Shaun Illingworth: This begins an interview with John Nugent on October 5, 2011, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, with Shaun Illingworth and ...
Gerald Carlucci: ... Jerry Carlucci.
SI: Mr. Nugent, thanks for coming in today.
John Nugent: My pleasure.
SI: To begin, could you tell us where and when you were born?
JN: Yes, I was born March 10, 1942, in Buffalo, New York.
SI: For the record, please tell me your parents' names.
JN: My father was Paul Michael Nugent and my mother is Mary Rita O'Connell Nugent.
SI: O'Connell is your middle name.
JN: Yes, my mother's maiden name. In the Irish tradition, of my family, anyway, the firstborn, when there is no male heir to carry on the mother's maiden name, gets the mother's maiden name, ... as a middle initial ... or middle name. So, O'Connell is my middle name. My firstborn has it and my second grandchild has it, too. ...
SI: Keeping the tradition alive.
JN: The tradition is alive. The O'Connells are gone, but the name continues on. [laughter]
SI: Beginning with your father, can you tell us a little bit about his family background, if you know of any immigration history on his side of the family, for example?
JN: All right. ... Both [sets] of my great grandparents, so, the grandparents of my parents, ... all four of them, came from Ireland during the Potato Famine in the 1850s. [Editor's Note: A common term for the period of mass starvation and crop shortage in Ireland between 1845 and the 1850s, the Potato Famine left many Irish dead and caused many others to leave for other lands.] My father's parents came from a town called Clonmel, which is in the southeast part of Ireland, and they were farmers there and ended up coming to Richfield Springs, New York, which is just outside of Utica, New York, and they were farmers there. My father was the first one to come off the farm, so-to-speak, because my grandfather continued the farm, a dairy farm in this case, that ... his parents had started. ... So, my father was the first one to go to college and to come off the farm. You want me to go through my mother's side, too? ... We'll stick with my father, okay.
SI: No, let us go to your mother's side.
JN: Okay. My mother's was the same. ... Her grandparents came over from Ireland. They ended up outside of Rochester, New York, in Lima, L-I-M-A. You would think it's pronounced "Lee-ma," but they pronounce it, "Ly-ma," still, to this day, Lima, New York, and they again were farmers. In this case, wheat and corn was what they did. However, my grandfather was the first one to come off the farm, okay, unlike my father being the first one [on his side]. My grandfather on my mom's side was the first one to come off the farm and was really an ultimate entrepreneur. He started the first high school in Lima, he had the first livery, i.e., taxi, in Lima, he started the fire department in Lima. So, he was kind of an entrepreneur and, apparently, was quite successful, and then, my mother was the third to go to college on her side of the family, just like my father was, too.
SI: Did your father's side of the family keep the same farm in the family or did each generation get its own farm?
JN: Yes. During the Depression, my grandfather lost the farm and he ended up being a railroad train scheduler, and then, opening a general store, Nugent's General Store, in Utica, New York, right after the Depression. So, ... they lost the farm, because of debt, I guess, obviously, incurred, that farmers ... always incurred debt in those days. ... My father, who had been paying his own way through college, had to quit college, come home and help the family out during that time. So, the farm was lost and I never ... found out which one was their farm, so, I can't tell you much about it.
SI: Your father came off the farm to go to college.
SI: He went to Syracuse University.
JN: Yes, he went to Syracuse University, paid his own way through. During the Depression, he had to quit to come back and help the family and, as he would tell me when he woke me at eight o'clock, Saturday mornings, "I had to deliver coal and ice during the Great Depression. [laughter] You can get up at eight o'clock Saturday morning." ... Yes, he went to Syracuse University and he took military training there, ROTC there, at Syracuse, and majored in education, and then, became a teacher, right after Syracuse.
SI: In the same area?
JN: He actually went to Lima. So, you know, Utica to Rochester is about forty-five minutes or an hour drive. So, he ended up teaching in Lima High School, which is how he met my mother, who was going to college at the time, from Lima. ... Yes, he went to Syracuse University, paid his own way through, with jobs, waiting in restaurants and delivering coal and ice in the morning, [laughter] and ... was commissioned an officer as well as ... got his education degree, so that he could teach.
SI: I guess, back then, pretty much every commission was infantry, or was there a specialty, another branch he was commissioned into?
JN: Yes, it was Army. He was commissioned in the Army. I don't know whether he chose that or that was the only one that was available at the time. I think it may have been the only one that was available at the time, okay, at Syracuse. I'm not sure the Navy [was there] and, well, the Air Force obviously came out of the Army after World War II. So, I'm not sure the Navy was having ROTC ... training at the time, but ... he went Army, anyway.
SI: Tell us a little bit about your mother. It is very interesting that she went to college at that time. Many women did not even finish high school then.
JN: Exactly, yes. She was the baby of the family, actually. There were six in her family. She was the youngest and was a "oops baby," and was born at home, which I guess most ... in that day and age, in the 1914 era, ... were born at home, as opposed to hospitals. ... Her father had done well enough as an entrepreneur at the time, so that he could afford it, and she, my mother, was an incredibly feisty person, lived to be ninety-four years old and was born as a preemie, a premature baby, and had to fight to live. "I've fought my whole life," she would say, [laughter] but she did go to Nazareth College, which is just outside of Rochester. ... She again, like my dad, majored in education, so that when she graduated, she ... was a teacher as well and met my dad. ... My dad was four years older. He was born in 1910. So, she was still in college when my dad was teaching at Lima High School and my dad was a friend of one of her older brothers, okay. ... She had ... three older brothers, two older sisters. One older brother was a priest in the Catholic Church and two of the brothers, her other two brothers, married, but had no male heirs and her two sisters, one was a teacher as well and the other was a homemaker. ... So, that's how the O'Connell name never continued, you know. There was no heir that came out of that generation. [laughter] So, the O'Connell name ... came down through my side, anyway, but, yes, so, she taught until they married, and then, got married. ... Then, my dad ... went into the Army, had to go on active duty two months before I was born. ... So, then, we would travel around the different spots in the country where he was stationed before he went overseas.
GC: Was education very important to your parents, because both of them went to college?
JN: Yes, good question. Yes, ... both my father and my mother believed--and it's interesting, one of my children, to this day, works in the inner city education system--that the only way to pull oneself up and out of wherever one is is through education. So, there was a lot of pressure put on me to perform well and to get as much education as possible and, interestingly, ... I have a master's, my brother is a lawyer, my sister has a master's as well. So, it was passed on well. So, I took what they thought was important and passed it on to my children as well. All my children have master's degrees and, I'm trying to think, most of my nieces and nephews have, the majority have, advanced degrees as well, or are medical doctors or whatever. So, yes, education became a very important part of getting what you want in life and proving oneself in life. The mind is a great thing, don't waste it.
SI: Your mother's father had been this great entrepreneur. Had he been affected by the Great Depression?
JN: Not that [I know]. You know, I guess the answer is no. ... I mean, I think what he did is, he started a cemetery or he became an undertaker during the Depression. So, some of the things closed down, so that, yes, I'm sure there was pressure on him in some of it, but, like he said, "Everyone's a customer." Now, I never met him, okay, but this was what, you know, the joke was. He had a pretty decent sense of humor. ... He became an undertaker or he opened an undertaking business during the Depression, which was a way to get more income, given that his livery would have shut down and I guess the school, you know, ... had been taken over by the state or whatever. So, he needed another source of income, and so, the answer is, I'm sure, yes, what he did was open other businesses, okay, to keep the income going. ... You know, in those days, I think he died, you know, in his forties, late forties, ... if you lived into your fifties at the turn of the century, you were an old person, okay, just because lifespans weren't as long as they are today.
SI: You were the oldest in your family, correct?
SI: You basically spent your early years--you probably do not remember this--following your father as he advanced in his military career.
JN: Well, okay, just for clarification, he did get out in '45, of the military, and was on Reserve status, okay. So, he was what was National Guard duty now. It was called the Reserves back then. So, he did have a civilian job, but through '45--so, I was born in '42--through '45, for the first three years, we would follow him around. He was out in Kansas, he was in Maryland, he was at Camp Drum in New York, which is by Buffalo, New York--why I was born in Buffalo. ... He went overseas in November of '44, so, like, five months after D-Day, and did get into Eastern Europe, did see one of the concentration camps that the Germans had. [He] talked about that one time, only very brief discussions we had about that, but was in Paris in '45 to set up the educational system, because that was his strength, teaching and education, and then, returned at the end of '45. So, I really only followed him around for the first few [years]. ...
SI: Yes, that was what I meant, during World War II.
JN: During for the first two years of his [Army] life, and then, he had a civilian job in the Veterans Administration, as it turned out, in education, for his civilian job, and then, he kept his military going in the Reserves, which was one night a month and two weeks during the summer for camp. That's how they did it, which gave me--I'm jumping ahead--which gave me a very positive orientation, frankly, towards the military. I liked the discipline and the spit-and-polish ... of the military and would have considered it [the military] a career had I not had different opportunities than he did. [laughter]
SI: In his postings in Kansas and Maryland and Fort Drum, were his duties also education oriented?
JN: They were more staff. He was in operations. So, when he went in, he was a captain. I guess, [due to] time-in-grade or time between graduation and going on active duty, he'd become a captain, and he never saw combat per se, but was ... in operations. Every battalion or brigade has a staff that plans marches, that plans battles, etc., and he was a staff person in the G-3 or the S-3, depending on the level of the brigade or the regiment. So, he was in a staff position. Thank God, otherwise, you know, who knows? I might not--well, no, I would have been here, [laughter] because I was born before he went over. So, he was in a staff position as opposed to combat.
