Pin It

Diary of a Grunt 

by Kristina Crawley

He just wanted to get away. In 1962, a Mead High School graduate but also a self-described "18-year-old cast-off," Jim Nichols wasn't much interested in academics. The Air Force seemed like a good fit, so he headed down to the recruiting office, all ready to sign up, but was told he'd have to wait until after lunch. While waiting, he was approached by Army Master Sgt. Ice -- yes, Ice -- a man whose name Nichols hasn't forgotten even after more than 40 years. Sgt. Ice put his arm around the scrawny Nichols, walked him over to the wall and pointed up at a poster of a paratrooper standing, hands on hips, looking full of honor and glory.

"Now you seem like a real man to me," he told the 145-pound Nichols. "Yeah, you're an Army man."

Nichols thought about this for a second, hiked up his pants, puffed up his chest and said in his most manly voice, "You know, I think you're right."

"I bought it hook, line and sinker," he says today, laughing.

That was the day that set it all in motion. He joined up with the 101st Airborne, spent a couple years on duty in the States and then was shipped to Vietnam in July 1965. He was there for a little less than a year but saw more than most of us do in a lifetime. When he was sent home, he started work on a labor of the heart, mind and soul that would be 38 years in the making.

Nichols dedicates his book, Requiem: A Song for the Dead in "The Nam," to "all the grunts that fought and died in the Nam." It's a look at one man's experience in what may be the most controversial war in American history. It was edited by Nichols' 80-year-old mother-in-law, Penny Brugh, who says her senior writers' class helped her build the skills to take on such a daunting task.

As for why he decided to write the book, Nichols says, "Something had to be said."

He had come home, like many, a changed man, disillusioned by much of what he had seen and even more by the lies he says he heard coming from the government.

"I don't believe in the system," he says. "The more I saw of the system, the less I liked it."

Nichols was also hurt by the treatment he received once he returned. When he stepped off the plane, he was greeted by a crowd of angry college students, spitting at him and shouting insults.

"Here these people are blaming me for something I had no control over," he says. "I was more afraid here [than I was there] because I didn't have a weapon."

One of his goals in writing this book was to give people some insight into what it was like for the run-of-the-mill grunt just trying to survive.

"I wanted to take you as a reader and drag you along with me," he says.

Nichols says the book can be especially useful to the wives of Vietnam veterans, who are trying to get a glimpse of what their husbands have been through and why they are the way they are. He says he talks to more women at book signings than to men.

Nichols' wife and unofficial manager, Marvel Brugh-Nichols, agrees. After 11 years of marriage, she says, she still can't fully understand what exactly it is that haunts her husband, who suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. She used to call it his "Hitler routines" when he would break into a rage over minor incidents.

"It isn't anger; it's beyond," she says.

She's packed her bags and left him three times, even choosing to live on the streets for a few days rather than in a house with a man she found so confusing and unpredictable. But the book has helped her gain an appreciation of everything he's been through, and Marvel says it can help others too.

Nichols also recommends it to the families of soldiers who are now fighting in Iraq to help them prepare for when their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers come back. Because "they're going to come back different," Nichols says. "They're not going to be the same people who left."

Publication date: 07/08/04

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • OK, Hold Your Nose
  • OK, Hold Your Nose

    Everything you need to know before Election Day
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • Base of Support
  • Base of Support

    Polling local leaders and opinion-makers about presidential politics
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • The Messenger
  • The Messenger

    Local leaders weigh in on how Donald Trump's campaign has impacted racism in America
    • Sep 22, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
Spokane Artist Trading Card Swap

Spokane Artist Trading Card Swap @ Boots Bakery & Lounge

Last Wednesday of every month

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Kristina Crawley

  • College Roundup

    Eastern Washington University Public Location: Cheney and downtown Spokane Founded: 1882 Student Body: approx. 9,800 School Starts: Sept. 22 Tuition: $1,274 per quarter (in-state); $4,443 per quarter (out-of-state) Phone: (5
    • Aug 26, 2004
  • Beyond the Books

    The college freshman's To Do List: 1. Register for classes; 2. Pick a major and then change major... and then change it again; 3. Find self; 4. Graduate on time; 5. Get job and pay off loans Having so much to accomplish in four short ye
    • Aug 26, 2004
  • Hospice of Spokane

    Some people have a spirit that can't be beaten, no matter what life throws at them. And that certainly describes one elderly woman who, some years back, came under the care of Diane Hermanson, director of social services for Hospice of
    • Aug 5, 2004
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • To Kill the Black Snake

    Historic all-tribes protest at Standing Rock is meant to stop the destruction of the earth for all
    • Sep 8, 2016
  • Murrow's Nightmare

    Debate moderators need to be much more than an onstage prop to make our democracy work
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


trail mix

green zone


Readers also liked…

  • State of Play
  • State of Play

    Medical education and gun safety get hearings in Olympia
    • Feb 11, 2015
  • Trump vs. Jesus
  • Trump vs. Jesus

    Why my conservative Christian parents can't vote for the Republican for president this time
    • Sep 22, 2016

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation