By CAROL FERGUSON
His award took 60 years to get here, but Dr. James Nicholson, Greenville physician, was notified last week by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus that he has been awarded the Silver Star medal “for gallantry in action on 22 April 1951.”
Nicholson served as a Browning Automatic Rifleman, G Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division during the Korean War
The citation reads: “During the late evening hours, Corporal (then Private First Class) Nicholson’s fire team came under intense enemy fire by a numerically superior enemy force. Despite being surrounded, Corporal Nicholson and his team courageously applied suppressive fire against the enemy, resulting in numerous enemy casualties. Although equipped with a malfunctioning weapon, he advanced under furious enemy automatic weapons fire and hand grenades to retrieve a seriously wounded Marine. Corporal Nicholson’s outstanding courage and daring initiative was a constant source of inspiration to his fire team, squad, and platoon. His determination and daring, despite overwhelming enemy fire, directly resulted in the return of a seriously wounded Marine to a safe area and the ability of his platoon to hold the high ground in the face of superior enemy numbers. Corporal Nicholson was personally responsible for drawing the fire of and destroying a particularly effective enemy machine gun with fire from his Browning Automatic Rifle. By his selfless determination, daring initiative, and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Nicholson reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”
Nicholson said that following the action described in the citation, his platoon leader had told him “he was giving me the Silver Star. The guys who heard him presumed I got it, and the last thing I was thinking about was a piece of paper.”
In the commotion of battle, the recommendation for the award was never forwarded to the proper authorities.
Years later Dr. Joe Webber of Texas A&M University-Commerce, a friend and former Marine himself (although from a different time), was in San Diego where he met some buddies of Nicholson from the 1st Marine Division, George Company. The men were attending a 46-year reunion, and in an exchange of stories, Webber learned that Nicholson was entitled to a Silver Star but had never received it.
Nicholson himself had not pursued the issue, but he said Webber “took it as a life mission” to get the affidavits necessary for the citation to be approved.
Webber secured affidavits from all the survivors who described Nicholson’s actions in detail, and he was even able to locate the platoon officer in question.
Initially Webber was informed by the government that such an award was not possible after so many years, but as Nicholson said, “Dr. Webber pounded on the door and made himself a nuisance” until the citation was approved.
On learning of the award, Nicholson said, “I was in disbelief that Dr. Webber had finally overcome a bureaucracy, and I feel deep gratitude to all my buddies who were eyewitnesses and for all the affidavits they filled out and for their perseverance.”
A date for a formal presentation of the Silver Star medal has not yet been set, but Nicholson said it will probably be sometime in August.
Six months after the action described in his citation, Nicholson was severely wounded in the back and was flown out of the battle zone by helicopter. In what seems to be almost a repeat of bureaucratic entanglements, he was never awarded a Purple Heart.
Nicholson said he was married and well into medical school when his wife, Wanda, questioned why he did not have the medal as did others who had been wounded. Convinced that this oversight should be corrected, she wrote a letter pointing out the error, and he eventually received the medal.
“It took it seven years to catch up to me,” Nicholson said, chuckling.
So now through the efforts and concern of Marine friends and his own family, James Nicholson who didn’t want to make a fuss about it himself, finally has the awards he so richly deserves.
As the Marines say to one another, “Semper fi.”