SI: Do you know if your mother worked at all during this time, if she found teaching positions in these areas?
JN: She did initially, before I came along, and then, after I came along, no, is my understanding, because she did move with him and that was, you know, I guess, too much of a full-time job or it wasn't long enough in any one place the first two years. Then, while he was in the military, we went back to be with her family in Lima, New York, outside of Rochester, and then, when he got out, we met him back at Fort Benning. ... He was, like, fourteen months over in Europe, unlike many who had three years or plus, you know, over there, from '42, I guess '42 to '45. ... There were three years that a lot of guys had. He was just there fourteen months, and then, we met him back at Fort Benning for three or four months ... until he left the military, okay, active duty, left active duty and went inactive.
SI: Do you have early memories of this period? Do you remember, for example, seeing your father again, after he had been overseas for so long?
JN: No, although I'm told, the first time I did see him, I cried, because he was a big guy and had a deep voice and it was gruff and [he] expected me to get out and salute him or something, I don't know. So, my mother used to tell the story about [how] the first time ... he saw me, I was screaming and yelling at him. He scared the hell out of me, [laughter] but ... no early memories, one way or the other, of my dad at that point.
SI: When you reached the age of being aware of things, were you then living in Lima?
JN: Yes. I guess, you know, one of my earliest memories, ... we moved to Tenafly, New Jersey, when I was four, okay, so, that's kind of what I remember. The only thing I remember from Lima is that we didn't have a ton of money, so, the refrigerator, during the winter, was in a door. We had eggshell crates and we would put the milk and butter, because it was cold outside, in there, and then, you'd close the door. ... That was our refrigerator. [laughter] ... I can remember that being strange. My mother says ... she isn't sure my memory's correct on that, but I do remember that. I do remember being in a driveway, semi-gravel driveway, and a rooster, ... as it turned out, was jumping over me or pecking at me, because I was tackling the rooster or something. So, I was two years old and my mother came screaming down the driveway. I'm not sure [what] Freud, maybe, would say; I'm not sure what he would say what those two memories are about. [laughter] ... So, I mean, those are the only earliest memories, I guess, I have, is of a rooster attacking me and of a refrigerator. We would keep butter and milk in egg crates, just outside our door or outside the kitchen door. So, that's how we [did it], during the winter, ... for whatever that's worth.
SI: Your father's job in the VA prompted the family's move to Tenafly.
JN: Yes. He was with the Veterans Administration in New York City--golly, '40s, '50s--for twenty years, because we didn't move to Summit, New Jersey, until 1959. So, we moved in '46 to Tenafly. So, from '46 to '59, he was with the Veterans Administration in New York City and ended up running the office, the Veterans Administration office in New York City. Then, they opened up one in Newark and he was transferred to Newark, which is why we moved from Tenafly to Summit, to be closer to his work, and he managed that until, well, through the '60s and '70s. So, '59--I'm trying to think, he passed away in '87--so, through ... the '60s and '70s, and I can remember, you know, his office was taken over by demonstrators against the Vietnam War. So, his whole objective, he would tell me, in those days, was to keep it out of the six o'clock news, okay. So, "Keep the demonstrators talking and don't let the cameras come in or anything," so [that] he could stay away from the news. ... So, we were in Tenafly while he was in New York, and then, we moved to Summit, New Jersey, when he moved to Newark, from New York to Newark.
SI: You said he was in the educational part of the VA. Was he training returning soldiers?
JN: Yes, the GI Bill, helping set that up, getting the returning GIs education after World War II, because the GI Bill was instrumental in educating, really, that generation, and then, developing new programs. Vietnam vets also had education available to them. So, he continued that and providing services for the veterans, ... primarily in the education area. His last twenty, twenty-five years, he was managing offices, so, he was really out of the education [portion]. It was all services. The hospitals in New Jersey would report in to him. He was always upset that we didn't have the best care that he thought we could possibly get for veterans. Well, he wanted to make sure we always did and was unhappy that he couldn't always achieve, maybe, the level of success he wanted in care for veterans when they returned. ... Veterans Administration, you know, homes for the wounded, for the aged, there used to be a lot more of them in those days than there are now, and then, the hospitals. So, a lot of that came in under him, in the last ten, fifteen, twenty years.
SI: I wanted to ask, did that shape the way you viewed how veterans should be treated and how veterans' benefits should be administered?
JN: It wasn't so much [that]. I was raised [Catholic] and I had eight years of Catholic nuns, and then, eight years of Jesuits--so, I was really screwed up by the time I got out of college [laughter]--but, you know, as mankind should be treated, ... that was an aspect of giving back ... to people. All people should be treated well. The military, I've always been partial to, because my dad was in it and I saw it present all the time growing up and they went above and beyond in many ways, because veterans were willing to give their lives. ... So, we owed them, as citizens, more than maybe we owed others, but that all people really should have been treated fairly. I mean, ... I wasn't so focused on just military ... veterans being treated well, but, because they had done more than the average person, average citizen, they should be treated well, of course, but, also, all people should, you know, whether they're black or minorities, whatever, okay, should be treated well.
GC: Did your father or your mother tell you any stories about when your father was overseas in Europe?
JN: No. ... My father and I never really [talked]. ... One of the things I learned--I'll try to be positive here--one of the things I learned from my father is that I should be a good communicator with my children, I should be a friend with my children, I should be less "the General." My dad ended up a brigadier general in the Reserves, okay, and ran the family like a brigadier general, okay, so that the closeness and the communication with my father wasn't there that I have with my children. Okay, you always have to be the father of your children, but you want to be friends with them, so that they can communicate with you. ... I'm close with my kids now, my three kids. With my dad, there wasn't that communication ease, the facility of sitting down over a beer or anything. ... It just wasn't the way we related. So, I rarely had conversations with him. The only conversation my dad had with me about Vietnam was when my mom and dad picked me up at the airport. My wife had flown out to San Francisco to meet me, and then, we flew to Newark and my dad and mom picked me up there. ... I was at the baggage, luggage rack, to pick up my luggage and he came up to me and he said, "Are you okay?" and so, I said, "Yes, I'm fine." He said, "Good." [laughter] That was the sum total of the emotional bonding. ... So, we didn't discuss war. ... He mentioned, one time, ... that he had been [in], he had seen--it wasn't Buchenwald, I don't remember whether he even mentioned it--but that he had seen [a concentration camp]. What he had said was, "It was so right that Eisenhower made sure that photographs were taken of the camps, because even Eisenhower said, 'People will try to deny this. It is such a horrible situation,'" and my father said, "It's a good thing we did have a living record, a photographic record, of the horrors that went on, because of what I saw." That was it. That was a glance, you know, that he passed by. ... I was on a business trip one time and I was in Luxemburg and I talked to him about where I had been when I returned from my business trip and he said, "I was there during the war." So, I think that was the second time we communicated, [laughter] and that was the sum total of it. So, no, there wasn't an exchange, an appreciation, a discussion of what he did. ... My sister, who was between my brother and me--I'm the oldest, then, my sister, then, my brother, and she's six years younger, my brother's eleven years younger--my sister found out more. So, maybe it's the "daddy-daughter" connection, ... just the two. [laughter] My brother and I always kid around about how favored my sister was and how my brother and I always had trouble with my father and, you know, he was stern with us and all this good stuff. So, my sister, now, when we get together, she says, "Oh, you guys, you know, grow up. Get over it, you know." [laughter] So, no, I mean, I'd say there was no communication or discussions about what he did in the war or whatever.
SI: From interviewing others, particularly Irish Catholics, but in many communities, the father is an authoritarian figure and the "children are to be seen, not heard" sort of thing is very common.
SI: Not that it was an Irish tradition, but were there other aspects of Irish Catholic heritage passed down into your family, traditions, aspects of holiday celebrations?
JN: Yes, I'm trying [to think]; that's a good question. ... You know, the Mass was really important and, when the Catholic Church went from Latin to English, my father resisted, still said his rosary and didn't want to participate, would not sing. I mean, that was the old-fashioned, traditional way of Mass, but religion was important in the family. Family was important. My uncles--and it was interesting, not so much his family, which was in Upstate New York, still in the Utica area--but my mother had a sister in Teaneck, New Jersey, which was forty-five minutes from Tenafly, and a brother and an uncle in New York City. So, at holidays, they came all the time; so, family during ... holidays, which might be more American than Irish, but that was important. I think the key was, ... what was more overriding than the Irish Catholic traditions, was the "brigadier general" running of the household and how, you know, my mother had a budget and my father would do the shopping and, you know, we all had chores on the weekend. ... [laughter] Really, it was a well-run military operation. So, that was more the influence, ... although I can remember, his father would sit in the kitchen of their house; they lived above another family, and so, it was in Utica, New York, this was. ... They lived on the second floor and his oldest child lived on the first floor and he would sit in the kitchen, on, literally, a pedestal, in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth, surveying the hearth, okay, you know, because that was where the life of the family was--in the kitchen. His wife he would call "Mud," which I thought, with one of my cousins, was horrible, [laughter] because, you know, how can you call the woman you live with "Mud?" You know, PS, one of the children had called her "Mudder" and couldn't say mother, said "Mudder." So, it was a term of endearment. "Mud" was short for "Mudder," which was a mispronunciation of mother. Well, we didn't know that and he was just an intimidating, huge figure. He would have his pipe and he had this Prince Albert metal, little box of matches, stick matches, on the wall, and he'd take one out and he'd light his pipe. ... My cousin and I would try to run by him, because he would try to grab us. Now, he was ... probably trying to be fun, you know, have fun with us--we were scared of him, okay--but it was that kind of ... "the big grandfather dominating the hearth," is sort of like the way my father was in the household. ... We all had to clean up. When he was getting ready to come home, you know, we had to clean up the house and everything, because, "Dad's coming home." My mother never went so far as, "Wait until your father comes home," because she was feisty enough to discipline us by herself. ... That was the dominant influence, was the way he ran his house, as opposed to an Irish Catholic traditional [basis]. You know, we have more of it [now]. ... St. Patrick's Day, we celebrate, and family and church is important, in my family.
