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Interview with Nick Bacon [Undated]

Unidentified interviewer:

Tell me your name, spell your last name, and--tell me where you're from.

Nick Bacon:

My name is Nick Bacon. N-I-C-K, B-A-C-O-N. But actually, my birth name is Nicky with a Y.

Unidentified interviewer:

Okay.

Nick Bacon:

And I am from Little Rock, Arkansas. I'm the State Director of Veterans Affairs. And I was born in Caraway, Arkansas on November the 25th 1945.

Unidentified interviewer:

Well, let's start there.

Nick Bacon:

Yeah.

Unidentified interviewer:

Tell me about your childhood, your--you know, was it dominated by sports or hobbies. Tell me a little bit about it.

Nick Bacon:

My childhood was not--one of--of a great deal of sports activities or a great many things I remember in school. I was born--and raised on a farm, a sharecropper's farm at first, and then we moved to Arizona when I was about six years old. And--so basically I did a lot of work when I was a kid. Most of the fun--[PAUSE] when I was out of school was--was doing things country boys do--hunt, ride an old horse bareback and--and go hunting with a bb gun and your old dog down the river beds of Arizona.

Unidentified interviewer:

Do you think that helped you later on to [ ? ] [OVERTALK]

Nick Bacon:

I think it did. I've always b--kind of a loner, you know. I--I enjoyed being out there by myself and, and I think there are certain disciplines that are--that are self-taught, that--that hunting disciples--[ ? ] disciplines, like you do--if you've--anybody that's hunted who knows that, you know, there are certain things you have to do. One is you got to be quiet. Two, you move as--as quietly as is possible and keep--a, a good position where you can observe everything around you 'cause you want a--a good shot at the animal, what have you. Well, in the jungles in the military where--is somewhat like that. There's different type training skills that you have to develop. One is land navigation, knowing where you are all the time and even if triple canopy [?]. But--but some of the things are very basic. You know, like stalking. That--that's a very handy skill in the, in the jungle especially when you are in a ricon [?] platoon which I was my first war. And those sort of things.

Unidentified interviewer:

Okay. Did--going back to your childhood, did you have any heroes or people you looked up to?

Nick Bacon:

Well, I had--a lot of relatives that was in the military, Second World War. And when I was a kid Korea was--was brand new to me. I didn't understand it, about seven years old, eight years old, and things were happening that I didn't understand. A l--a lot of aircraft. I was living in Arizona at the time. Luke Air Force Base is close by which is a, a fighter base, a fighter training base. And there was a lot of activity always, overhead and, you know, in the surrounding farm country, it wasn't--Arizona wasn't as it is today, a giant retirement community of five and a half million people in the Valley. It was more like probably more like 280,000 people. And the most exciting activity in the Valley besides being out on horseback in the mountains where there was nobody at that time, was watching different types of fighter aircraft and formation flying and all that, and--and you could tell that things had really built up. There was a lot more activity, a lot of formation flying, that sort of thing. So--I've alw--I--my heroes was always those people in uniform, and the stories my uncle told about his experience in the military. He was wounded. My mother's un--brother. He was wounded in combat and--and he was quite a patriot. And he told a lot of stories and--I guess he was one of my best--heroes. I didn't realize until I was grown how short he was. He was a big man in my eyes.

Unidentified interviewer:

That's good. What--what made you enlist?

Nick Bacon:

I just got tired of the routine things in life, I guess. I was--kind of looking for new adventures. And unlike a lot of my colleagues that was in Vietnam, I--I actually enlisted when I was 17. And Vietnam wasn't heard of in that time. I didn't even know where Vietnam was located on a world globe. But I went to Worms [?] Germany after I completed basic and AIT at Fort Ord [?], California--

Unidentified interviewer:

What year was that?

Nick Bacon:

That's in 1963. [OVERTALK] September the 10th 1963 is when I enlisted. And I was training heavy weapons--Crusade, cruiser [?] type weapons. And I went to Germany. I spent a year. And then in 19--December, 1965 I went home on Christmas leave from Germany on my way to--the Republic of Vietnam.

Unidentified interviewer:

When was the first time you heard you were going to Vietnam?

Nick Bacon:

That was in December '65.

Unidentified interviewer:

Mmm-hmm. And what were your first thoughts about that?

Nick Bacon:

Well, I looked at it on a map with a friend of mine. As a matter of fact, he's been a--a, a friend for many, many years. His name is Ronnie Baker. We both got--orders together. And we looked on the map, and it was very hard to find. If you've ever looked for Vietnam on a map it's just a little really small country. My first impression being--that of the, you know, during the cold war we had a very large military. And I thought that we would probably just go in there and within a year or so we may occupy the country but we would--just annihilate the Communist aggressor [?] and, and things would be somewhat like they were in Korea; we would separate the north from the south and occupy. That was kind of my mind set. [LAUGHS]

Unidentified interviewer:

It didn't turn out that way. [OVERTALK]

Nick Bacon:

It didn't turn out that way [LAUGHS] at all.

Unidentified interviewer:

[PAUSE] Tell me about--well, tell me a little bit about boot camp. What do you remember from it?

Nick Bacon:

Well, I loved boot camp compared to--I retired 21 years in the military, and I had an opportunity to--serve as a first sergeant in a training company, military police and basic training. And [CLEARS THROAT] I guess--comparing--and no matter what people say training's still rough. It's still good training. It's very challenging, very physical--physically demanding. But back in the years when I went through basic training there was absolutely no sympathy, there was absolutely no--I quit, I'm not going to train anymore. There was none of that [ ? ] easy discharge scenarios that--that exist today. You didn't want, to pardon the expression, piss off the drill sergeant because we had been at training then, we had the pit training. And you did not want to meet him after dark inside that pit. And I l--I kind of l--look back and--it--it was an interesting period of time for me. I really--I, I don't think a lot of us--from the old school, so to speak, would--take anything for those days.

