“I was an American”
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By Emily Bontrager
To serve one’s country in a time of need is the ultimate sacrifice. Local veteran George Junior ‘Bud’ Nichols, 95, volunteered to serve in the United States Navy when he was only 17 years old.
Born on June 26, 1927, Bud never could have fathomed that at a young age he would serve his country in World War II.
Bud grew up on a farm around Wyaconda, Missouri and his parents were George and Gladys Nichols. He had two siblings, an older brother Richard and a sister Thelma Louise.
On December 7th, 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan, prompting the United States to enter World War II. Bud was 14 years old at the time.
This act of war on the United States sent boys and men to fight in one of the deadliest wars in history and it changed their lives forever.
When Bud turned 16, he decided he wanted to join the fight.
“When I was 16, my folks made me graduate and I was in the Navy when I was 17. I went to St. Louis on the 11th of May. They were filling two companies and in one company, three people didn’t show up. They asked for three volunteers and I volunteered. I went down to St. Louis and went the same day up to the Great Lakes,” Bud recalled.
Bud was not the only one who volunteered to serve in the war, many in the Clark County area also volunteered.
“All the boys in my class I believe went into the service. There were probably six or seven boys and they all volunteered,” Bud said.
When asked why he volunteered to serve in World War II, Bud replied, “I was an American.”
Bud felt it was his duty to help protect others and to serve his country.
After volunteering, Bud was sent to Navy boot camp for 10-12 months in Great Lakes, Illinois before being sent to San Francisco.
“I went right out on a barge there to Manila, Philippines,” Bud recalled.
“I was supposed to be in the Fleet Marines, because I was a pretty active guy, but they put me on a gasoline tanker. It was a small one, 300 feet long.”
Bud was on the USS Rio Grande, which carried petroleum products to help fuel fighting ships. The Rio Grande had a sister ship called Susquehanna, which was also a gasoline tanker. The Rio Grande had around 300 people on it and was assigned to a Pacific Fleet.
“That ship never shot a gun, but it had guns on it,” Bud recalled.
Bud’s job on the Rio Grande was to run the paint locker and later his job was to steer the ship as the helmsman.
“The pilot would tell you what degrees to run it on. I know one time he hollered down ‘Give her 90 degrees left starboard,’ because there were two to three whales shooting water,” Bud said.
“That ship had a flat bottom on it, and I guess they could have wrecked it. They said to get around them.”
Bud also recalls some of the men jumping into the ocean to enjoy a nice swim.
“A time or two the boys would jump out and swim in the ocean and I would stand there with a 30-06 and look for sharks, but I never did see them,” Bud laughed.
One day when Bud was back in Manila, he was surprised to see a few familiar faces from Clark County.
“I drove up with a boat to put a guy on a LST and I was bow hook and I couldn’t swim but I was steady. I hooked it and I looked up there and they hollered ‘Hey Nic, hey Nic!’ and it was Marion Calvert and John Henry Hawkins,” Bud said.
Luckily the ship did not see any combat, but Bud experienced a boat fire while in the Subic Bay in the Philippines.
“When we got ready to come home, we pumped the gasoline out of the ship. There was a big merchant ship there and it was an old ship with a wooden bridge on it. They were burning trash on the fantail,” Bud recalled.
“I was a non-swimmer all my life and I still am,” Bud laughed.
“But anyway, the dang water caught on fire. We were there in Subic Bay and here came the Coast Guard and they wouldn’t come into the ship, they would pick the guys up in the water.”
Bud, the captain, the executive officer, and a few others were still on the ship.
“I took a fire hydrant and chopped a rope in two. They turned the water on and there was no pressure, and the fire burnt the paint off the ship. That scared the hell out of me,” Bud said.
Bud ended up putting a few life preservers around himself and helped a fellow Navy man off the boat. The ship was taken to a dry dock and had to be repaired because it had also run over a sunken ship and there was a hole that needed to be fixed. The ship was repaired, and Bud repainted it before it was taken back to Virginia.
On the way back to the states, Bud traveled through the Panama Canal.
“We came back to San Francisco and I got to be helmsman and we went around, and we went to the Panama Canal. I drove two watches through there,” Bud said.
“There wasn’t nothing to it, you just had the wheel, and the pilot was up on top. There was a thing there with 360 degrees and they told you to keep it within 5 degrees of that.”
After Bud returned from the Pacific, he worked for Isom Martin for three years raising hogs.
“He raised registered Hampshire hogs and he was the second oldest breeder in the United States at that time,” Bud recalled.
“I went home and somehow I got a hold of $800 and I took that money and borrowed money from the bank and bought 160 acres for $52.50 an acre. That is how I got started.”
Bud married Beverly Ewing in 1954 and she sadly passed away. In 2006, Bud married Mary F. Goodwin. Mary passed away in December of 2021.
Over the years, Bud worked in construction, on the railroad, and as an auctioneer. He also owned an antique store and ran a sale barn.
When Bud was a young man, he volunteered to help out those in need and he is proud to have served his country. He served in the United States Navy from 1945 to 1946.
Most World War II veterans are now 95 years old and older. We can learn so much from their sacrifice for their country and how we should be proud of who we are and what our country stands for because we are all Americans.