Nick Bacon, 64

Nick Bacon, Medal of Honor recipient, dies at 64

Nick Bacon received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for his actions during an ambush near Tam Ky.
Nick Bacon received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for his actions during an ambush near Tam Ky. (2004 Photo By Danny Johnston/ap)
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By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2010

Nick Bacon, who enlisted in the Army at 17 to escape his life as a farm laborer and who went on to receive the nation's highest military decoration for his courage in combat during the Vietnam War, died July 17 of cancer at his home in Rose Bud, Ark. He was 64.

Staff Sgt. Bacon was serving his second tour in Vietnam on Aug. 26, 1968, when he and his unit were ambushed in a hilly area west of Tam Ky. Under intense enemy fire, he destroyed an enemy bunker with hand grenades while his platoon leader was shot and fell wounded on open ground. Staff Sgt. Bacon took charge of the platoon and led its assault, "finally killing the enemy gun crew in a single-handed effort," according to his Medal of Honor citation.

When another platoon leader fell, Staff Sgt. Bacon assumed command of his platoon as well and continued fighting. He killed four more enemy soldiers, destroyed an anti-tank gun and -- despite the ongoing firefight -- climbed onto the exposed deck of a tank to direct the troops.

At one point, he survived a nearby explosion that left him with a concussion. Incredibly, he was not shot.

"I got my boot heel shot off, I got holes in my canteens, I got my rifle grip shot up," he recalled in "Beyond Glory," a 2003 book by Larry Smith of history interviews with Medal of Honor recipients. "I got shrapnel holes in my camouflage covers, and bullets in my pot. A bullet creased the edge of it, tore the lining off."

Staff Sgt. Bacon's efforts allowed several wounded soldiers to be evacuated and led to the rescue of others who were trapped by enemy fire. For his bravery, he received the Medal of Honor in a 1969 ceremony at the White House.

His other military decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Star Medals and a Purple Heart. He retired from active duty in 1984 at the rank of first sergeant.

"As you get older, you would like to think of yourself as tough and that you could still strap it all on and head for the boonies, but you can't do that. Wars are fought by young men," he said in the interview with Smith.

"I was never prouder, I was never in better shape, I was never more sure that I stood for something in my life than I was when I wore the uniform. When I retired, I couldn't replace that."

Nicky Daniel Bacon was born Nov. 25, 1945, in Caraway, Ark. His family lost its farm and moved to Arizona when he was a boy. After his father became ill with polio, he quit high school to support the family by working on farms near Phoenix. At 17, he forged his mother's signature to enlist in the Army.

"I hated picking cotton and that other stuff," he said. "I've done my share of it. And I'll guarantee you one thing: I've never, ever went back to it once I was old enough to hold a man's job."

He chose to retire from the military when he received orders to go to Korea. He was newly married to his second wife and had a young son. "When I was young, it was fun traveling and having new adventures," he told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in 1997. "But I didn't want to start over again with raising a family back home and being halfway around the world myself."

After retiring he settled in Arizona, where he helped with John McCain's 1986 Senate campaign and worked for several years as city manager in Surprise, Ariz. He returned to Arkansas in the early 1990s and in 1993 was appointed director of the state's department of veterans affairs, a position he held until retiring in 2005.

In 2004, he was appointed by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to the Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission, an independent, 13-member panel charged with studying the military's system of compensating veterans for injuries to ensure that it was equitable and fair. The commission issued its final report, which made more than 100 recommendations, in 2007.

1st Sgt. Bacon also served for several years as president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

His first marriage, to the former Sharron Henry, ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Tamera Himmerick Bacon of Rose Bud; two daughters from his first marriage, Kristy DeKort of Kempner, Tex., and Kim Beck of Gatesville, Tex.; three sons from his second marriage, Britt Bacon of Rose Bud, Wyatt Bacon of Russellville, Ark., and Staff Sgt. James Bacon of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; a son from another relationship, William Bacon-Tonihka of Bella Vista, Ark.; four sisters; two brothers; and six grandchildren.

"Did I enjoy combat? Yeah. I enjoyed the game," 1st Sgt. Bacon said in the "Beyond Glory" interview. "I was good at it."

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