Local Vietnam Veteran Shares Hopes For New Veterans Memorial
9 Oct 2020
Bringing a new veterans memorial to Holdrege has a special meaning for former Phelps County Sheriff Thomas Nutt.
At age 19, Tom left his young bride in Western Nebraska to serve on the front lines of the Vietnam War.
“Being a veteran and serving in combat, I think it’s important to remember the history of those who served, especially those who didn’t come home or were injured,” Tom said. “It’s a chance to remember all combat veterans and veterans.”
As a young man coming to age in 1966, Tom knew that he would be drafted for the Vietnam War. So, shortly after he married his wife, Sharon, he volunteered for the U.S. Army.
He left his tiny hometown of Elsie, Nebraska, in early 1967 and boarded a train in Ogallala. They picked up many young men from towns across Nebraska as they traveled to Omaha.
“As soon as we got to Omaha at the reception center, they made it clear that most of us would be going to Vietnam in combat,” he said. “It got pretty real in a hurry.”
After eight weeks of basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and then 12 weeks of infantry training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, the Nebraska boy boarded a plane for the first time in San Diego and took off for a 22-hour flight to Vietnam.
The plane was full of military personnel heading to assignments in Vietnam.
“It was pretty somber,” Tom said. “It was getting pretty real. Everyone knew where we were heading, and we were wondering what it was going to be like.”
In August of 1967, he landed at the replacement center in Vietnam to begin his year-long assignment. The first order of business for this 19-year-old young man was to list his next of kin and create a will. His family would soon include a new baby girl as he discovered shortly after starting boot camp that his wife was pregnant.
He was assigned to the 199th infantry brigade in Long Bin, Vietnam. After one week of training to get acclimated to the climate, his official duty of patrolling the enemy lines began.
On Tom’s second night out, his unit was ambushed. He suffered shrapnel wounds and was medi-vacced back to basecamp for treatment and recovery for two weeks. Then, he was back out in the jungles and swamps. It was a stressful and tense year that included a lot of fighting.
“One minute you were in a demanding terror situation fearing for your life, and the next few minutes are quiet,” he said.
He witnessed many acts of heroism among his fellow 19, 20 and 21-year-old soldiers.
“They have seen some horrific things,” Tom said. “Combat is horrible in itself and to see them hold up for that year was just amazing. A lot of them volunteered, and a lot of them were drafted and didn’t even want to be there. I’m still very impressed with what a lot of the young men did.”
Tom earned the combat infantry badge and the Purple Heart during his year-long service in Vietnam.
He then returned to the United States, only to be met by demonstrators protesting the war. The military police had to escort them out of the airport.
“That was a shock,” Tom said. “It was pretty depressing to a lot of the soldiers coming back.”
Shortly after returning home from Vietnam, Tom applied to the Nebraska State Patrol and was accepted. That job brought him to Holdrege, where he worked in law enforcement for his entire career.
Holdrege’s veterans memorial will “mean a lot to me,” Tom said.
Tom serves as the vice-chairman of the Holdrege Veterans Memorial Committee.
He sees the memorial as being a place to remember and honor military veterans and a place to preserve history and educate future generations.
“The memorial will let people know that we have something here in Holdrege, and we appreciate their service and maybe others will volunteer to go (to the military) because of it,” he said.
The veterans memorial will be built in Holdrege’s South Park (soon to be renamed Veterans Memorial Park). Donors have already pledged $106,000 toward the $200,000 project, and the veterans memorial committee is hoping to get a large boost in donations during the upcoming give2Grow event through the Phelps County Community Foundation on Nov. 19.
Tom said they are hoping for a groundbreaking on the project in May or June of 2021 and for the project to be completed by Veterans Day 2021.
To give to the project or learn more, visit https://www.give2growphelps.org/nonprofits/holdrege-veterans-memorial