Unidentified interviewer:

Do you--do you think--tell me first about your first enactment in, in action.

Nick Bacon:

Well, I spent two tours. I got the Medal of Honor in my second tour. My first tour in, in January '66--again, I was training heavy weapons, infantry. And I was supposed to be assigned to the first cab division. And when I got to what they called O Camp Alpha [?] they tore up my orders, and they cut new orders. And--within just a very short period of time I became a--infantry ranger or recon [?] from the old Second Sixteenth Infantry, First Infantry Division. And I was assigned to recon platoon because they had suffered a lot of casualties, and they needed replacements. So--there's no saying in the Army--yesterday I couldn't spell it, today art--art one [?] and basically that's what happened to me.

Unidentified interviewer:

Okay. So--so tell me about your first action when you--you first encountered the enemy?

Nick Bacon:

Well, I'm going to tell you something. So many--a lot of people have a--a good opportunity to transition into a war zone. They receive a little experience with maybe a little ambush or day patrols and things of that nature. I jumped into it with both feet, went straight out to--after I was assigned to recon I went out to where they had--been in the, the boonies for a while. We had sniper fire all night. Then they put me on a OP, an observation point. And we heard noises all night, panicked [?]. And they finally let us come in and--we kill a lot of water buffalo [LAUGHS] with--with--claymore [?] mines because we thought they were enemy. They moved all night and--and they got louder and louder and scared the hell out of us, and we blew--the claymores and came in. And we pull a--a sweep within three days and were ambushed. And my seventh day in country I was in a helicopter crash. We hit another ship and the combat assault and crashed. And a lot of people were--killed in one chopper and all--all in mine, I believe, were killed except one, me and another kid. And--so the first seven, eight, nine days I was in country, in 1966, January. I wasn't a mathematician but I figured that 365 days--nobody could survive that long in the infantry. And, of course, thank God it got some better. But there was--it takes a while--it was an indoctrination period. It was a scary period, it was a period where you're so afraid you hurt and then you get calloused. Not that you ever get over--a bit of fear. I mean, there--when things get really, really rough and there's a whole lot of explosions going around you, and burstings--bombs bursting in the air and, and rifle machine gun fire, all of that coming at you at one time, you're--you--no one's exempt from fear. But you learn how to control it, you learn how to function with it. So it just took a while. But I got to really like it. I wasn't married, I had no children. I wasn't responsible for anything but me. So--I was--mostly felt sorry for those that were married, especially those that were--hit and you knew they were dying and there was nothing you could do about it, and they were always going to--most of us always going to tell you their story and what you should say to their family. And I hate those kind of days.

Unidentified interviewer:

Well, I'll bet--I'll bet. Do you think basic training prepared you for that?

Nick Bacon:

I think basic training is--is--probably the--[PAUSE] the initial training is probably the most important if you're going overseas right away. But all training is important. The more training you have, the--the more skills you develop, the more skills you develop your survival rate increases and so does the survival rate of those people you were--you lead into battle. [OVERTALK] And my first tour, of course, I wasn't leading anyone. [LAUGHS] I was a private e-zilch [?]

Unidentified interviewer:

Right. Talk about those--around you. I mean, what kind of--comaraderie did you have with the people who were in your unit? Describe that--the relationship you had?

Nick Bacon:

Well that's really different--from so many people. And I talked to--a lot of people about their relationships with the people in their platoons or squads or companies. And that changes with people. My first tour--I was--real close to the people in recon, and the last few months I was in country--I was a sniper with--we call ourselves equip kill teams. And--I learned my first trip never to get real close with the people on the second trip because you do--there, there's no friend like a friend in the foxhole, someone you share--c rations with, you'll exchange when they're not looking different types of cans of c ration food, you know. He's got beef spice with sauce and you've got beans and--ham and lima beans and--he's not looking, you will trade with him, and you know, you do silly little things that--that are more a joke than anything. And--you get very close to 'em. And you can't help it. Whether you've been an old seasoned soldier or you're a new rookie soldier, you're going to get close to people around you. But it--it gets--it gets a little difficult if you've been there more than once to get close to people because you're going to lose a lot of good friends.

Unidentified interviewer:

The--let's talk about--about the actions thaat led up to your--your medal. Tell me about the hours before, what you were doing, where you were, who your company was.

Nick Bacon:

Before I got the Medal of Honor, the Ballentam Key [?] is when I--is what we refer to it. We--this was s--1968. And you could tell by--if you ever visit the Wall in Washington, D.C. you could see that it's built like a pyramid. Each year it gets--higher and deeper in terms of death toll, and '68 is the tallest, much higher than the others. And then '69, '70, '71 it comes back down again. So '68 was a very bad month [?]. And--a very bad y--Sixty eight was a very bad year. And we had had a hell of a lot of battles, a hell of a lot of fire fights and ambushes. And--we probably had ex--well, normally you're out in the boonies anywhere from 20 to 35 days. You get to come back in, take a shower, have some steak, drink a few beers, and you do for a couple of days, and then you go bunker guard [?]. And if you're on bunker guard a couple of days in the mornings while you're pulling bunkers at night, you do road sweeps. And our daylight patrols are on the fire base in a lot of ways, so that the enemy can't come in close and dig in and that sort of thing. So you're always busy but it's--it's a luxury for an infantryman to be that close to a base camp where you have hot meals, showers, cold beer, and you get a--some sleep. We were on our way to such a standdown. We'd been out there for about 32 days when--and we had seen our share of action, and as we came in to the base camp, which was not ours, it was a base camp called Baldy. It was up in the central highlands, and as we landed there, instead of trucks waiting to take us up the hill which they normally would, so that we could shower and get new fatigues and eat, there was nothing but beans and bullets on the runway--c rations, ammunition, water. You know you're not going anywhere. And it's a real, real, real morale killer to see that, and you've got to experience and know what that means. And what happened, one of the troops of the 1st Cav [?], first and 1st Cav [?] which was a--part of the Americal Division of which I was assigned. I was with the Levitt [ ? ] Brigade. They had--one of their troops had received very heavy casualties. And they needed infantry assistance. And their other troop was going in, and until they just said it was a reinforced--company probably in that area. And obviously it turned out to be a much, much--greater size unit, more like a reinforced regiment, I've--I've been told. But--we flew out by helicopter, join them in the morning. And we riding on the armor personnel carriers and, and tanks trying to get closer to this area in the Valley of Tamkey [?] where supposedly the enemy were located. And prior to us--we were still out in the--rice paddies when we started taking--rounds, and the only way we know that was the noise of the tanks in the tracks--is you could see the, the water bouncing everywhere. And so, obviously we jumped from the tanks and tracks, dismounted and tried to move forward. And by this time RPG's are coming in, rocket propelled grenades are coming in, trying to take out the tracks and tanks and hitting some. And they're trying to back off, we're trying to get forward, they're trying to back off, try and separate ourselves. [CLEARS THROAT] Excuse me. We can get into the hedge rows, so that we have some cover. Well, there--it, it's built like a plateau there. And--each of these areas are farmed [?] and as you get higher, there is--each--there's a hedge row at each one of these. And they're dug into the edges of the hedge rows at each level. And so we're exposed. And they start taking shots at us and get us in. By the time we figure out--what we're up against.

Unidentified interviewer:

So they're up higher than you are.

Nick Bacon:

They're--they're high. [OVERTALK] We're down in the--

Unidentified interviewer:

[ ? ] hedge rows and they're looking down-- [OVERTALK]

Nick Bacon:

We're--

Unidentified interviewer:

--into the paddy.

Nick Bacon:

Right. And we've at the lowest level trying to come in. [OVERTALK] And--they let us get in a ways--remember, we--we're under a lot of sniper fire. But--it wasn't revealed to us how many they were or what they had until we had already advanced some--my platoon leader is the first one that advanced into the hostile area. He's a good man. He's alive today, by the way. I thought he was dead for 32 years. And he turns out to be a general. [LAUGHS] In Hill Service Command [?] so that's an interest--that's a story--that's the best story all by itself. His name is General Griffith. But now--then LT. [LAUGHS] He was a lieutenant, and everybody was LT to me--that wore a butter bar [?] but--he, he was a good man, and he got exposed to--to, too far out. And--[PAUSE] [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS] [CUT, END TAPE 9, SIDE A] CONTINUATION OF INTERVIEW WITH NICK BACON [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS]

Nick Bacon:

And--[PAUSE] it is not normal for the infantry or it shouldn't be normal, according to Patton, never put your infantry between the enemy and your t--your, your armor. At Vietnam it's not a conventional war that you can go back to the old officer guide or the tactical manuals and, and try to find a solution for. In the jungles and in the highlands, in the rice paddies things happen you can't control. One, 55-ton vehicles sink. And when they sink they can't move very fast. And if they can't you try to secure 'em, and you can die with them. So--with all that massive power--fire power, we infantry--and I know the armors [?] probably don't feel this way--but we infantry guys--we were light infantry. We traveled fast, and we were careful with what we got into, or at least tried to be. It's not always possible to--to avoid an ambush, or booby traps or that sort of thing, but--but when you're in the jungle and, and you're in contact a lot, and you've got a lot of training and a lot of us is on second tours, a lot of NCO's and officers, you try to avoid situations like we got into that day. It's just one of those things that couldn't be helped. We had already advanced. My platoon leader was trying to get across to put down a heavy base of fire so that we could release some tension off of--our other units, our other platoons and the armor units that were out there. We were trying to get out our--get them out of range of the RPG's because they only had one that I found out--I--at least that I saw that day; they only had one--recaller survival [?] that could reach a great distance. RPG's are very effective but they have limited range. And we were trying to eliminate that range. Then the tanks have got the fire power, they've got the 50 caliber machine guns, they've got the M s--or the--60 millimeter, all the difference in the world. And I said 60 millimeters--105, I guess it is. The tank has. The 01's had 90's. So you see the advantage is to back the distance and take advantage of all the fire power. Well it didn't happen that easy. As we got in there, we found out there was more and more and more of them that was dug in. And they was putting a hurt on us, bad. And--we received--wounded. We--my platoon leader was down. The RTO, several others. And as the other platoon leader tried to come up to assist, my company commander was pinned down with the--with the fourth on the right plank [?] and as the other platoon leader tried to come in--and I was trying to warn him but he couldn't hear me. I was trying to tell him not to come in there, that you can't get in here. But he tried anyway, he and a couple of his brave soldiers and--the RTO. And they--they compounded him to try to relieve the pressure on us, and they--they went down too. And it happened again with another platoon. And so the situation--got well out of hand very quickly, commun--lost communications, was spread out, the enemy superior, they're dug in, they're camouflaged. Things got real difficult real quick. And--I was very lucky, wasn't trying to be a hero. I was--I've g--I was able to get my lieutenant out of there. And--a couple of other people we were able to get out. But we still had wounded that we couldn't get to. And I got real lucky. I g--I got close enough to--to an enemy position and to wipe it out with hand grenades. And--

Unidentified interviewer:

So you did that because you're trying to get to--your wounded.