SI: You mentioned that your father would go on these deployments for two weeks a year and on weekends. Was he ever able to bring the family to these places?
JN: ... No. I remember, Camp Drum is where he would generally go, or, sometimes, Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in Pennsylvania. He'd be gone for the two weeks in the summer, every summer, two-week summer camp, for training purposes for the Guard or for the Reserves. No, we never went. I never went during his one night a month that he would have his Reserve obligation. ... He did his own thing. ... I don't think he was excluding us, it was just [his thing]. ... I went to high school in New York City, from Tenafly, so, that was always a busy time period for me and, you know, I didn't have much time. So, no, he did his own thing. I'd see him in the uniform. ... I liked this polish and the discipline in that, so that I took ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] in college.
SI: Was there any fear that he would be recalled to active duty during the Korean War or at any other period?
JN: Yes, good question. Probably, I'm sure there was. It never manifested itself. It was kept from us in the '50s. What, Korea was '53? I guess it was, right?
SI: Yes, 1950 to 1953.
JN: Yes, '53, it was over, so, the early '50s. So, I would have been, yes, ten years old. So, it was kept from us, if it was. You know, in those days, my brother and I would have said, "Good, get rid of him, you know, [laughter] so that we can have it easier at home," don't have to have all this discipline, spit-and-polish and do all our ... weekend jobs that we had. So, no, it was kept between my mother and father and I'm not sure, at ten years of age, I was aware enough of the situation to have thought about it, okay.
SI: We want to ask a little bit about growing up in Tenafly, and then, later, Summit. I know you have some questions about that, Jerry.
JC: Can you describe the neighborhood? Was it a big Irish Catholic neighborhood or more suburban at the time?
JN: Yes. In Tenafly, we lived on the wrong side of the tracks. ... I had two siblings and mother, father, so, there were five of us in a three-bedroom house with one bathroom. ... The only reason I remember that is, on Christmas morning, my father would always sleep in and I'd go flush the one bathroom toilet all the time, to try and wake him up, okay. We never lacked anything, especially since we had all the love you need growing up in a family, but, you know, my bikes were second-hand bikes and repainted bikes growing up. So, we were on the wrong side of the town. We never had a ton of money. The VA didn't pay big bucks in those days, ... but, as I said, I had nuns in grammar school. You know, the Good Lord is good, I was bright, although Margaret Rainey always beat me out for first place in seventh and eighth grade, not that I remember that or resent it too much, [laughter] but I never would--my wife wanted to call our daughter, if we had had one early on, Margaret, and I wouldn't, because Margaret was the name of Margaret Rainey, who's the gal who always beat me out in grammar school, always number one, okay, and I was always number two. The nuns were tough. In those days, in Tenafly, grammar school, ... we had sixty-some-odd kids in our grammar school class, but the nuns were allowed to give corporal punishment. In those days, there weren't that many lawyers, I guess, [laughter] so that the nuns were able to handle a class of sixty plus--one nun handle sixty plus--and, in those days, the parents backed up the nun, okay. I played basketball. My football career ... lasted half a game, or a quarter, I guess it was. ... When I was in seventh grade, I was quarterback of the team. They started up a football team and, on the first play, one of the eighth grade guys broke his arm and, on the second or third play, the other halfback broke his leg. So, that was the end of football, [laughter] but I played a lot of basketball, because I was pretty tall for that age group. I have one good friend that I met the first day of first grade, that I am back in touch with as of about three or four years ago, when I moved to where I now live. He lives about an hour-and-a-half away and we meet once a quarter for lunch. Okay, so, I've known him since first grade, and then, another guy who lived next door to me in Tenafly got in touch with me when he found out I'd moved to where I now live. So, we get together. So, it's ironic. As you get towards the end of life, you know, old friendships and relationships tend to become more important, as opposed to when you have families or, like you guys are in your twenties, thirties, whatever, you know, you're still forging your life and ... you're going to have a family or, if you don't have one, soon. Things become more important, but Tenafly, ... as I look back--not until I worked, in college, during the summers, in the post office in Newark, New Jersey, which is how I made my money to get through college, plus, I had a scholarship--but ... Tenafly was an all-white town. I never met blacks or Jews or any people that weren't Christians until I went to high school and worked in the post office. So, it was kind of a sheltered existence, frankly, in Tenafly in those days--never went into New York City that much, even though it was an hour-and-a-half trip and I ended up, in high school, every day, going in, but never went in grammar school, because we didn't have the money to go in. You know, we never entertained that much. We didn't have people over, except for holidays, we'd have family. So, it was a sheltered, quiet, nuns-beating-me-up-when-I-was-a-bad-boy kind of life. [laughter] It was great, though, yes.
SI: Do you think the quality of your education at Mount Carmel was good?
JN: I guess it was. The high school I got into, it's called Regis High School, has a competitive exam to get in. So, you had to have been taught well enough to pass a competitive exam to get in. It was an all-scholarship high school. So, I guess it was. ... I remember my dad--you know, here's an example. [laughter] It's funny, I'm thinking we're spending a lot of time on my dad here, but ... he was president of the Holy Name Society when I was in eighth grade--I haven't thought about this for a hundred years--and they gave an award to the top male student in eighth grade. ... It was a plaque, plus, a twenty-five-dollar gift certificate, whatever. My dad was president of it that year and I guess I kind of messed up--I could get bored easily--and so, I didn't do well, by him, in the final exams in eighth grade, but I ended up having the highest average for the guys and, of course, was second overall behind Margaret Rainey. [laughter] I got the certificate, but he wouldn't--because he had to authorize the check--he wouldn't give me the twenty-five-dollar gift certificate. [laughter] So, yes, that's the commanding general, you know--I didn't fulfill the contract, I didn't do it, you know, a hundred percent the right way--but I think the education was good. It was interesting, though I tied with another student. I don't know whether you want to go to high school or not.
SI: We can talk about that.
JN: Okay. Well, I tied with another kid to get in. ... I'm very close to my high school, to this day, and I give more money to it than I give to my college, or than I give to my graduate school, because it really influenced me. It and Vietnam were the major factors shaping me as a human being. ... I tied with another kid for the last place to get in, 140th place, and, you know, there were thousands who took the exam. Today, ... you have to be selected to take the exam and they take seven or eight percent of those trying out to take the exam. That's how Regis High School in New York City, 55 East 84th Street, how selective it is, what a unique institution, and it's regardless of your economic background--it's purely on your testing and your interview. That's how you get in. So, I tied with another kid for the 140th slot. The reason I know that is, I got a letter saying, "You tied with another kid, so, write a letter about how great you are." Well, I'd been an Eagle Scout and I was president of my eighth grade class and whatever. So, I got in, but I'll never forget that summer before going. That and returning from R&R to Vietnam were the two most down times of my entire life, because I was afraid of going all the way into New York City. ... I had only been in once or twice in my entire life. It was an hour-and-a-half each way. The Jesuits, I knew nothing about them outside of what the nuns said and the nuns said the Jesuits'll take the devil out of me, [laughter] which meant they were real severe. ... I had a little deportment issue when I was in grammar school. So, I was terrified, you know. I was going to lose all my friends and I'd have to go all the way into New York City. The Jesuits, ... they had to be nine foot tall and would, you know, beat you or whatever, and that reminds me of another story. My sister still tells the story about when I was in, I had to be fifth, sixth, seventh grade, ... on the back of your report card, you got your numerical grades for your classes or your subjects on the front--and on the back were the qualitative factors, "Is a high achiever," or whatever. ... One was conduct. So, I got "M," for, "Must improve," two months in a row or two quarters in a row--I'm not sure how we did that--to the extent that my father said, "If you get another 'M;' ... you don't want to get another 'M,'" that's the way he said it, "You don't want to get another 'M,'" okay. I got another "M," for, "Must improve," in deportment, in conduct. So, I can remember, to this day--my sister can, too--my father coming up the stairs, [Mr. Nugent imitates heavy footsteps], "Take your pants down," not one, not two, but three times with a belt and my screaming, and my sister couldn't believe, you know, this corporal punishment going on. Well, PS, my deportment, my conduct, improved, [laughter] but, nevertheless, the nuns always said that the Jesuits would take the devil out of me. So, I don't know, this started off about growing up in Tenafly and all that. ... Yes, so, it was great, the education had to be good, because it got me in. It got me qualified to get in, even though I was the dumbest kid in the class going in. ... Long story short, ... we ended up graduating eighty-six out of the 140 who started. They flunked you out. ... It was survival of the fittest, which is very different right now. They try to help you stay in, but, back then, yes, you had to maintain a certain grade or you got flunked out, and I graduated eighth out of eighty-six. So, when I say it was one of the two most important factors shaping my life, what I learned is, if I bust my tail, work hard, I could achieve. I could get to where I wanted to be and that was important to me. It was motivated by fear, initially, but, then, self-confidence, and I liked success, ... of academically doing well. Okay, so, that became an important lesson, "Be willing to work hard, you will get what you want," and that, especially in the teenage years, which are tough years, you know, was a self-confidence builder, okay. ...
