A World War II veteran raised in Bascom is among those in the first wave of infantrymen to hit Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
Louis R. Nichols would lose many friends that fateful day as the troops, weighed down with waterlogged equipment and under heavy attack from German soldiers, waged their historic and ultimately victorious D-Day landing at Omaha.
Nichols was seriously wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel, but managed to fight his way to a position where he was able to neutralize an enemy position. His son, Bob Nichols, remembers that wound vividly.
“You could put your fist in the scar on his left shoulder," the son says. “It looked like someone hit him with an axe.”
The wound had knocked his father out of a promising baseball career, Bob Nichols said, but his dad never lost his gratitude for having survived the horrors of that day to help secure an Allied victory.
That gratitude is something that the son shares. Bob Nichols would serve in the Air Force, on honor guards and units assigned to visiting heads of state. He also was a casket bearer on occasion, serving that duty many times at Arlington during the Viet Nam era. The son says he thought often of what might have been, when he looked across the quiet field of so many crosses marking the graves of young men who hadn’t survived to raise a family.
His father thought all should serve their country in the military, but he hadn’t wanted to see his son serve in those days of Viet Nam, fearing that he might never see his son again when he shipped out. He’d suffered such grief on D-Day, it was not a possibility he could put aside.
He would die at the age of 52 from a non-service-related medical condition, but had lived to see his son’s last day in the military, alive and well.
That’s something Bob Nichols is grateful for as well. He’d mustered out just a few months before his father’s passing.
Now a resident of North Carolina, Bob Nichols lived for a few years in Bascom himself, when his parents moved here for a time in his youth. One vivid memory involves the years he worked for Jim Harkins as a 12-15 year-old at Dairy Queen when Harkins owned that local franchise. He said Harkins taught him how to lift weights, and said his guidance was a key factor in helping him muscle-up for military duty and make him strong enough to be a casket bearer. That training, and all the hamburgers and ice cream he could eat, buffed him up. And he remembers the family’s many return visits later on, and their later years in Marianna.
As Thursday’s 75th anniversary of D-Day approaches, Nichols thinks often of his father and of the medals and commendations he was awarded. He’d kept his medals in a chest of drawers during his lifetime, talking when called upon to do so by his community, but he had no compulsion to brag about anything he’d done.
The medals were accompanied by commendations and letters, and the treasures are now lovingly kept by Bob’s sister in a plaque.
His father was part of the Company E, 16th Army Infantry. He was a Private First Class when his medals were awarded in June and October of 1944.
His Combat Infantryman’s Badge was awarded in June, 1944 “for exemplary conduct in action against the enemy.”
In October of that year, he received a Bronze Star “for heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy in Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.”
A letter associated with his Combat Infantryman’s Badge tells more of the story: “The beach opened by the 16th Infantry Regiment was the main personnel exit for the V Crops for 40 hours,” a military leader wrote. “Battered to a terrible degree, the regiment continued in its advance toward its initial objective. They drove back a fanatically resisting enemy and repulsed five separate counterattacks by numerically superior forces until the 1st Division and V Corps beachhead was secured. With complete devotion to duty and recognition of an obligation to its tradition, the 16th Infantry Regiment added a glowing page to military annals. Individually and collectively the members of the 16th Infantry Regiment turned threatened catastrophe into a glorious victory for the United States Army. “
His father’s wartime service often come to mind, and especially those times he was called to action himself at Arlington, and during the Veterans’ Day and other military-related ceremonies in his city of residence.
His father, he said, neither sought nor felt any glory in that infamous battle of long ago. “There’s no glory in battle,” he always said,” the younger Nichols remembers of his father. “It’s survival. He said it was just a crazy time with so much noise and danger that all you want to do is stay alive and get behind something, just try to make it to shore.”
His father’s attitude, and his bravery, is a matter of pride for the son, though, and utmost in his mind as Thursday nears.
A previous version of this story stated that Bob Nichols lives in South Carolina. He lives in North Carolina.