Nick Bacon:

We're trying to get the wounded out, so we could-- [OVERTALK] We can't get any air power in. And you can only get artillery--at a certain range. And the artillery, I tell you, it's true that the artillery was not enough under these circumstances, that artillery just wasn't enough with the amount of people we had there, the enemy I'm talking about. What we needed was aircraft. But we couldn't bring air in that close because we still had wounded that was between us and the enemy. And the--once I got forward of the platoon and knocked out the machine gun position, the--the second one was easier, honestly, because I was in hedge row, and I knocked it out also with hand grenades. And-- [OVERTALK]

Unidentified interviewer:

And how close were you when you threw the hand grenades?

Nick Bacon:

I got very close. And I burned them in my hand, so that they couldn't throw them back. And you see too many movies where people throw hand grenades and then there's another one lands and another one, and they're shutting tank--hatches [?] or jumping out of airplanes or--it's onl--there's only a four-second fuse on hand grenades. And that's the only time you have p--a spoon pops [?] until it hits target. So if you burn it and throw it, and nobody is going to catch it and toss it back. Only in Hollywood.

Unidentified interviewer:

[LAUGHS]

Nick Bacon:

But--th--that's what--we did a lot of that anyway. You know, those--Vietnamese--the NVA, the VC they--they were well trained and well disciplined. They've had years and years of combat experience. You--you don't--you don't scare 'em and--unless you can military outmaneuver them and kill them; you're not going to scare them away. These people were coming after us. And each time that they--they tried to maneuver on us we were--the artillery is affected, then we were able to drive them back in their holes. But I was able to knock out a couple of machine gun positions, and I got the 75 that was sh--shooting the longest range on the tanks, and either they--was trying to move the gun or they had a misfire or something. Well--they were so busy trying to--work on the gun that it gave me the ability to get their hand grenade in, and I did fire a clip on 'em too. But--a couple of soldiers, I mean, it was a long day--I don't know how many people I shot or wounded, but several times they tried to--to advance on us, and sometimes it was--it was just stupid because we were--in a position of concealment. And, you know, they did some dumb things. But the big turning point that day was--I needed somebody to help me get the wounded back. We couldn't do anything, and--I can't even express how much fire power was coming in. I mean, there was an awful lot of fire power there just eating - everything - the whole world is on fire around us, between our artillery - their RPGs and us firing back -- I mean it was, it was a total combat zone. And-- this tanker that-- I, I kept asking for assistance and couldn't get a radio working, and this-- one particular radio was finally--serviceable, and I got a hold of the company commander who got me on a frequency with the tank-- commander - the unit commander of the tanks - and I told him - we've got to get a tank up here - we've got - I'm - he's probably going to get killed when he comes up but we gotta have somebody to relieve the pressure so we can get our bodies out of there -- [we need the area ????]. And this tanker came up, so I worked my way back, and-- I shot a guy holding an RPG as the tank's coming up - this guy is ready for him, and I just walked into him. And when, when I got to the tank - there was only one way to do this - you can't pull up there and say shoot there, there, there -- I would, I would look at the bamboo and everything - make sure the driver knew which way we were headed, and the T.C. - the tank commander - I'd make sure that he knew - at the bottom of this bamboo - just to its left -there's a bunker. And just to the right of that, there's another bunker. So what you've got to do is come around with your shotgun - your, your main 2 shotgun round - blow that away - but when you turn back with your 50 caliber and, and start firing on the position and back out. And they did that. We'd go up - [MAKES FIRING NOISE] -- and blowing the big guns -- we'd back out -RPG's'd be bouncing everyone - and we would get one or two bodies - and that's how we got the bodies out of there - this guy taking hits all the time. And I think he got a Silver Star out of that. But-- the deserve it. I hope all of them got a Silver Star but - those guys jus-- they would come up there and just be sitting ducks and firing. And they'd back out - we'd carry bodies out. And-- then we were able - once we opened up the distance - to get the jets in. And we put napalm all over 'em. I mean right on top of us - just right - we rolled the napalm over us right onto the targets. And when they went - when the aircraft would exit you'd be looking over his exhaust system - that's how close they were - and you could feel both the napalm and the exhaust -and the noise. And when they broke loose, the company commander was able to break his platoon loose, and I had everybody else that I could get together and we got gun ships behind the jets and as a - as the NVA broke their positions and try to run - remember you're gonna run if you're on fire. Napalm will make you have to get out of your hole. And when they got out of their holes and running-- we were counter-attacking. And so we had bodies laying everywhere. And I, I have no idea how many was killed that day. I've heard so many reports; I've heard you killed 500 of 'em - there were 662 counted - I have no idea. I believe there was a lot of 'em [LAUGHS] - I don't know how many there were but, but--bodies were everywhere. And it - and, and we suffered a lot of casualties - the armor people that was with me suffered a lot of casualties. And the saddest thing that happened that day -after the battle was over - we were licking our wounds and it was a - really a weird feeling when you've survived something like that. And you've lost a lot of good friends, and it was one of those days where you just don't know how you feel. We were trying to get out of this valley so we could set up a night logger position - cause you don't really know what - what you've left - you don't know how many people has re-organized and where they're at. So we wanted to clear out of the area and set up a logger position so we could set up a defense for the night. And on the way out of there, some of my survivors was on a track - behind - I, I rode on a tank - the same tank that assisted us. And I was riding on the side of the tank and a, a, a track s-- a, a armored personnel carrier - a track, what we call them - their track - an armored personnel carrier - track -runs right just slightly to the inside of an M60. So coming out of there you're trying to follow each other because we know they've set up mines. My people - several of my people was on the track behind me that had survived this battle - got blowed about 60 feet in the air with nitral starch [sp?] - and so we had to stop again -- any casualties that we can say we'll get 'em on choppers - then I had to bl--then I had to get everybody out of there and blow the track up cause it was destroyed - he want-- didn't want to leave anything for 'em so - put satchel charges in it and anything we had left -- C4 - any kind of explosives we had we put in there and blowed that track and went on to - to a night logger. But that was one-- and we had to sweep away the west--rest of the way - we couldn't just get back and take off because we had to assume and we did find more mines - they had put the mines in after we came in. They didn't expect anything to come out.

