Widow, Daughter, Sons Make Tearful Visit to 'The Wall'
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 12, 2000 Jackie Wilson doesn't remember much about her father, who died in Vietnam when she was 7.
But she'll never forget when she was 5 and had double pneumonia and her dad sat at her hospital bedside praying to God to take him instead of her.
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jackie Wilson, left, and her mother, Emilie Nicholson, 73, set up a display of family pictures by the name of Wilson's father, Army Master Sgt. Glenn E. Nicholson, on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Wilson is a member of Sons and Daughters in Touch, which sponsored a Father's Day celebration at the memorial. Photo by Rudi Williams.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"I had a temperature of 106 and the doctors didn't think I'd make it through the night. A little over a year later he was taken in Vietnam," said Wilson, today an Air Force technical sergeant assigned as a paralegal specialist in the 21st Space Wing legal office at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
"I didn't know what death meant at that time," she said. She, her mother and two of her brothers visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington for the Sons and Daughters in Touch Father's Day reunion. "My brother Grant asked me why I wasn't crying. I said because daddy never died before. Grant got angry with me and called me an idiot, slapped me, and yelled, 'Don't you know what death means?' He told me dad's going into the ground; he's not coming home."
Army Master Sgt. Glenn E. Nicholson was a 1st Cavalry Division tank commander in Vietnam. He was in command of a platoon of five tanks and about 40 men when he was killed in action on May 5, 1968, according to his widow, Emilie, 73. He left her and eight children behind. A ninth child died young of pneumonia.
"The youngest child was still in a stroller -- 13 months old. He's 33 now," said widow Nicholson, of Wichita, Kan. "The oldest was 16. The kids reacted terribly when the chaplain came. They just screamed like crazy!"
Jackie Wilson said darkness was all she thought about for a long time. In her mind, her father went to heaven. "I used to look up at the clouds all the time -- still do -- knowing he's still watching us, still taking care of us, making sure I do right from wrong," she said. "He's that little angel on my shoulder."
In addition to the heartache and grief, Nicholson's death exposed his family to various adverse situations.
"Father was the first in our housing area to be killed in Vietnam," the airman noted. "The military gave us 30 days to find a new place to live. My mother was a very strong woman and did a remarkable job at raising eight children by herself."
Nicholson still fights back tears when she recalls the things people said to her after her husband was killed in action. "People said, 'Nobody feels sorry for your husband, because he had no business in Vietnam,'" she said with a quivering voice. "You're already torn to pieces, and people would say things like that to you."
She said raising eight children was tough. She stayed home until the youngest was 12 and then went to work in hospitals. "People always ask me, 'How do you do it?'" she said. "I did it because I had to, or walk away. But my kids were always No. 1."
"It wasn't easy, and neither the military nor civilians made it easy to live in Salina, Kan., after our father was killed," Wilson said. "Being a child of a person who served in Vietnam, whether they're living or dead, you were ostracized. As a child, you were spat on, beat up. You can't forget that. My father was called a baby killer right along with all the other men and women who answered their country's call.
Her father's family would have nothing to do with them because her mother was German, she noted. Being ignored and growing up without a father, grandparents, aunts and uncles was tough, she said. Her mother's family lived thousands of miles away in Germany."
Because of the way her family was treated, Wilson said, she has a special admiration for the men and women who served and their children and grandchildren. "We have to continue to be here for our fathers, brothers, sons, daughters so the American people don't forget," she said.
Wilson said she joined Sons and Daughters in Touch earlier this year after her husband told her about the Father's Day reunion at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"This trip to 'The Wall' is a must," she said. "My goal was to make it to The Wall before I retired, and I wanted my mother to be with me.
"I'd heard about Sons and Daughters in Touch when it first started, but I didn't want to get involved then because my husband and I had orders for Germany," Wilson said. Her husband, Senior Master Sgt. Brian S. Wilson, is with the 721st Security Forces Squadron, Cheyenne Mountain Air Station, Colo. The couple has two children, Kyle Ryan, 14, and Alexandra, 12.
Wilson said being a member of Sons and Daughters in Touch helps her cope with her father's death. "Talking to so many other children makes us know we're not alone," she said. "We giggle at being called 'children' now because we're now all adults."
Wilson is the only sibling with extended military service. She said two brothers tried to serve. Dwight Grant Nicholson spent two years in the Army before injuries from a motorcycle accident led to a medical discharge. Her brother Scott, now 35, enlisted in the Marines, but was also medically discharged after tearing a knee ligament in boot camp.
Grant died of cancer about seven years ago. "The ironic thing is that he was 13 years old when dad was killed in Vietnam at the age of 38. Grant was 38 when he passed away and his son was 13," Wilson said.
She joined the Air Force on Oct. 20, 1980, and plans to retire Nov. 1. "My father always said none of his daughters would serve in the Army because he thought the Army is too tough for women," she said. "I wanted to do something for my father and all the other men and women who gave their lives for our country."
Wilson said she's looking for a post-retirement job, but for a start is looking forward to be a mom for awhile. "I'm going to get up in the morning, make sure my kids get off to school and be there when they get home," she said.