Nick Daniel (Nicky) Bacon (1945–2010)
Nick Daniel Bacon stands as one of three people connected to Arkansas to have received the Medal of Honor for actions in the Vietnam War. In addition, Bacon served for more than a decade as the director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, championing many programs for Arkansas’s veterans and playing an instrumental part in the erection of a memorial honoring all of Arkansas’s Medal of Honor recipients.
Nicky Bacon was born on November 25, 1945, in Caraway (Craighead County), one of eight children. In the early 1950s, his financially struggling family moved to Arizona.
Bacon dropped out of high school after the ninth grade to work but was inspired to do something else by his uncle’s tales of World War II. Despite being too young, he joined the U.S. Army in 1963. Bacon never got his mother’s permission but instead overcame the age requirement by forging her name on the enlistment papers. He began his career with the Arizona National Guard after completing basic training. In 1964, he went on active duty and volunteered to serve in Vietnam. Bacon served with the Eighth Infantry Division in Germany prior to going to Vietnam.
He received orders for Vietnam in early 1966, and his first tour of duty in Vietnam ended in 1967. After returning from Vietnam, Bacon was sent to Hawaii to train soldiers preparing to deploy to Vietnam again in 1967. Bacon, now a staff sergeant, did not have to return to Vietnam but chose to return as a squad leader with the men he had trained.
On August 26, 1968, Bacon’s company was returning to its base in Vietnam after a month of fighting in the jungles. The company was expecting a recuperation period but instead was ordered to board helicopters to help members of the First Cavalry Division, which was being attacked by North Vietnamese forces near Tam Ky, South Vietnam.
As Bacon’s company arrived, a North Vietnamese regiment that was hiding on a nearby hillside began to fire upon the Americans. Bacon and his men began an assault toward the North Vietnamese forces. Bacon used grenades to destroy an enemy bunker. Almost immediately, the platoon commander and several others were wounded by enemy fire. Bacon assumed command of the platoon and evacuated the wounded officer to an armored personnel carrier before returning to destroy the machine gun that wounded his commander and fellow soldiers. Bacon assumed command of yet another platoon when that platoon’s commander also went down. Heavy fire from the North Vietnamese held off American tanks from reaching the Americans needing to be evacuated. Bacon killed four enemy soldiers and destroyed an anti-tank weapon, which allowed American tanks to move forward. Bacon climbed aboard a tank and directed fire against enemy forces while the wounded were being evacuated.
Several weeks after the fighting near Tam Ky, Bacon was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Because of his extraordinary actions, Bacon also received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon on November 24, 1969. After receiving the Medal of Honor, Bacon attempted to return to Vietnam a third time but was denied because recipients were not supposed to return to war zones.
Bacon retired as a first sergeant after a twenty-one-year career in the U.S. Army. After retiring, Bacon went to work for the regional office of Veterans Affairs in Phoenix, Arizona. In April 1993, he became the director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs. While in this position, he organized a memorial honoring all of Arkansas’s Medal of Honor recipients, which was erected on the Arkansas State Capitol grounds. Bacon retired in February 2005 and resided in Rose Bud (White County), with his wife, Tamara, and their children (he also had a son from an earlier relationship) until his death on July 17, 2010.
For additional information:
Collier, Peter. Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor beyond the Call of Duty. New York: Artisan, 2003.
“Interview with Nick Bacon.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress. http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.89608/transcript?ID=mv0001 (accessed March 9, 2022).
Proft, R. J. (Bob). United States of America’s Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients and Their Official Citations. Columbia Heights, MN: Highland House II, 1997.
Little Rock, Arkansas
I had occasion to meet and know Nicky in 1970 at Ft. Hood. I would drop by, with another vet, to have a brew and watch sports. Nick was a proud, honorable, and humorous man whose company I enjoyed. RIP, soldier!
Nicky Daniel Bacon and I have a son, William Leon Bacon Tonihka, born February 13, 1965. We lived in Glendale, Arizona, with Nicky’s mom, Gramma Gene, and dad, Johno. We moved to Oregon until we came back to Arizona for our son to be born in Phoenix. I lived the Vietnam nightmare with Nicky until he came back in 1969. I find it odd that every story told about Nicky never tells of his life during Vietnam or how twenty-eight boys from Surprise, Arizona, left school to enlist. Or of the trials we went through and the horror or the toll the war presented us with. No one knew Nicky like I knew him. We were together from 1963 until 1970 but remained best friends until he lost his battle with cancer. He did three tours and it seemed so unfair that just when we planned a wedding, he was called up again. I did get to go on R&R, but it seemed like overnight. I attended his service and was so touched to see so much love, honor, and respect. This is long overdue. When he was going to an honoring ceremony, he would call and tell me he was doing this for the heroes in the cemetery. I was there through the nightmares for many dark nights, but someday that is my story to write. I continue to lift up veterans through doing what I can. He was a great man.
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