Unidentified interviewer:

Oh, boy.

Nick Bacon:

And - so we had to sweep our way out of that valley. And we finally made it to our night logger position, and I just couldn't wait to get away from that armor. [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER] I feel much more comfortable when I can boogie.

Unidentified interviewer:

Talk - I mean part of that battle was the fact that you took leadership to move ahead and inspire the troops around you; talk a little bit about that.

Nick Bacon:

Well I was a staff sergeant, so-- and I had--spent a lot of time - this was '68, and I'd spent time in '66 - part of '67 - I had trained troops in Hawaii, and then I came back to Vietnam the last part of '67/'68 - so--people were, were al-- a lot of times, i--if you don't have a platoon leader or he was wounded or something or-- or just gets sick or what - malaria - platoon sergeant takes over. Well a lot of times there's not a platoon sergeant -- I-- I was the most experienced E-6, so I'd take over a platoon anyway. So people were used to going out with me anyway, platoons - patrols - sweeps - so it was-- it wasn't like they would question my command anyway; they were, they were good troops, and-- the other two platoons - they'd follow me because they had no choice - they--you know - you - everybody's looking for a leader when there is none. And--

Unidentified interviewer:

In, in your citation they make mention of that the fact that the troops you know could have pulled back; they could have taken less risks.

Nick Bacon:

They could have.

Unidentified interviewer:

But that you, you were talented enough to lead them you know back into savior of wounded.

Nick Bacon:

They were, they were good troops. I would like to think that they would follow me to hell and back, but I just want you to know, they did it not just for me - they did it for those that were out there - that's the camaraderie that we have - I guess - in all military branches but especially in the infantry-- you don't leave your own. If you can - we just don't leave our own. We're gonna bring 'em back. And that's -- they, they felt the same way. So they followed me back - they never gave up in a hedge row - they, they stayed in there and they-- you know they were supporting fire - they didn't disappear when all this was happened - they was, they was receiving very heavy fire themselves and they were returning fire. And I'm not going to mention any names, but I seen one M79 grenade launcher-- he was-- quite experienced too - he was an E-4 - he was just firing and firing. You know. I think he'd probably figured this is the end anyway, and he wasn't even getting down any more - he was just standing up and loading and firing. And--

Unidentified interviewer:

You won the, the medal for that - do you feel that there were others that, that deserved the medal as much?

Nick Bacon:

You know that's something about the Medal of Honor - it's, it's a privilege - it's an honor to wear it and most of us-- that you talk to will always tell the same story - we don't wear it for ourselves - we wear it for all those that can't. There are a lot of heroes in the military. During the time of war there's a lot of sacrifices and-- you can't set around afterwards and try to compare medals or trying to figure out who should have and and who shouldn't have had -- by God's grace you wear it and-- I know a lot of people braver than I am-- I know a lot of people that are dead--that-- you know made that ultimate sacrifice -that supreme sacrifice - you can't get any braver than that.

Unidentified interviewer:

Absolutely. Talk about what the medal means to you.

Nick Bacon:

Well-- again, the m-- the medal to me represents-- it's kind of like the flag - it represents America. The medal kind of represents the survivors - perhaps those that have sacrificed - those that will never be recognized - and you see that when we go to a convention, a lot of times we wear the medal around our necks - but you won't see that when we're back home unless it's Veteran's Day or Memorial Day. Or perhaps you're talking to a group of school kids. And you always make a point to tell them why you're wearing it and you know -don't look - this is not something you won in the Olympics -- this is not something you won in school track - this is-- represents-- much to many and that is - it stands for all of those who made that supreme sacrifice and those who roll around in wheelchairs and those who-- family members that will never see their husband or father - their brothers. So-- it's a responsibility. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]

Unidentified interviewer:

What do you [...?...] do you have kids?

Nick Bacon:

Yes.

Unidentified interviewer:

You have grandchildren?

Nick Bacon:

Both.

Unidentified interviewer:

Okay. What do you tell them about the medal?

Nick Bacon:

Well you know they really - my kids have kind of grown up with it, so-- they know a great deal about how I feel about it. They-- they don't talk to me a lot about it-- neighbors will - cousins and nephews will, but my own children talk very little about it, and the one thing I want to-- my-- my family's a military family. My brother's kids and -- I could go on and on - my, my nephews - we're a military family. You gotta be careful not to-- not to-- make--the kids feel inferior - you know they're -the Medal of Honor is a blessing - it's a gift - it's a lot of things - but-- it doesn't mean you have to set standards for your kids that they can't achieve. You know-- surviving and serving your country in uniform and surviving the battles -- i-is a great reward to come home to your family. But you know sometimes it's not going to be like that. There are going to be those that can't make that trip back except under the flag-- that we-- so cherish and my kids understand that. That's what I want them to understand - you're not trying to - you don't have to live up to my standards. Just live a good life.