SI: You had earned your Eagle Scout rank before you went to high school.
JN: No, I think just before I turned eighteen, I got it.
JN: ... Scouts go to eighteen and I think I just got it, just under the wire. ... Well, maybe I wasn't an Eagle in eighth grade, maybe I was Life, at that time, okay, because I didn't get Eagle until I was in high school. Okay, so, I know I had said I'd written a letter that I was an Eagle Scout--I was, but I wasn't then. So, maybe I was a Star or a Life in eighth grade.
SI: I was curious, because that seemed very young.
JN: Yes, because, yes, I was eighteen. You joined when you were eleven. ... Boy Scouts are eleven to eighteen. ... All my grandsons are now in Scouting as well. Both of my boys were Eagle Scouts. So, I couldn't have been an Eagle Scout then. So, I was Star or Life, whatever, but ... being in Scouting was good. I was a senior patrol leader and you learned [a lot]. ... Again, not that I lacked a lot, because we didn't have a lot of money, but Scouting with the merit badges just opened up new opportunities to learn about astronomy, and geology, for example. Things that you never would have picked up anywhere else, you learned in Scouting--leadership, serving as patrol leaders, senior patrol leader. So, Scouting was a good experience.
SI: Did you get to go camping?
JN: Absolutely. ... In fact, I just got back from visiting with college friends ... and spouses, in Lake Placid. There, we went to Whiteface Mountain, the fourth-tallest mountain in the Adirondacks, near Lake Placid, and there is also Mount Marcy, which is the tallest mountain in the Adirondacks, which we climbed as Scouts. Okay, so, I'm going, "Déjà vu all over again," as Yogi [Berra] would say, but you could see Mount Marcy. ... So, we would go on campouts a lot, and I was on the waterfront staff. When I was a Boy Scout, we went to Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco, up in Northwest New Jersey, which I thought was some great chief, but it stands for North Bergen Boys Scouts. [laughter] Okay, I was so disappointed when I found that out. ... So, I was a camper there for three or four years, and then, I was on the waterfront staff and director of the waterfront staff my last summer of high school, I guess it was. So, yes, we did a lot of camping out and ... Scouting was good. It taught me a lot that I wouldn't have gotten in Tenafly, New Jersey.
SI: You mentioned it was a very sheltered existence and that the population was not too diverse.
SI: Was there any of the Catholic/Protestant conflict represented there? Was it mostly a Catholic town?
JN: Yes, good question. ... My next-door neighbors on either side were Protestants--only because I'm now thinking about it. They didn't go to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church [laughter] and we were all real good friends. So, there was no overt, at least that I was aware of, antagonism or awareness about, "You are not a Roman Catholic," or, "You are a Protestant," and, "You're Irish," and, "You're Italian." There wasn't. ... My good friends, ... their names ended in vowels and began with vowels, too, okay. ... That's what I meant by sheltered, as I, over the years, have reflected a little bit about it. ... There were no race issues, there were no religion issues, there were no international issues. I mean, the world, you know, anything west of the Hudson River was in the middle of nowhere, okay. So, I mean, it was just a very sheltered--up until I went to high school--existence, from that point of view. So, no, there was nothing that went on and I'm just thinking, you know, the Gromkos on one side and the Caldwells on the other side of me growing up. ... Caldwell is the one I'm in touch with and he's a Protestant. He's Christian, but I never remember coming across Jewish people or black people until I went into high school, and then worked nights at the post office, where I got to know blacks really well--no, nothing, no antagonisms, no issues, you know, rather bucolic scene and calm growing up. [laughter]
GC: Was New York a culture shock?
JN: Yes. ... I was afraid of it, just because, ... you know, I didn't have self-confidence. The thing I gained in high school [was] self-confidence. ... I had horrible acne, I had braces and glasses. ... I was an ugly duckling, you know, and didn't even know what a swan was, and going all the way into the city was intimidating, especially to learn from the Jesuits, who are going to beat me up, okay. ... My sister doesn't even remember going into New York City, ... but my dad went in every day. So, maybe that's why we didn't, okay. I mean, we never met him at the office. You know, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and with different aged kids, [the youngest] eleven years younger. So, yes, it was scary, just because I was going from my little sheltered existence, where I could just ride my bike to Our Lady of Mount Carmel School and the nuns would tell me what to do and, God gave me some brains, so, I was able to get away with being a bad guy, deportment-wise, [laughter] but doing well. ... I had to grow up and I guess I probably knew that. I can just remember, that summer was such a tough summer, because I was afraid and it had to be, like, "Whoa, I'm going to have to get serious," or, "I'm going to have to grow up," or, "I've got to, you know, stop all this garbage that I'm pulling, you know. Hey, it's a whole new world I'm going into." So, it was [that] I was scared and a lack of self-confidence, I think, were the biggest issues, as I was going in.
SI: Tell us about that first year at Regis, what the adjustment was like, what the school was like in that period?
JN: ... Well, in those days, about ninety percent of the teachers were Jesuits; today, about point-nine percent of the teachers are Jesuits. It was academically rigorous. I guess the first weekend; ... the punishment, after school or on the weekends, was called "JUG," J-U-G, "Judgment Under God."
JN: Okay. That was called JUG. That's where it came from. ... I'm sure there's a Latin derivation somewhere, but no one remembers it. Everyone remembers "Judgment Under God." So, if you were being punished for doing something wrong, you got JUG. Well, my math teacher, my freshman year, was--it's funny how you're evoking these memories, I haven't had these thoughts in a long time [laughter]--was Cyril B. Egan, who was semi-blind, but had a PhD in math and was really quite brilliant, ... but he couldn't see. So, I remember, someone was reciting something and I was shooting the person with a water gun. Well, Cyril B. Egan could see well enough to see me shooting with the water gun. Why I was doing that, I don't know--maybe the Jesuits, you know, hadn't gotten it out of me yet. So, I was sent down to Father Brown, who was the prefect of discipline and was an ex-military chaplain, you know, a crew cut. I can remember him. I walked in, "What are you doing here?" "Well, I was...Cyril B. Egan...water gun." "What did you do?" So, that weekend, I had to come in on a Saturday morning. JUG was, besides cleaning blackboards and things like that, in those days, you couldn't leave until you had memorized a page of Shakespeare backwards. Okay, so, they would ... open up a play and you had to memorize it, which you never did. So, you spent it working and you walked around a quadrangle at Regis. ... I remember the bus schedule. I had to get up, like, at five-thirty in the morning, so that I could catch a bus, because the weekend schedule was bad. So, I ended up, that Saturday, getting the only JUG I ever got in my four years and I had to go in. I spent the entire day there. I forget what excuse I gave my parents. I probably said it was basketball or something, because ... we played basketball there-- probably said it was basketball camp or something, but that was it. I got one JUG and the Jesuits did take the devil out of me. [laughter] So, it was very rigid, very structured. We had Greek, Latin, ... four years of Latin, three years of Greek, two years of a modern language,-- I took French, and I guess just because my mother had taught French and Latin, actually, when she was a teacher, way back when. I had my kids take Spanish, which is more appropriate to today, but French is what I took, and then, you had the math and the history and religion, and so, it was a real tough, disciplined curriculum. So, I played basketball. I then got onto the newspaper and debate in the second year, but I was scared, okay, because, ... you know, I was the dumbest kid in the class and, boy, you know, the Jesuits had already given me JUG on a Saturday, you know. "God, what was going to happen here?" [laughter] but, then, it was the second grading period, I remember, and I came back and I made--you had the Honor Roll, was for all grades above ninety, and then, there was a Merit List, I guess it was, for grades above eighty-five, so, above eighty-five, Merit List, and then, Honor Roll above ninety. My second grading period, everything was above eighty-five. So, I came home and my mother just--well, I had to get her off the ceiling. She said, "Oh, wait until we show your father," so, my father, only years later did he tell me how scared and worried he was about whether or not I would make it and ... what kind of scarring it would leave on me, mentally, if I didn't succeed and I flunked out. He only told me that later. He was really worried about me. ... So, I showed him my report card and I had this little certificate saying, "Merit List"--yes, I'm pretty sure it was Merit List--and he looked at it and he said, "Whoa, I'm surprised," which really ticked me off, you know. I had busted my tail. I was really scared and working hard, but, then it was, good learning, ... "Never expect to be given approval from outside. Know yourself, whether you're doing a good job." So, I mean, he taught me. ... By being the stern ... brigadier general, you know, he taught me something about, "Know yourself, whether you are doing a good job or bad job. Do not expect approval from outside. Do not expect others to reward you for doing what you should be doing. Know yourself, whether you're doing the right thing," but I made it. My second report card, I made the Merit List, ... and then, I started growing in self-confidence and everything, and then, I ran for class president senior year. I made vice-president in my senior year. So, all of a sudden, self-confidence started to grow. You found out that the teachers would guide you, like, one of my closest friends, for a long time, was a Mr. McCord, who was a scholastic, studying to be a priest. ... He helped coach the basketball team and he was taller than everyone, and he was a real positive influence. I could talk to him, whereas there was no one at home to talk to. My sister and brother were too young and my mother had to worry about them and my father, I just didn't talk to, okay. So, he was a good, steadying influence and I just became more comfortable as a human being, you know, through high school, knew I could do things if I worked hard. I never was that great a basketball player, never started at basketball, but, you know, was on the team, was good in debate, had a good partner, John Hickey, who was a little, short guy. If you have a common enemy to fight, you tend to bond, okay. Well, the common enemy to fight was the regimen at Regis, okay, and anyone who represented that, and so, to the extent we each made it, it was good. There were guys that I met again at Georgetown, ... at college, that had been kicked out of Regis and had gone to other great schools, okay, but you made the bond. ... So, again, I gained the self-confidence that I'd not only made it, but I made it the top ten percent. I succeeded, ... I had some respect from my peers, I made vice-president. I still had horrible acne and braces and pimples and glasses and, you know, all that stuff, but I knew I was making it as a human being. So, it was a real good experience, looking back on it. It was tough going through it. It was very disciplined. It was mentally tough, or academically tough, but a great experience.
