Simply put, Bob Nichols represents The Greatest Generation in admirable fashion. The World War II veteran served his country from 1944 to 1946 in the US Navy aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) in the South Pacific Theater. At 93 years of age, he is extremely kind, gracious, tremendously fit and carries himself with immense humility.
After basic training at Fort Sampson in New York, Seaman Nichols was sent to Newport, Rhode Island, for training, then to Norfolk, Virginia, for a “shakedown” cruise, then on to Trinidad. His brand-new ship, the USS Missouri, which would go on to earn three Battle Stars for bombardments during the war. “We were Task Force 38 and 58, and provided cover for the carriers, 2,700 men on board. I was a gunner on the starboard side of the ship. That’s where all the action was,” he remembered.
Seaman Nichols showed me powerful mementos he has from a kamikaze attack on his ship on April 11, 1945. “That’s part of [his] windshield (tiny remnants of blood are still visible) and fuselage,” he said as he laid them on the table. “Our ship saw a lot of action. We were constantly under attack, sometimes for 12 hours straight,” he recalled. “The five-inch guns would open up, then the 40s, when the 20s opened. You knew the kamikazes were almost on your ship,” he said.
Seaman Nichols described the holidays as “kind of lonely. We had USO shows, movies on the fantail of the ship. I saw Bob Hope perform. I was actually on leave in October of 1944 and got Bela Lugosi’s (famous for his role portraying Dracula) autograph on a train. Still have it,” he said proudly. When asked about a mentor, Seaman Nichols said without hesitation, “My brother-in-law Bruno. He was a motor machinist in the Seabees. He was the size of John Wayne. He was my godfather. We pulled into Guam and he came on the ship and said he heard we were sunk three times.”
When asked if he was ever afraid during the constant attacks he said, “Not too afraid. I always knew my mates would protect me,” adding with a laugh, “We had life jackets that kept you afloat for 48 hours. After that you sunk. I didn’t know that back then.”
Seaman Nichols was on duty on September 2, 1945, and about 100 feet away from the signing of the Japanese surrender that ended World War II. “I saw all the dignitaries and officers filing in. General Wainwright really stood out. He carried himself very straight, dignified with class,” he remembered. (General Jonathan Wainwright spent three years in a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines after the fall of Corregidor).
I asked Seaman Nichols what would have happened if he had seen an enemy plane after the surrender and he didn’t hesitate one second. “I would have taken him out. We didn’t trust ’em one bit,” he said. When asked what it was like to witness such a historic signing Seaman Nichols said, “I didn’t really think much of it at the time. I just wanted to get home as fast as I could.”
He believes there is only one other person alive that served on the Missouri during World War II. “My pal, Ed Buffman...lives in Pennsylvania. He was a gunner’s mate second class. I think we’re the only ones left.”
Seaman Nichols summed up his military service this way: “We were luckier than most of them…the Marines and Army with hand-to-hand combat…the Air Force with all their bombing missions. I felt very fortunate,” he said, adding, “If I had to do it all over again, I would.”
Seaman Bob Nichols, thank you for your service to your great country.
Contact Wayne Soares at email@example.com