Soldiering from Viet Nam to Afghanistan

The Old Soldier Who Didn't Fade Away


Staff Sgt. Don Nicholas disproves the old refrain: Old soldiers do not, in fact, fade away. They re-enlist.

At 59, Sgt. Nicholas is the oldest of the 6,000 soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division in eastern Afghanistan, the Army says. And he is probably one of the very few Vietnam vets now back for more in Afghanistan. He's certainly the only one who saw first-hand the ugly end of that war from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

"It's really not a fascination with war itself," Sgt. Nicholas explains. "It's more trying to keep people from getting killed. I'm taking the spot of some 19-year-old."

Raised in Magnolia, Ohio, Sgt. Nicholas dropped out of high school and joined the Marines in 1971, expecting—almost hoping—to go to Vietnam. At the time he was a believer in the domino theory. He remembers telling a local TV reporter at the recruiting station that he didn't want his children "living under communism."

The Marines sent him to the Vietnam War, but not to Vietnam. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier in the Tonkin Gulf, watching planes take off to bomb a shore he couldn't quite see.

"It was kind of disappointing that the war was winding down," he says. "I was a Marine rifleman, and I didn't get to do what I was trained to do."

The U.S. withdrew its combat forces from Vietnam in 1973. The following year Sgt. Nicholas re-enlisted and maneuvered his way to the Marine detachment at the Saigon embassy.

Comment: You have to admire the guy! My own son started with the Marines and now is in the Army reserves

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