SI: Was it difficult to participate in these extracurricular activities with all the traveling you must have had to do?
JN: Yes, it really was, and we only played other schools in the city, so, it wasn't that bad. ... You learned time management. I had an hour-and-a-half each way, and so, I got a lot of homework done. Okay, that was, you know, three hours a day, so, that was a lot of time. So, you learned to use that and you learned to focus. You learned, you have to shut off all the extraneous things going on, but, yes, co-curriculars, especially for Jersey boys--it was also interesting, there was a New York versus New Jersey attitude. I mean, all the reunions I go to now, which is every five years, we talk about it, New Yorkers kind of hung together and New Jersey, you know, the Jersey boys, especially since I was from Tenafly, "Is that like 'One-A-Fly,' 'Two-A-Fly?' Is that like 'Tsetse Fly?'" [laughter] and so, I'd catch all this. The guys I'm closest to at the reunion are other guys who are Jersey boys. ... "Yes, we kind of stuck together, because the New Yorkers kind of shut you out," back in the '50s, okay. So, that was interesting.
GC: Was there a group of guys you hung out with or were friends with at school?
JN: You know, there were a couple, but ... only because of the co-curriculars, because I traveled by myself and I was the only one from Tenafly. So, I didn't go over to anyone's house, I didn't have anyone over, just because of the distance. I ended up--I thought I had a vocation to be a priest coming out of high school. I wanted to go into the seminary, after high school. Of the eighty-six, there were eleven that went into the religious --PS, only three of whom stayed out of the eleven--but, you know, ... it was a big vocation time. ... I roomed with a guy who was a classmate from Regis my freshman year at Georgetown, and then, I roomed with a guy in my sophomore year, a guy from Regis. Okay, so, there were several that I was close to. The only reason I bring it up is, he thought he had a vocation and, PS, he just celebrated his forty-fifth year in the Maryknoll Missionaries in the Catholic Church, okay. So, he did it. My acne went away and my braces came off and there were things with long hair, [women], and so, you know, God decided I was not going to become a priest. My father had said, very interesting; ... it's interesting how much my father is entering into this conversation, isn't it? [laughter] It's enlightening to me, too.
SI: Mothers and fathers usually do. [laughter]
JN: Yes, I know, but it's enlightening to me. He was a great father, don't get me wrong, [laughter] but he had said, "No, you may not go into the seminary," because he knew I was a geek and a nerd--you know, I just hadn't seen much of life. ... He said, "After your freshman year, if you think you still have a vocation, we'll talk about it, but you will go to college," and I had a scholarship to college. ... So, that made it easier on the family and everyone for me to go, and so, I ended up not becoming a priest, smart decision on his part, because I just hadn't experienced enough of the world. ... I think I'd only had one or two dates in high school, because I didn't have time, and acne and, you know, ugly and, you know, coming out of my shell and all that. [laughter]
SI: Back then, could high school students be involved in the seminary? I have interviewed a few other people who were Catholic high school students then. I do not know if they were actually in the seminary, but there was a closer tie. They were on the track to go in.
JN: You could've. The Jesuits, obviously, were pushing the Jesuit order. I didn't want that. I had an uncle who was a priest; I think I mentioned that earlier. I wanted to be a diocesan priest. I wanted to be a priest with the people. I didn't want to be in academia; ... sort of like when I chose my branch in the military, I chose infantry, so that I could be with the men. "Duh, boy, was that dumb?" [laughter] no, no, but I liked being with people, as opposed to the world of academia. I couldn't just go into a monastery and pray all the time--I had to interact with people. So, because my vocation was not Jesuit--of the eleven who went into the religious orders, there was one Maryknoll Missionary, one Trappist, which is a cloistered order, and the other nine were Jesuits who went in, only one of whom stayed as a Jesuit, plus the Trappist and the Maryknoll Missionary. Those are the three that stayed in [laughter]-- I said, "I don't want to be a Jesuit." So, I mean, that wasn't too good at an all-Jesuit institution, [laughter] because I wanted to be a diocesan priest. So, yes, there are some ties. The guys who wanted to be Jesuits, ... they were in the Sodality or they were in the "St. Francis Xavier X-Y-Z Club," or something. So, they did nurture those who were going on "the true path" [laughter] to be a Jesuit, as opposed to go off and be a diocesan priest, okay.
SI: Did you have to go to chapel every day? Were there those kinds of obligations?
JN: You know, it's interesting, in my first year of college, we had to go three days a week and we had Mass cards, if you could believe it. We had "lights out." We wore coat and ties. You guys--well, you have a coat and tie on [observing the interviewer] [laughter]--actually, no one wears coats and ties. The answer is we had Friday mornings. Friday morning Mass was built in, but it wasn't too demanding, surprisingly, as you would think. ... I don't remember being happy or sad about the amount of Mass attendance that was required. There was a chapel at Regis, ... but, outside of the Holy Days, I think it was every Friday morning, we had a seven-thirty Mass that, would only go twenty minutes or so, which was great, [laughter] but, no, there wasn't that obligation. You know, the Jesuit influence was strong. You started each class with a prayer, but that was the norm. There wasn't a lot of arm twisting that I recall. It was more academics. That was the primary goal there.
GC: Did you find difficulties in school or did you excel in certain areas at Regis?
JN: Yes, shockingly--well, my mom was a language teacher--I found languages really easy. So, Latin, Greek, French just came to me. I didn't even use what were called "trots" in those days, which were translations of the text. You know, you could buy a translation, so that you could go back and forth--I didn't need it. So, languages came really easily to me. Math, I found somewhat difficult. Even at Georgetown, although I only had to take one year of math, I could've taken more, I satisfied all the requirements, I guess, taking whatever advanced--I don't think they had AP calculus or algebra in those days, [laughter] early '60s--but I took one year of the advanced math because of coming out of Regis with those credits. So, math was difficult, languages, shockingly easy for me, which my dad could never understand. It was so interesting. [laughter] My dad, he had to be interviewed for Regis; the parents had to be interviewed as well as the child. So, during the interview, he said he had looked at the curriculum and had seen it wasn't heavy in science. In fact, they only had, I think, a two-year science requirement and Sputnik, was launched. [Editor's Note: The world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, was launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. The symbolic beginning of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, it sparked a push to better train Americans in math and science.] He, being in education, kind of knew what were good curriculums, curricula, and what were not good curricula and he [my father], during the interviews, said, "Why don't you have more of a science orientation?" What he had said to me was, "You've got these dead languages, Latin and Greek. What are you going to do with Latin and Greek? You know, it's like it doesn't teach you anything." Well, it was a mind trainer-- derivation of words. Outside of that, I'm not sure, but he said it more diplomatically to the principal, who was Father Harvey, and Father Harvey looked at my father. [laughter] It was the only time I ever saw him shut up. ... He said [in a loud voice], "Mr. Nugent, we Jesuits have been teaching young men for over four hundred years. I think we know what we're doing."
JN: My father went, "Yes, Father," [laughter] and that was the only time I'd seen him quieted. PS, my sophomore/junior year, they put a science track in, okay, because ... they were too light in math and science, and so, ... they have that to this day. They have a language track, whereas back in the '50s, it was all language. Now, ... it's an elective, if you want to take Greek and Latin. I think Latin, you have to take two years now, but Greek is a pure elective, whereas it was a mandatory three years back then. [laughter]
JN: Yes, different world. Sputnik changed that.
SI: It is interesting that you bring that up. Obviously, while you were in high school, the Cold War was on and there was this widespread fear of Communism. The Catholic Church was one of the bodies really presenting an anti-Communist view. Was that talked about in the school? Was Communism presented as a threat?
JN: I don't remember anything overt like that. What I do remember, even going back into grammar school, was, I don't want to say the hatred, but the distain for Communism that built up in my mind, plus the futility of the remedies we had in the face of a nuclear war. I knew [that] by getting under a desk and covering up that ... I wasn't going to live, okay, [laughter] but it was a way of taking action. What I remember appreciating was the psychology of, "You are in control if there's an attack." ... That was the only action we could take. Now, you ... had bomb shelters you could go to as well, but we were taught in class and in high school, you know, "If there's a nuclear attack, just duck and cover," or I think it was "atomic attack." I'm not sure we said "nuclear attack" back then. "If there's an atomic attack, you know, just cover your head and get under your desk." [laughter] We knew, "Well, so, what good is that going to do?" We took history courses--we knew the "Big, Bad Russia." I got more of that influence from my father, the idea of how ... important it was we keep up with the Russians in the Space Race, ... the science race, how important outer space was. I remember him talking one time about weapons and outer space, and this would have been in the late '50s. ... He was an advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission, ... the lead department, I guess, in the nuclear development, nuclear war development. [Editor's Note: President Harry S. Truman, through the McMahon/Atomic Energy Act (1946), created the US Atomic Energy Commission in January 1947 as a means of shifting control of the development of atomic energy from the military into the civilian sphere. The agency functioned until the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 divided its responsibilities between the Energy Research and Development Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.] ... He witnessed nuclear blasts in the deserts out in Arizona, ... I think that is where they set them off. He witnessed that. So, he was involved in that. So, I got a lot from him--not so much about the military fear that should exist or ... the fear that should exist militarily, but the pitting of one way of life, one governmental [system], one structure of government, against another and the importance of science and the race in space. So, I got more from him than I remember from high school. ... They [the USSR] were the bad guys, but ... it wasn't top of [my] mind. It wasn't all consuming ...
