Submitted by: Gary Hawhee
I want to tell you about my friend Wayne Nichols, a WWII hero. Wayne was just 17 when the landing craft he was on, along with a contingent of over 200 Marines, was involved in the battle for Iwo Jima. The Japanese ambushed the landing craft and Wayne was one of only 13 survivors. All the Marines and most of the crew of the landing craft were killed. Wayne served the rest of his enlistment in the Navy aboard USS Iowa, a magnificent battleship with hard wood decks and humongous guns. Wayne attained the rank of bosun's mate first class, a rank that wasn't easy to earn since the chief bosun's mate was an impossible task-master.
Wayne was practically on his deathbed when he came into my life. The manager of the assisted living facility (called Heritage Court at the time, now Pine Acres in West Des Moines, Iowa) wheeled Wayne into my room and introduced us. We hit it off right away since we both had been sailor boys. We reminisced about our experiences in the Navy for hours, even though Wayne was in WWII and I was part of the Korean conflict. The common thread was our experiences in the Navy.
Wayne brightened up and we could tell he had something to live for again. Because of our reminiscing and tales of our service in the Navy, Wayne lived two more years and he had a smile on his face most of the time.
Wayne was 96 when he died April 26, 2022. He wanted to live to be 100 years old, at which time he wanted to buy six kegs of beer and in his words, "have a hell of a party." The problem with that was all his shipmates had already died.
I'll miss you, old shipmate, may you sail on smooth seas there in heaven.
Submitted by Gary Hawhee, American Legion Post 164, Bedford, Iowa
About the author:
Gary Hawhee is a 91-year-old veteran of the Korean War. At age 90 he published his first book titled "Adventures Before We Were Twelve." It shares stories of his childhood growing up on an Iowa farm. The book ends on Dec. 7, 1941; the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place 44 days before his 12th birthday. Gary Hawhee is on the left in this photo and Wayne Nichols is on the right.