A quick glance into a quaint, West Virginia home reveals three young boys tumbling across the kitchen floor as they wrestled with their uncle. Until two years earlier, this had been commonplace. The four possessed a special bond and the love they shared was obvious. This time, however, the meeting was different. Twelve months had passed since the four had last enjoyed each other's company. The events that had transpired during those months would forever change their lives.
Halfway around the world, 200,000 United States military personnel were engaged in a deadly conflict in which just four days prior, the young uncle had been engaged as well. His name was Larry Nichols. Larry had just completed his first tour of duty as a medic with the 101st Airborne Division in the Republic of South Vietnam. The year was 1966.
Fifteen days later the three boys waved good-bye to their uncle. This cycle would be repeated several times during next few years. Each time the uncle returned he was a little different. His thoughts seemed distant. His enthusiasm for life appeared to have vanished. The youngest of the boys, Jeff did not fully comprehend what was taking place. He knew each time his uncle returned, there was more of the colorful ribbons on his uncle's uniform, but did not know why.
August 1968, Jeff stood on the bottom step while his uncle pushed his duffel bag into the trunk of the car. The two stood, staring at each other. Neither spoke. The uncle slowly removed his hat and approached Jeff. He knelt down and placed the hat onto Jeff's head, stood up, and saluted. On the hat was a shiny gold lieutenant bar.
Jeff was barely eight years old when his father was notified that Second Lieutenant Philip Larry Nichols, then a platoon leader with the 173rd Airborne, had been killed in combat with hostile enemy forces. Vietnam had seemed so far away, but now it reached Jeff's doorstep.
As a cold November wind added to the numbness, memories of Larry raced through Jeff's mind. Tears streamed down his face. Clinched tightly in his grip was the hat with the shiny gold bar. An eerie silence was disrupted by the sound of a bugler playing Taps. Suddenly rifle fire echoed across the West Virginia hills, again echoes then once more. Silence returned engulfing family, friends, and comrades as they paid respect to a fallen soldier.