SI: Understood, in the background.
JN: Yes, it wasn't all-consuming. ... Looking back on it, I can say, "Whoa, you know, how naïve I was growing up? not understanding that this monolithic structure that existed over there could have taken ... over the world, that it was one system of government against another, it was survival of the fittest." You know, I never--and, again, it could have been my naiveté--but it wasn't discussed, even in debates. You would have a debate topic for the year in high school, okay, and you would be told you're pro or you're con as you went to each of the debates, and we ended up winning national debates. Regis was--it still is--a great debate school, but there weren't any compelling international debates. You know, we did have the protection of the oceans ... There wasn't any immediate threat. You would read the papers and get scared by it, but, you know, outside of that, we were isolated. It wasn't until the college years that, with the blockade of Cuba, that, all of a sudden, the outside world really started to impinge upon my life and my thinking, I guess is the best way of putting it, and, again, more of a sheltered existence. [Editor's Note: In the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, the United States demanded that the Soviet Union remove its nuclear missiles from Cuba. The United States placed a naval blockade around the island nation, creating a tense standoff between the superpowers that many feared would lead to nuclear war. The crisis was averted when the Soviet Union agreed to remove their nuclear missiles from Cuba in exchange for the United States removing its nuclear missiles from Turkey.]
SI: Your father advised the Atomic Energy Commission. Do you know exactly what he did?
JN: No, I don't. I do know that, and my sister is the one who has kept track of this, ... and I was surprised, in the obituary, to see that. There was some commission reporting to the Atomic Energy Commission that he was an advisor to. ... Maybe he was a military advisor within it, because, ... when he went out to observe the detonations of nuclear bombs, he went with troops. So, he was ... in a military role. So, he might have been a military advisor in it, but I don't know, to answer your question.
SI: Did you only find out later that he had observed the nuclear detonations?
JN: Yes. That was a discussion afterwards. I never knew when he was doing it and, again, that was kind of the communication during the high school years, where we didn't have great communication. [laughter] So, no, I didn't know.
SI: No wonder he had an appreciation for these issues.
JN: Yes, exactly.
SI: You were on the debate team. Gerald was able to find a lot on the reputation of Regis as a debate school.
GC: Yes, forty percent of the school was on the debate team. [laughter] You were considered one of the best debate teams in the country.
JN: Yes. ... I remember, we'd go up to Jamestown, New York. We'd take a train up to Jamestown, New York, where the New York State debates were held, and I had a great partner, John Hickey. ... He and I, we came in third in the state one year, and I think first place was a Regis team as well. So, yes, we had a great scholastic, which is a guy studying to be a Jesuit, not ordained yet, that ran the program and, you know, we didn't have the Internet then, so, we had to do a lot of reading on our own. ... You had to be able to go pro or con, which was picked when you walked into the debate room. So, you had to know both sides, which made it more difficult, but, to this day even, Regis is a great debate program. Two of my nephews went there and they were both on the debate team and both did extremely well. That was ten years ago, but the Hearn Debate Society is the name of the debate society [at Regis] and they win awards. You can read [about] it in the alumni magazines. Debating helped you think on your feet and think under pressure, and so, again, it was in those formative high school years, building yourself up as a self-confident young person, about to enter the world. ... That was important, an important part of my formation in those years, being on the debate team.
SI: I know some other schools, their debate teams would have sub-genres, if you want to call it that. They have oratory ...
JN: Extemporaneous, [a debate that is not prepared].
SI: Was there one that you were particularly interested in?
JN: Yes, I did the debate. I think I tried the extemporaneous my last year, because we were short of people in it. ... As I remember, ... there were ten topics they could pick, and then, you'd walk in and you had to give a ten-minute [speech]. They'd say, "Okay, your topic today, Mr. Nugent, is ... X," whatever X was, "That's your topic," and you have five minutes to prepare your thoughts, and then, you get up and give a speech on it. Okay, so, you had to be decently well-read. So, extemporaneous, I did that my senior year. Otherwise, I liked the debate. I had my little file box and I had all my quotes, pro and con and everything. [laughter] So, you really did a lot of work to get ready for debates, and then, extemporaneous, I don't remember winning any awards in it or anything. I remember, they needed me to do it in my junior or senior year, but, yes, so, there were other forms. If you memorized a speech, you would have to give the speech, and Shakespeare was, great to give a speech from, have to memorize Shakespeare so-- oratory, extemporaneous, and then, formal debate, pro and con. Those were the three aspects of debate, or of the Hearn Debate Society, yes.
SI: Is there a particular competition that sticks out in your mind?
JN: Just the one where we came in third, and I remember, ... we should have [won]. I think we lost-- There were five debates over the weekend or you did one debate Friday night, maybe two or three Saturday, one or two Sunday, ... and then, you'd get points. ... Besides a win-loss record, you got points, and I remember, we really nailed whatever it was. I remember, we really were good, John Hickey and I. He ended up being killed in Vietnam. ... He went to Notre Dame, ROTC, and so, I remember that and we came in third. ... I remember, we were disappointed, because we thought we should be first, especially because the guys who beat us from Regis, I think they may have been underclassmen and, you know, they weren't worthy enough. [laughter] ... What I remember is, we won, but we didn't get the top prize.
GC: You mentioned that you worked at a post office. Did that change your perceptions in any way?
JN: Yes, you know, that's interesting. ... I worked [in] the post office my summers of college and in-between college and graduate school, which I went to right after college. So, I worked [there] four or five years, okay. I worked delivering mail during the day, some summers, and then, the last two years, I worked at the Newark Post Office at night, because you got night differential. ... I would pull in twenty-six or twenty-seven hundred dollars after tax working the summer, okay, which was huge bucks, back in the '60s. ... I worked twelve hours a day. ... Besides, I met some great people, I also gained an appreciation for the free enterprise system and I also became a more conservative person when it comes to big government. Now, my father was a federal servant his entire life, but what I saw in the post office, there's no surprise to me that they're losing money today. I didn't see ambition; I didn't see merit being rewarded. ... I saw bloated bureaucracies and it dawned on me that, you know, government isn't the way, you know. A private enterprise would have done better delivering the mail than the government. ... This was the first time I was working nights and I always got to know the supervisor, so that I'd get twelve hours. Plus, I'd start at six o'clock at night and you don't want to get off at two-thirty in the morning in the '60s in Newark, New Jersey, because the buses didn't run until five-thirty AM, as I recall. So, I had three [hours]. What do you do for three hours? So, I'd want to go to six in the morning. So, I got to know the supervisors and I'd even sweep floors. But I thought I'd go crazy. I had a two-foot tray of mail. Zip codes were just coming in. [Editor's Note: Zip codes were officially established in 1963 by the United States Postal Service.] So, I was on the out-of-state desk and you had this cubbyhole case in front of you and you'd pick up the mail and you'd go, "Alabama, Arizona," you know, "Arkansas;" see, I'm trying to remember. All of a sudden, these things come back, and so, you would ... sort the mail by state, alphabetically by state. Well, I was going to go crazy doing this, just sitting at a desk just sorting this mail. So, I decided to see how many two-foot trays I could do in an hour. ... Within a couple of weeks, I was up to--you had to do seven [trays] an hour. That was the standard. I was doing thirteen an hour, consistently, until, one lunchtime, two guys sat down, one on either side of me, and explained the facts of life to me-- that I'm a college kid ruining the standards for those who aren't. "Okay, duh, okay," and that was, you know, "Okay, so, here, you don't want to achieve and do well, because you're going to get a knife stuck in you, okay." The other example was, when I was delivering mail, it's a five-hour walking route, two hours in the morning, one hour to clean up-- an eight-hour day for a mailman. Now, you're inspected once a year on the five-hour walk, and then, two hours is to sort the mail, bundle it up, and then, they take it out, and one hour's to clean up at the end of the day. The five-hour walk, you had a cart, you walk the sidewalk, you leave the cart, you walk up the front steps, come back, walk to the next house, up the front walkway, come back. ... I don't know if you've ever watched your mailman delivering mail. Does anyone use a cart? Does anyone, or do they just cut across lawns with the mail on the back, okay? So, my first time out, I took over for a guy who goes on vacation. This is one of the summers I'm delivering mail. I go walking. I go out--and half an hour lunch was also included in the five hours. So, I go out and I walk the route. I'm done and back in after lunch, [in] two-and-a-half hours. The supervisor says, "Nugent, what are you doing back in?" I said, "I finished the route in two-and-a-half hours." "Go out and have lunch." "I had lunch." I'm so good, [laughter] and the guy takes me to the case. I'll never forget this. He said, "Did you make these deliveries? I'm going to call Mrs. Mulligan and see if she got her mail. She got her mail three hours earlier, you know, today. She doesn't know what's going on." ... So, he just said, "Get out. Don't come back, okay." So, what I learned, you can game the system and, you know, I also learned about the Civil Service. I had to take a Civil Service exam and I scored really well, which is how I got in. ... It's very difficult, my Dad would explain, to get rid of people once they're on Civil Service. It's just that the unions, the Civil Service unions, are so strong. So, what did I learn? [laughter] I learned, free enterprise is a better way to go. Otherwise, you can have, you know, an operation that's bankrupt right now. ... Why do we have a post office in every single town, okay? You know, why? I know there's so many things, ... money I know could be saved, just because of those two for-instances. If I can come close to double the standard, just sorting mail, what else is going on? When I worked parcel post, you just didn't go fast. "Nugent, what are you doing? You know, don't sort it so quickly." "Okay." ... So, I lost respect for that definition of federal programming, federal programs working or not working. I lost respect for people that come to work for them, that would just exist. My father continuously said he could be making three times what he was making if he went into the private sector, but he was so impacted by the Depression and the fact his father lost his job that he wanted safety and security. That was what was important to him and he said, "That's why people join the government, for safety. It's hard to get fired from the government." That's different today. Christie [Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey], for example, letting government people [go]. But I started to question unions. Back then there was a need for unions, especially in the '40s, like, Samuel Gompers, I believe, was the person who started unions, because business was screwing the average worker back then. But, when you have seventeen or eighteen hundred dollars a car goes for union benefits now, you know, in Detroit, that maybe union have gone too far. [Editor's Note: Samuel Gompers helped found the American Federation of Labor (originally the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions) in 1881 and served as its president from 1886 until his death in 1924 (with the exception of the 1895 term).] So, maybe unions should back off and there should be more flexibility. When I read that Ford could have been struck, ... but they negotiated, but it's going to be a six-thousand-dollar bribe to each Ford employee, to accept, you know, there's [a problem]. ... Free enterprise, when regulated properly was reinforced, as being the right system of business. I guess that's the best way to explain my feeling. So, you asked the question about, "What did I learn in the post office?" [laughter] It was formative!
