Paul Greenberg

The formal words of the official citation, marching across the printed page as if in full review, tell of what he did one endless day in Vietnam:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. S/Sgt. Bacon distinguished himself while serving as a squad leader with the 1st Platoon, Company B, during an operation west of Tam Ky. When Company B came under fire from an enemy bunker line to the front, S/Sgt. Bacon quickly organized his men and led them forward in an assault. He advanced on a hostile bunker and destroyed it with grenades. As he did so, several fellow soldiers including the 1st Platoon leader, were struck by machine gun fire and fell wounded in an exposed position forward of the rest of the platoon. S/Sgt. Bacon immediately assumed command of the platoon and assaulted the hostile gun position, finally killing the enemy gun crew in a single-handed effort.

"When the 3d Platoon moved to S/Sgt. Bacon's location, its leader was also wounded. Without hesitation S/Sgt. Bacon took charge of the additional platoon and continued the fight. In the ensuing action he personally killed 4 more enemy soldiers and silenced an antitank weapon. Under his leadership and example, the members of both platoons accepted his authority without question. Continuing to ignore the intense hostile fire, he climbed up on the exposed deck of a tank and directed fire into the enemy position while several wounded men were evacuated.

"As a result of S/Sgt. Bacon's extraordinary efforts, his company was able to move forward, eliminate the enemy positions, and rescue the men trapped to the front. S/Sgt. Bacon's bravery at the risk of his life was in the highest traditions of the military service and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army."

When pressed, Nick Bacon would tell the story of that day -- August 26, 1968 -- in his own way:

"I got my boot heel shot off, I got holes in my canteens, I got my rifle grip shot up. I got shrapnel holes in my camouflage covers, and bullets in my pot. A bullet creased the edge of it, tore the lining off."

Sergeant Bacon also got the Medal of Honor, presented at the White House in 1969, in addition to his other decorations, among them the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. After two tours in Vietnam (he tried for a third but was turned down) he would retire from active duty in 1984 with the rank of first sergeant.

First Sergeant Bacon, first in more ways than one, would go on to serve more than a decade as his state's director of Veterans Affairs. Anything and everything he could do for his old comrades-in-arms, and those to come, he did. He was not just the face of Veterans Affairs in Arkansas, but its embodiment.

Some men are tested by one single, exhilarating day lived at high pitch, others over the course of a lifetime of day-in, day-out service to others. Nick Bacon passed both tests, excelled at them, yet somehow remained just Nick Bacon, whom everyone loved.

In the end, what needs to be said, and isn't often enough, is simply:

Thank you for your service.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


 


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