Unidentified interviewer:

Right. Tell me do you consider yourself a hero?

Nick Bacon:

No. [LAUGHS] You know I wrote an article that was in today's paper -- they called down said we need something fast - and so I was writing and it's-- what makes a hero. It was the title that I put on it. They wanted me to write about a hero. And I, I wrote about that - you know - a, a hero is a patriot; it's a soldier that serves hundreds of miles from home - those in Afghanistan today and other places around the world. It's the mothers and fathers that are patriots that work hard and pay their taxes, and survive the everyday sometime curses of life and, and-- you know that's -- when you do the right thing and when you make the right contributions to society, to your country, your God-- that's a hero.

Unidentified interviewer:

Who are your heroes today?

Nick Bacon:

My heroes today? Well Ronald Reagan was my hero and still is. I don't know - again -I've got a lot of people that I respect an awful lot that's done an awful lot for their country. We're honoring General Schwarzkopf [sp?] in a few days - he was with the Americal (?) in Vietnam and so was-- General Powell and so was j-- General Clarke [sp?] - they were all in Americal, so I, I look at them kind of like my heroes because we all grew up together. When they were lieutenants and captains, I was a staff sergeant. And so they shine for all of us too. But I guess my true heroes are those that, that you can visit on Memorial Day in the national cemeteries.

Unidentified interviewer:

Tell me how the award has changed your life.

Nick Bacon:

Well-- the-- Medal of Honor can change your life a lot of ways, and some ways it can do--be an adversity and other ways it can be something that-- that offers you-- other possible achievements that may not be available otherwise. I stayed in the military so it was not a great, great benefit to me because I was always expected to, to have the best platoon -the best company - the best detachment. When visitors came - whether it's Congressman or Senators - guess whose company they're coming to? So - in one way it shines a lot of light-- on your - on you and what you represent - on the other hand it can be a burden - especially - for an example - what if you were my company commander and I was your first sergeant. You want to get a good efficiency report, you want to do your job, but you don't want to do all this extra stuff all the time -- so how would you like a Congressman coming to you every time they visit your installation to check on - see how First Sergeant Bacon's doing? So that could be a, a problem. Another thing you got to be very careful - and you wear the medal - what happens if you get a DWI - hit and run - you mess up and you're on the front page the next day? So you represent a whole lot of people, whole lot of things. Not that we've always been real nice little guys and always have led a perfect life - but you're very conscious about what you represent. And it's something that you have to wear with honor, distinction - whether you think you earned it or not - whether you think you deserve it or not. You don't wear it for yourself; you wear it for a lot of other people.

Unidentified interviewer:

What does the medal represent to the country and what do you think it should represent?

Nick Bacon:

Well one thing-- anybody that's ever served in the military has a, a great deal of respect for the Medal of Honor and they know because they know how we feel. And that doesn't bother them - even if they know that Joe Smith maybe deserved a medal but was never recognized - there was no two eyewitnesses -the - nobody seen his action - he died but we know for a fact there was 13-- dead v--Vietnamese stacked around his machine gun when he died. Those type of things - that - they respect it in that way. They know that it is a part of their heritage as, as well. A lot of people today in the United States don't know what it is. A lot of kids. They know what the Emmy Awards are all about; they know what - you know - what a gold medal is in the Olympics - they know a lot of things about a lot of awards, but-- a lot of your kids -I'd say most of your kids in school today do not know what a Medal of Honor is.

Unidentified interviewer:

Well if you could stand before you know 400 kids right now and tell them what would you tell them?

Nick Bacon:

About the medal?

Unidentified interviewer:

Yeah.

Nick Bacon:

Well I would tell them to start with that I don't want you to look at me as a hero - because I have this medal around my neck - and I would tell them what it represents to me. I would tell them that freedom's not free; I would tell them that-- that-- war is not something we like. War is an ugly thing. But as a general once said, it's not the ugliest of things. The ugliest of things is to be ruled by a tyrant; to lose all your freedoms; to live in a land of devastation. There's a lot of things that's worse than war, but war is necessary to protect those freedoms and those prosperities that we enjoy and -more than-- often take for granted in this country. So I would dr-- teach 'em more about the medal represents certain things to certain people -as the flag does - but what they should mostly cherish is the country, the rights they've been given by men and women who have died for them since the beginning of the - the history of this nation - and they should start learning more about history so that they --unless we teach history correctly they will never know the wonderful-- blessings they enjoy in this nation. Because they're not going to be going to Mexico often nor Africa - they're not going to be visiting Iraq and places like Afghanistan; Cambodia where they can see how people live there and how people live here. Well people wouldn't live here - or, or wouldn't live like they do here if it wasn't for the sacrifices made by the military. There's an old saying -- a nation is only as strong as its military. And so goes a - the military - so goes the nation. And that's something this nation needs to learn before they keep closing bases and cutting our abilities to one day we won't be able to respond to the threat of our enemies.