GC: It was a lot.
JN: Yes, it formed a lot of my opinions, because of what I saw, and then, you know, to me, human nature is what guides everything. I mean, it's greed or fear that impacts Wall Street, okay, and those are human feelings, okay. ... If you have a safe, secure, can't-be-fired, no-incentive-to-be-promoted, can't-be-rewarded system of business, you're going to get what the post office is today-- losing money, okay, and what kind of people do you attract? I can argue both sides. My dad was a civil servant. My father-in-law was a civil servant,-- the GAO, ... Government Accounting Office [in] Washington, DC. So, yes, ... even though I went on to business school at The University of Chicago [laughter] and the free market enterprise system was the one that's, you know, promoted there, by Milton Friedman, et. al., I had personal experience seeing that that's the way to go. I knew what the other way was. [Editor's Note: Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was a Nobel American economist and professor at the University of Chicago.]
SI: Tell us how you came to Georgetown. Obviously, there is the religious tie. Were you encouraged to go there by anybody at Regis?
JN: Yes. In those days, the only recommendations you could get from Regis were for Catholic colleges. Notre Dame and Georgetown were highly recommended. I got scholarships to both, so, that made it easier, but I liked the Jesuits and I thought I had a vocation and I had a roommate, you know, a classmate that I was going to room with, who was going to Georgetown. ... I had only been from New York to Washington, DC. That was the extent of my travel. "Indiana, where the hell is Indiana? Do they still have Indians? You know, is there electricity out there?" [laughter] I was really semi-naïve, if not totally naïve. I didn't want to go that far away. Well, my mother, God bless her, ... she had a brother and a brother-in-law who had gone to Notre Dame. I'll never forget, she said, "Why do you want Georgetown?" I said, "Well, you know, the Jesuits, they're great. It's the nation's capital. I can learn a lot there," whatever reasons, and she said, "Well, you've got to go to Notre Dame," and so, I said, "Why?" [laughter] Here's my Irish Catholic mother; ... I said, "Why?" She said, "Because it means 'Our Lady' in French." [laughter] "And?" That was it, because it means "Our Lady" in French. So, that was why my mother said I had to go. So, I ended up going to Georgetown because I needed the financial aid, but I had it at Notre Dame, too. ... Those are the only two I applied to and I got in and Notre Dame was--I had no affinity for it. It was too far away and I'd never been outside of that corridor, New York to DC. That was it. So, that's why I ended up going to Georgetown.
SI: Tell us about your first few days of your freshman year at Georgetown. You mentioned it was very traditional, that you wore a coat and tie and all that.
JN: Yes. Georgetown was a great experience overall. I ended up being selected the outstanding member of the graduating class and I graduated cum laude. I was a Distinguished Military Graduate. I was treasurer of the student government my senior year. I was manager of the radio station my junior year. It was just a great experience. ... Academics were easy for me, which allowed me to do all of these co-circulars and get into everything. I was a Rhodes Scholarship semi-finalist. I'm just trying to think of other things. ... It just worked out, all coming from Regis, though, because I had the discipline of studying. I knew how to study and, you know, I felt confident, okay, in myself. ... It was "lights out" at eleven o'clock at night. It was so funny--we had a closet. John Felago, my roommate, and I, we had a closet that was eight-foot-by-ten-foot, a huge, huge walk-in closet, okay, and it was in one of the oldest buildings at Georgetown. ... After bed check at eleven o'clock, lights out, we would go in and study in the closet. He ended up on the Dean's List, as I did, at the end of freshman year and our RA, our resident assistant, came in at the end of the year to congratulate us on what we had done academically and whatever. ... He said to us, "How did you like that closet this year?" and we went, "What-what-what do you mean?" He said, "I had this [room]." He was in law school, as a resident assistant. He said, "I had this room my freshman year [laughter] and I used to study in that closet, too." He said, "I never called you guys on it, because you were doing so well academically and you were good guys and you didn't cause trouble," and all this good stuff, [laughter] but it was so ironic that he knew, you know, what was going on. I took ROTC, which became important and the reason for, obviously, the interview, because I wanted to be [an officer]. In those days, you had the draft. You had to have two years [of service]. When I give tours at the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial now, I start off by saying, "How many know what the draft is?" [Editor's Note: The New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Era Museum and Educational Center are located in Holmdel, New Jersey.] These are to juniors and seniors in high school. "How many know what the draft was?" Usually, two-thirds of them know what the draft was. I say, "Okay, how many of you have a strong point of view of whether or not we should be in Afghanistan or Iraq?" Usually, ten percent of the group I'm with have a point of view. ... I don't ask them what it is, because that can be intimidating. I just say, "Raise your hand if you have one." Ninety percent of those who have a point of view are females, and then, I explain to the guys what the draft is, and I say, "Do you think you'd now have a point of view? You know, you could be over there," ... I get on a soapbox. You would be thinking that, 'I have to put in two years into the military. My God, what am I going to do?' whereas, right now, you're worried about a date or college or not working or whatever you're worried about. You're not even focused on going, okay," and so, it gets them thinking. ... I ask them at the end, ... "How many have a point of view?" and, usually, two-thirds'll raise their hand. Of course, they're embarrassed not to at this point and the guys do, because they've been thinking about, "Geez, you know, draft." I mean, it affected everyone's life back then. So, I knew I had to go in the military. I wanted to go in as an officer, and so, ROTC was the way to go. Now, ROTC did not pay for my education. It was, as a matter-of-fact, I think it was, twenty-seven dollars a month you got in your junior and senior year, if you were accepted, you got a uniform. So, I took ROTC. That was my first exposure to the military on my own, without the influence of my father. I worked freshman year. My father was so surprised that I came back with more money at the end of the year than I had at the beginning. I was really focused and I wanted to do well, wanted to establish myself, wanted to get into co-circulars, because I hadn't been in a lot of co-circulars in high school, because of the travel back and forth, and basketball was too consuming, and so, I worked. I had a job on the weekend in a bowling alley,-- ten pins. I'll never forget, my back would ache. You'd step on a pedal and these prongs would come up. You'd put the pins up, step back, and then, wait for someone to bowl, [laughter] and then, you'd go do it again.
SI: Was that just in the local DC area?
JN: Yes, it was at Georgetown, actually, McDonough Gymnasium. They had a bowling alley up on the top floor of McDonough Gymnasium, which was ... where the basketball games were played. ... So, yes, I was really kind of geek-ish, nerdish, focused, hardworking and wanted to do well. It was the first time on my own, so, I think, you know, I ... still had to prove myself to myself, kind of thing.
SI: Was Georgetown College co-ed then?
