit after midnight is when they said it was an NVA division,” he recalled. “About 400 hit us and it was just 18 of us and 1st platoon, and I think they had 30-something. We fight and fought as long as we could. By 1:30 (a.m.) the fighting pretty much stopped because they had overrun us.”
A grenade sent a chunk of Nichols’ rifle into his leg, severing his sciatic nerve. He lives with constant pain and has had a to wear a brace ever since, but considers himself lucky compared to those he calls brothers in his unit.
“We had 7 of our brothers lost that night,” Nichols explained in a memory that brought tears to his eyes. “1st platoon lost seven men. 14 good men died that night.”
Nichols was part of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, one of the first units deployed to Vietnam and the last to leave. Our government awarded Nichols a Bronze Star for his efforts that night.
“I had an open field of fire,” he said. “I just couldn’t let that go because they would come running in like crazy. So I stood there until they got set back up again and that’s when I got hit with the grenade.”
Now working as a Jackson County Elections Director, Nichols understands that there’s a connection between his service in Vietnam and our fair and free ballot box.
“You’ve got a piece of paper here that you can hand count if you had to,” he said.
Nichols takes pride in his years of public service and says he never let opponents of the Vietnam war get to him.
“Protesters against the war, said ‘I don’t see how you could have gone over there and killed babies and stuff.’ And I said, ‘We didn’t kill babies. We killed the enemy. The enemy killed us.'”
Whether you believe in a war or not, Nichols says Americans have learned to always support those who are fighting.
Nichols has never been back to Vietnam and but 10 years ago he reunited with survivors of his unit for the first time since he was wounded.