Sanpete vet recognized in Washington, D.C.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—World War II veterans are a dying breed, but Utah Honor Flights found one in Sanpete County, and then sent the 90-year-old Mt. Pleasant man to Washington, D.C. to celebrate his service to his country.
James Nichol of Mt. Pleasant was chosen as one of 50 veterans traveled to Washington, D.C. on a Utah Honor Flight. The flights are a patriotic program meant to honor aging veterans for their service and sacrifice.
Nichol says he came from a family with a military tradition. All his brothers served, and his father was in World War I. His uncle and cousins were military men, too, Nichol says. He says he even had female relatives stitching parachutes and doing ”Rosie the Riveter” work while their men were off fighting the war overseas.
Nichol dropped out of high school to enter the Navy at 18, and would eventually serve two tours. During World War II he was assigned to the 20th Construction Battalion— or “CB’s”— with whom he built landing strips in the Pacific to support the invasion of Okinawa. After his first tour ended, he re-enlisted and worked as a ship’s mailman.
The Utah Honor Flights people approached Nichol as a candidate for a flight, but for him to go he had to bring along a healthy guardian. All veterans who attend the Utah Honor Flights are required to have a guardian accompanying them on the flight. Nichol’s companion on the trip was to be his nephew Scott Barben of Kaysville.
Usually, the guardians that accompany veterans on the Utah Honor Flights are required to pay for their own flight. Nichol’s nephew had just started a new job and wasn’t sure where he was going to get the $900 it would cost for his flight and lodging if he accompanied his uncle on the trip.
“What happens if I can’t go?” Barben asked the Honor Flight representative? He was told his uncle might not be able to attend. Barben says he was very torn.
Not long before, Nichol had suffered a small stroke but seemed to be recovering well, and Barben said he knew how important the trip was to his uncle.
“This was so important to Uncle Jim, and I was letting them down,” Barben said.
Barben didn’t have to suffer from the problem long. Representatives from the Utah Honor Flight called him to say that four previous guardians had pooled their money to ensure Nichol and Barben could make the trip.
On the morning of Oct. 26, 2016, Nichol and Barben got up early and prepared to leave.
Barben says his wife told the two to “stay out of jail” as they left.
“You’ve got bail money, right?” Barben asked his uncle.
First, the pair attended a send-off where Gov. Gary Herbert thanked the veterans for their service.
“He even shook my hand,” Nichol said.
From there, the group of 50 vets, their guardians and eight Honor Flight volunteers boarded their flight as bagpipes played and a crowd gathered around and cheered them on.
“The bagpipes could barely be heard over the clapping, whistling and cheering in the crowded terminal,” Barben said. “Women were crying. Grown men were pushing back tears of appreciation. Children and young people came forward and thanked the vets for their service, and I could not speak. I could barely contain myself.”
During the flight to Washington, the Honor Flight volunteers served a “mail call,” passing out letters to each veteran, written in advance by their loved ones thanking them for their service. The “mail call” was done in a way similar to how it would have been done back in the day, meant to remind them of their service long ago—something especially poignant to Nichols since his second tour in the Navy was as a ship’s mailman, and during which he had to deliver himself a “Dear John” letter.
Nichol says there was an enormous itinerary of things to see and do on the trip. Between visiting the World Ward II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Navy and Air Force memorials and the Iwo Jima Memorial, he says it was almost too much.
His favorite, though, Nichol says, was the visit to Arlington Cemetery.
“Looking out across all those fields, it was such an honor,” Nichol said, tears welling in his eyes. “I’ve always been lucky. I got to come home, but they didn’t.”
Nichols says the flight was one of the highlights of his life, and he was so glad his nephew could join him; but he was glad to come home to his wife, Terry.
He said he wanted to thank all the Honor Flight volunteers who helped make it possible.
“They were on top of everything,” he said. “It was like a well-oiled machine.
Nichol said he was the only Sanpete County representative in the flight, and one of only 12 World War II vets— the remaining 38 being from the Korean War.
As living vets of the “Greatest Generation” pass on, fewer and fewer will be around to be recognized in the Utah Honor Flights. Nichol says he was the second oldest on the flight. The oldest was 98 years old.