One family legend says that Reginald Nicholas always felt the warrior spirit within him as a child. To continue on his ancestors’ path, he had to become a warrior.
“Reggie felt the best way to do that was the Marines,” said John Nicholas, Reginald’s nephew. “He joined the Marines right out of high school.”
Carmelle Jackson, John Nicholas’ aunt and Reginald’s older sister, disagrees about her brother’s preoccupation with the warrior spirit.
“He was the last person in our family I thought would join the Marines and go to Vietnam,” Jackson said. “He was too gentle to be a Marine.”
The fading of time may have contributed to the different memories of Nicholas, who died with 12 other Marines in an ambush on Oct. 3, 1965. He was the first soldier from the Twin Cities to die in the Vietnam War.
While Reginald Nicholas’ name is forever memorialized on the second panel of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., George DeCastro is striving 50 years later to preserve the legacy of Nicholas, along with the 58,300 other names etched on the wall, and to prevent them from fading into obscurity.
DeCastro is the coordinator of the Wall of Faces project, which is seeking to collect at least one photo for each name on the black granite wall. Among the missing pictures was Nicholas, until the Sun Journal tracked down his family members in Arizona and Oregon last week.
The Sun Journal also located the family of Charles Soule, a Lewiston soldier who died Feb. 8, 1971.
The Wall of Faces project is still missing the photos of 89 Maine service members whose names are carved on the memorial. That list includes six from Androscoggin County, four from Franklin County and eight from Oxford County.
The project began in 2001 when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund started its photo campaign. The numbers grew slowly, but DeCastro, who has served as the Faces Never Forgotten program coordinator for a little more than a year, has overseen the addition of more than 10,000 pictures.
The group has collected photos for 42,000 of the 58,300 names on the wall.
“It hadn’t really caught a whole lot of steam until the last two years,” DeCastro said.
In addition to getting posted on the organization’s website at www.vvmf.org, the photos will become the featured exhibit on a video wall inside an education center that will be built across the street from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C.
Funded by private donations, construction of the education center is expected to begin in 2019, DeCastro said.
That gives DeCastro another four years to try to track down the remaining 16,000 photos.
“One hundred percent is the goal, but there are surely those that you’ll never find a photo for, which is very sad,” DeCastro said. “We’re just going to keep going until the curve gets as close as we can to 100 percent.”
One state at 100 percent is Wisconsin, whose state-wide effort found photos for every one of its veterans on the wall.
DeCastro is not aware of any such concerted effort in Maine to track down the remaining 89 photos. But the additions of Reginald Nicholas and Charles Soule serve as bookends for the Twin Cities. While Nicholas was the first, Soule was the last person from the Twin Cities killed in action in Vietnam.
According to his older sister, Linda Nadeau of Poland, Soule was a quiet and shy boy who dropped out of school after attending Jordan Junior High School in Lewiston. After getting in some sort of trouble, authorities offered him a deal to go into the service.
He joined the Army.
“He went to Germany first and did very well,” Nadeau said. “When he was sent to Vietnam, he was glad to go. He wanted to go. He was searching for who he was. That generation, we all were.”
Before he went to Vietnam, Soule had the wherewithal to take out a life insurance policy on himself and give it to his parents.
“He did tell my parents before he left that ‘the chances are, I won’t come back. I want you to have this.’ They bought a home with the money.”
A member of the 57th Transportation Company, Soule worked as a heavy truck operator. On Feb. 8, 1971, Soule was scheduled to ride in the 23rd truck in a convoy, but switched at the last minute to the first truck to ride with his best friend, Nadeau said.
A mortar struck the first truck and Soule was the only person on the truck who was killed.
Nadeau recalled the military funeral that was held for her brother, who was 19 when he died. She said the Army sent a couple of young soldiers to Lewiston for the ceremony, which included a march up Main Street to Riverside Cemetery.
Soule’s fellow soldiers named their battalion base after their dead comrade, Nadeau said.
While Soule was a teenager when he died, Nicholas was a 10-year veteran of the Marine Corps before heading to Vietnam. His best friend, Louis Jean, agrees with Carmelle Jackson that Nicholas had a gentle side, but his Maliseet Indian background defined him.
“He wanted to be a Marine,” Jean said. “He was a John Wayne kind of guy.”
Nicholas’ ability for stealth was legendary, Jean said. His nephew, John Nicholas, recalled this as well, saying that Jean “gave Reggie the nickname, ‘He Who Moves Silently,’ because he could walk through a forest and you wouldn’t know he was there until he tapped you on the shoulder.”
A Quebec native, Nicholas was living in Coburn Gore before moving to Auburn to live with Jean’s family. He and Jean were like brothers.
Jackson, two years older than Nicholas, signed the enlistment papers that allowed him to join the Marines, while Jean joined the Air Force. Nicholas rose to the rank of sergeant.
He met his wife while he was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone and they adopted a son.
The first combat troops to arrive in Vietnam were Nicholas’ 3rd Marine Division, sent by President Johnson to protect the U.S. Airbase at Danang. On Oct. 3, 1965, the platoon was ambushed while on patrol. Nicholas and 12 of his fellow Marines were killed.
Based in San Diego at the time, Nicholas is buried in Oceanside, Calif.
“He was a very, very good man,” Jackson said.
Area soldiers missing a photo who are listed on Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall:
Harold Breton, Lewiston
Normand Deschaine, Lewiston
Morris Gagnon, North Leeds
Roland Guerette, Lewiston
Richard Rossignol, Lewiston
Harold Walker Jr., Auburn
Larry Faulkner, Chisolm
David Lane, Jay
Gary Manchester, Farmington
James McKechnie, W. Farmington
Robert Foster, South Paris
Roger Gallant, Mexico
Chester Hopkins, West Paris
Colin Hurd, Lovell
Neil MacKillop, Bryant Pond
Laurence Millett, Norway
George Reynolds Jr., Paris
Alonzo Wight, Newry
How to submit a photo:
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is attempting to locate a photo for every name listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Photos can either be mailed or digitally uploaded to the organization’s website, www.vvmf.org. If mailing a photo, please do not send an original as the organization cannot guarantee its return.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund
Attn: Faces Never Forgotten
2600 Virginia Ave. NW Suite 104
Washington, D.C. 20037