Unidentified interviewer:

Okay. I want to back track a little bit --because I didn't get a chance to ask you -when did you find out you were going to be a recipient - where were you--? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]

Nick Bacon:

That was a-- I, I wisht I could ask that question and sit in your chair with all these other recipients - where were you when you heard you were going to get the Medal of Honor - God, what a question I'd love to ask a lot of guys for a very long time. I was in the wrong damn place. I was supposed to be training my troops - and I think it's one of those what we call mox-nix [sp?] missions where it wasn't very important to anybody and I didn't think anybody would notice that I dismissed everybody early and took off. Well General Westmoreland picked that particular time to call-- our batallion commander who called our bat-- company commander, and I had a whole m-- the whole post looking for me. I was what - 22 years old - I had a new Corvette - I partied - man I was gone - for the day. And I'll tell you what - they had so many people looking for me they found me - they must have turned out every officer and NCO on that post. They found me in a city located close to Fort Hood, Texas - brought me back -and there's a - a parade of people waiting outside the orderly room -- many of 'em senior officers -- because nobody knows why Westmoreland is calling for me. And nobody really like cares for the idea at all that they can't tell -- you know a military discipline organization is a must and to not be able to tell where one of your NCOs are at any partic--ticular time is r--especially during duty hours is a no-no. So they were all panicked and nobody knew what he wanted with me, and I was scared to death -I - you know - cause [Kelly] incident was going on - Lieutenant Calley and the My Lai Massacre. And I went through My Lai many times - of course I'd never shot anybody there that I can remember -- and-- scared the hell out of me. I mean what the hell'd I do? Generals don't just call NCOs-- unless there's something really serious going on. And so-- everybody drilled me of course - well what does he want with you - what's--? I have no idea. So about - probably 3:30 the phone ring again --and-- a - [LAUGHS] I mean you gotta - you're gonna have to see the circus because everybody's waiting for the phone and who's going to pick it up and-- someone did and--and they - the other end the secretary announced that-- that-- the General Westmoreland was still waiting to talk to Sergeant Bacon -- I almost called it [first] sergeant - I was E-6 then. And so-- yes, sir - yes, sir - or yes, ma'am -he's right here - and I got on the phone and there was a wait-- [BIG VOICE] Hello? Sir -Sergeant Bacon, sir. He says [BIG VOICE] This is General Westmoreland. How many people you got around you there? [LAUGHS] Something like that - and I had to laugh because he knew there was a-- bunch of people to round me up -and he says it's - he said it's my pleasure to be the one to announce to you that the - by the Act of Congress, the President of the United States will present you with the Medal of Honor on November the 24th bah bah bah. And-- take down this number - I'm writing it down - pick you an escort officer and have him call this number to make all the arrangements. And I did, and that was a-- that was - for -from there-- until probably 30 days later it was like a madhouse trying to get everything together - they-- to get me to Washington - to get my family a -- who was in Oregon at the time--

Unidentified interviewer:

Tell me about that - okay you go to Washington--

Unidentified interviewer:

What about the day. [OFF-MIKE COMMENTS]

Nick Bacon:

Okay after-- after we had-- picked-- they kind of picked it themselves obviously - but-- my batallion commander picked my company commander to go to Washington with me and then-- they also had to pick a-- an officer on the West Coast to-- contact my family and bring them to Washington also. And those days - and President Nixon was going to present me with the medal, but I'll tell you in those days - I don't know what it was like before or after but they really wine and dine you when they take you to Washington. You stay in, in the nicest hotel-- you have a, a expense account that - of course your aide carries it and there's no problem with, with what you spend - you can't buy clothes, souvenirs, that sort of thing but you can party. And we did. And they had-- limousines -escorts for the family. We had-- meals all over and what have you - you know - the things you do when you go to Washington - if you've never been there before. And then the ceremony took place on the-- I think it was the 24th - my birthday was on the 25th - so I think it was on the 24th of November that the ceremony was. And-- when I got back you know I thought it was all over - it was enough of a great time in Washington - you know - with - being treated like royalty and all that - you know that's not too cool for a infantry guy who's been sleeping under a pancho for the last 2 and a half years in the jungles - you know that was kind of a weird scenario for me. And when I get back to Fort Hood-- that night - pic-- I was picked up by an escort and taken home and-- and next day we were to report at 9 o'clock - they had a big parade at Fort Hood and it was the neatest parade, and I wished I had, I wished I had-- somebody had taped it - I would love to have that for, for my family for the years to come. It was the whole NCO parade. The sergeant majors from the batallions-- first sergeants from the companies -- first sergeant major from division and brigades - it was all an NCO parade. Neatest thing I've ever seen. And-- General John K. Bolst [sp?] was, was the commanding officer then and he's a fellow Arkansan, and-- he sure did me a - a wonderful thing there, and the Third Corps commander General Beverly Powell [sp?] was there. It was a great thing. And then from there it turned to panic-- you're a country boy -you're-- you know - you're an infantryman -you've done all those things - but nobody prepared you to speak to large audiences - to go visit schools - to talk to academies and all those things that you have to do. So that's why a lot of people run for the woods. I had a choice - stick it out - take a couple of Dale Carnegie courses and do some things to try to prepare yourself or just run like hell, and my first impression was run like hell. And - but I had too many years [LAUGHS] committed in the Army - I couldn't run - unless it was AWOL, so-- I had to stick it out, and-- you know eventually you get used to it. Now some people are great speakers. Some people are not. Some really don't give a damn and that's where I was in those days - and I think - and I don't mean that in a negative perspective - but just - you know - if I sound good, fine - if I don't - don't invite me back. And that's - I think that's where I got my ad-- attitude from, and-- there we - I've come all these years.

Unidentified interviewer:

That's good! All right - what lessons-- has your experience and others of M.O.H. recipients had for kids today?

Nick Bacon:

Well, I, I think one of the things that-- it -that's a hard question. What - what does - a Medal of Honor recipient -- say to the kids today and w-- I guess the question would be -what does that mean to them and what could they - what does it mean-- that anybody can become a recipient? Or, or what exactly?

Unidentified interviewer:

I'm - I think with the experiences that you've gone through for your country mean something to you - what does it mean to them or what should it mean to them?

Nick Bacon:

Well what my service should mean to kids throughout America? Is the same thing that the service of everyone who wears a uniform of this nation or who has ever worn a uniform of this nation means. That uniform, like the flag itself, represents - it's a symbol of freedom. If it was not for the military, there would be nothing else. If it wasn't for the courtesy of the military, there would be nothing else. If it wasn't for the courtesy of the military, and I say courtesy of the military meaning they -willing to do what they do - so that we can enjoy the things that we do - just think about it - after 9/11 is a perfect example. What if we had been a nation that was not capable or able of striking back the way we did? What if we had a military too small to defend ourselves and we could have just said to the enemy don't do that again. The-- military is a - it's extremely important. As a matter of fact I can't think of anything more important to America than its military service, because without it, nothing else is.

Unidentified interviewer:

Today the word hero is used very loosely and the media has its own distinctions with celebrities - do you think the country gets mixed up between the two?

Nick Bacon:

Well I just think they need to get a Webster dictionary and get the definitions right. You know, a hero's not a basketball player that did a great job [HITS MICROPHONE?] scoring against the Spurs; and it's not-- it's not a great race car driver that took an extra chance to finish first. A hero is the fireman - like we seen in 9/11 that goes into a building and it collapse and kills a lot of great men - those were also uniformed people that protect our freedoms and - you know - there's - there's two types of ways to protect freedom - one is exterior protection and one's an interior protection. Nevertheless your rights are always threatened. Those people sacrificed their lives, and they are heroes. The-- there's a lot of examples of heroes but America's really confused. The word is used very, very loosely. Someone who serves their country in uniform and goes to a foreign country are great men and women; my son just came back from the Persian Gulf where he spent a year. He is a great patriot, and I hope he's a great soldier. But he's not a hero! he might be if put in a situation, cause cl-- he's got the training and he's got the guts -- if he needed to be, he probably would be. But a hero is all those brave men and women--that put themselves in harm's way, function under fear, save lives, help others and get out if they're lucky with their lives. Those are heroes.

Unidentified interviewer:

Okay. Why is it important for the country to have heroes?

Nick Bacon:

Well the-- the reason it's important for a country to have heroes-- is because everyone has to have-- a role model type. People need to be able to look at someone and say you know there is a real patriot or there is a real hero. There is someone who cared more for his friends than he cares for himself. There's someone who puts others before himself. I think it's important that we learn that self is not always the most important thing that surrounds us. Sometimes we have to put self second and others first, and I think that if you want to-- to-- lead people, for whatever reason it is that you're the leader of-- or, or whatever it is you're doing, you have to do that by example. And they need to look at somebody and say you know that's the way I want to be. If I go to battle, you know, I don't want to be like -there's some people I don't want to be like in battle. There's some mistakes made, and people die. But you want to be, you want to be a good leader - you want to be unselfish - you want to take as many chances as anybody else - you want to dig your own foxholes and you know occasionally you even want to pull point -even if you outrank everybody else. And that's what sets a role model for others to follow. And I think it's important that kids look at a recipient that way - not so much as his great hero status but he was willing to do what it is-- whatever it is that he did in a situation where he didn't have to maybe. In most cases -- as a matter of fact one of the pre-requisites for the medal is you sh--you didn't have to do what you did, and you couldn't have been scrutinized if you had not. So you know look at that - this - why did he do it -- because he cares.

Unidentified interviewer:

That's good! We're filming this about one year after September 11th - what are your thoughts on this day?

Nick Bacon:

Well I think-- now that we're approaching one day away from September 11th - a year ago terrorists from another country was able to walk into a free nation that has no iron gates - one who respects others' rights and m--abusing those freedoms that we enjoy was able to climb in board a non-military aircraft with a bunch of innocent civilians, women and children - take them hostage on an aircraft and crash it in to two great buildings in New York City - the Twin Towers. They thought that they would bring America to their knees - that this would be a great devastating and that America, because of its history over the last few years, would not retaliate in a great military way, and that mil-- that the Americans did not have the bellies to fight any longer. Well they seen in how short order, first of all Americans united themselves together, because we do love our country and we do love our flag, and they seen this as a direct assault on America, which it was, and we retaliated with military force. And we destroyed a power that was not able -o-- that had withstood over probably around 10 years of sove-- the Soviet Union's military might - and was a-- not able to destroy them, and we did it in a short period of time. That's because the Americans were all behind this war. Americans were p.o.'d and they didn't care what force had to be utilized to destroy that regime, and we did it. And I think that what we need to remember is--that there's always a threat out there and that there's always a tyrant and there's always those pathetics that are willing to do whatever's necessary to destroy the nation of freedom - the great democracy. And the only way we can prevent that is to stand fast and not go back to a sleeping mode. keep our military strong - keep our eyes o--open and-- be mentally awake and just don't allow - allow every barbaric tyrant in the world to walk into our free nation and hijack our aircraft! -- whatever it takes!

Unidentified interviewer:

Good. Do you have anything else that we missed?

Nick Bacon:

No.

Unidentified interviewer:

[LAUGHS] We covered just about everything.

Nick Bacon:

Yeah.

Unidentified interviewer:

Really appreciate your time.

Nick Bacon:

Well thank you sir.

Unidentified interviewer:

It's been great. [End of Interview]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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