JN: Georgetown, it was all males. In fact, you couldn't have females above the first floor of the dormitories, as I recall, back then. ... I got out in '63, I think it was early '70s--it was another ten [years], you know, towards the end of the '60s, early '70s, before it became co-ed, and I know several gals who graduated from that first co-ed class and they're strong women. It was interesting. My daughter went there, too. Of course, I say, "I went to Georgetown when men were men and women knew their place," okay. My daughter, "Dad, you're so old ... and so passé, I'm not even going to comment on it. [laughter] ... You're not going get me going on this, okay." So, she went to Georgetown College. ... The Foreign Service School was co-ed and there was a nursing school and there was an Institute of Languages and Linguistics which was co-ed. The college was not co-ed, which my daughter then went to. So, it was great, and she beat me--her GPA (grade point average) was higher than mine by five-hundredths, or something like that, [laughter] She got cum laude, too. Yes, coat and tie--I don't know, you know, it's sort of like, you didn't think about it, just because that was the way it was. So, you just did it. You didn't have an option, and so, ... human nature, you adapt, like when I was in Vietnam. People say, "How did you handle that?" Well, you were just there, you just did it,... Human nature, you adapt, to what you're doing. So, I mean, it wasn't a big change. We wore a coat and tie in high school, a coat and tie in college, all four years. Lights out, okay, you know, you just accepted it, back in those days. I mean, I had eight years of nuns, you've got to remember, and I was brutalized with rulers by the nuns, so, you know, I just did what I was told ... most of the time. The one thing I do remember in my religion, at that time, I became a better Roman Catholic, because, for the first time, ... I challenged it, which I'd never done before. We had to--at least three times a week--go to Mass, at Dahlgren Chapel, which was in the center of the campus, close to the center of the campus, and you had to turn in Mass cards. Well, you walked in the front door, gave the Mass card to whomever was collecting it and you walked out the side door. Okay, so, I mean, no one really thought about this. Everyone thought this was normal. I was '59 to '63 at Georgetown, so, you know, you just kind of did what you were supposed to do, I guess, but it was the first time I said, "Well, you know, what's this? Is there really a God?" and so, I challenged myself. I came out concluding, "Yes, ... not only is there a God, but, you know, I think Roman Catholicism is right. I think I like the challenge of it, versus other religions," and we were exposed to some other religions. Georgetown was pretty good about that and, yes, I understood [16th Century Protestant leader] Martin Luther's issues with the Church, and, ... I understood Episcopalian issues with the Church. So, I knew, and so, I remember thinking about it, but I kind of liked the challenge, you know, sort of like, "Catholics have to leap a ten-foot wall to get into heaven. Everyone else has a one-foot wall to walk over," okay. So, I kind of liked that. So, I think that's part of it. That's why I stayed a Roman Catholic; plus, I didn't want to disappoint my mother, probably. [laughter] ...
SI: Vatican II occurred at that time, correct? [Editor's Note: The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) was opened by Pope John XXIII in October 1962 and closed by Pope Paul VI in December 1965. The Council focused on issues related to the Roman Catholic Church's role in the modern world.]
JN: Yes, that was '63, I believe, or '62 or '63, the results of which really didn't impact until afterwards. It took awhile to filter out, but the Jesuits, I liked. They were more liberal. I think the best one--I don't want to get ahead of it--but, [at] University of Chicago, the Newman Club, the priests there were incredibly liberal and real. ... The Jesuits had been good, though, in high school. They understood. They were more liberal than anyone. You know, I can remember challenging the importance of the Virgin Birth [the birth of Jesus Christ], "Why is it important that Mary was a virgin? If she had been a non-virgin, then, that would have been more real, you know, and so, why?" and the Jesuits would discuss it with you and say, "Well, that's a good point," or whatever. I remember, one of the Jesuits said that, "Any religion can get you to heaven, you know. If you adhere, believe in the religion to which you adhere, you will get to heaven, if you adhere to the principles of that religion," to which I then said, "Well, why are the Jesuits in foreign missions? Why are you going out?" and so, we would have good discussions. "Why are you converting people if everyone gets to heaven?" you know. ... So, I remember, we would have these discussions, both at Georgetown and ... in high school, and they were always, "Good, think that way." It was positive, as opposed to the nuns or my mother, who would have said, "Go to confession," [laughter] "You're a bad boy for thinking." So, religion became--I don't know ... why I'm going here--but that became an important discussion, issue, for me.
SI: Clearly, you had a lot of theological issues on your mind and you could talk about them.
JN: Yes, and reason my way through them and, I do believe there is a certain amount of faith, you know. ... As I get older, and, I'll be seventy in March, you know, yes, I believe that there's fairness to life and, if it's not achieved here, [laughter] because life is not always fair, that it's going to be achieved somewhere. You know, otherwise, it just doesn't seem right that that not be the case. I can't believe all this is just serendipity, you know, that it just occurred, that we are who we are--part of the human body is the way it is--just out of pure chance. ... So, yes, I've evolved, too. I lector at church. I'm not religious per se, but I do lector, on Sundays, and I go every Sunday and I berate my children if they don't [go] [laughter] and my wife's very religious, too. ...
GC: I know, later on in Georgetown's history, the faculty and the school went against ROTC and disbanded it. Did you feel any of the early effects of that in the early 1960s?
JN: No, not in the early '60s. The ... Kennedy assassination was [in] the Fall of '63 and, at the time of Kennedy, there were only, I think sixteen thousand advisors--I've picked this [information] up since I've been at the Memorial--sixteen thousand advisors, you know, were in Vietnam. [Editor's Note: President John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.] So, Vietnam wasn't even an issue while I was there [Georgetown]. I mean, the spring of my junior year, so, the Spring of '62, ... you fill out your "dream sheet" and you pick, within the Army, what branch you want and I put Infantry first. I mean, I don't even think I was aware of Vietnam. Spring of '62, we probably had ten thousand advisors over there at the time. It just wasn't a big thing. It wasn't a hot war. There was no war. Korea was over in 1953. So, you know, ... you could join the infantry, go to Germany, okay. So, now, your question about when they disbanded it [ROTC], yes, I resented that. I stopped giving donations, because it was an educational opportunity that should be afforded, okay, and I'll jump ahead, and then, we can come back. I really believe in the free enterprise system. I believe in the right of everyone to do what he or she wants to do, okay. I can remember landing at San Francisco Airport, flying back [from Vietnam] after my tour, and there were demonstrations out there. I remember one sign--now, whether this is over the years [that] I've fabricated it or because I've seen so many pictures--but I remember, "Baby Burner." I remember getting off the plane, walking into the terminal and looking out over there and there were demonstrations behind a fence and demonstrators holding signs saying, "Baby Burner" and "Murderer." I remember being really ticked, but, then, I had just spent a year making sure that we maintain a certain type of society, a democratic society and a free society, and that was part of what I was fighting for. So, again, I tend, especially after Vietnam, ... I never got too high, too low, and everything I have, I really appreciate. You know, they demonstrators have a right to do that, and so, ... if I can't control it, I'm not going to get upset about it. I will control the controllables. I couldn't control what they were doing, at that time. So, going back to Georgetown, when they got rid of it [ROTC], I couldn't control it. ... The only thing I could control is my donation. I stopped giving. I wrote a letter, just like with the default that our Congress just put in, too. I wrote our Congressman. So, I still do this kind of thing, to control what I can control, get my input in, and then, at some point, I started giving to Georgetown again. I don't know, I guess they put it ROTC back in, but, yes, ... why withdraw an opportunity for those who want to do something in a free society? Why are you mandating it, one way or the other? But, then, I had a brother--you know, this may be important. My brother is eleven years younger ... and he was born with a clubbed foot, so, he was automatically 4-F, i.e., he was physically unable to go because of physical issues, not go into the military. When I was out in Pittsburgh--so, I was twenty-nine--I was in Pittsburgh, I got a call from my father, saying, "What are you doing this Christmas?" and I said, "Well, we're going to be here," because we had one child. ... Then, he said, "Good. Your brother's coming out to stay with you for Christmas." "Why?" He said, "Because he just sent me a letter saying he's going to file for conscientious objectorship," because he was against the war in Vietnam, the Kennedy assassinations, Martin Luther King. ... He was anti-government, he was anti-everything, okay, and my father and he didn't get along, more because he was verbal; I was more passive, okay, so, I would not get into a confrontation with him. So, he came out, and my father had said, "I will not have him at home. He must withdraw the conscientious objectorship, because he's automatically 4-F. He doesn't have to go in, and I will not pay for his education if he doesn't withdraw it." So, Mike came out. So, I'm twenty-nine, ... he's eighteen at the time, and we talked. I mean, it was some of the first all-nighters I pulled since college, about the issue he had. ... It wasn't well-formed. He's a very smart guy, but it was more, "The military's bad, the war is bad," and so, I said, "Well, let me tell you about the military," and so, ... I could, because of my Jesuit training, go into the Pax Romana [Latin saying for, "Roman Peace"]. "Well, when Rome dominated, ... arts flourished, everything flourished. So, the military, per se, isn't bad. You're saying maybe the application of it to Vietnam is bad? Okay, so, let's go there." So, then, I said, "Well, let me tell you, as a platoon leader, what went on over there. So, was I bad?" "No, that wasn't it." "So, there are aspects of it that are bad, you're saying? Okay." You know, P.S., he ended up not filing [for] conscientious objectorship. I told him I'd pay for his college, okay. So, I said, "That's not an issue." He and I finally got close as a result of that, because eleven years is such a huge gap. So, in answer to your question, I mean, I'm willing to put up with what would, on the face of it, be, intellectually, just blasphemy for me, you know, anti-military. So, the ROTC being disbanded at Georgetown, I understood that--I will withdraw donations. You know, I'm not going to get emotionally involved or upset at Georgetown for doing that, but I thought they were wrong, if that makes sense. [laughter]
SI: Your brother would have been liable for the draft pretty much at the end of the draft, around 1971 or 1972.
JN: Yes, yes, ... but he wanted to file. He wanted to go on record to file, because he was against it. Plus, it was [that], you know, he had this thing with my dad, too. Before my dad died, I made sure I walked in with him, when my dad was in the hospital, to make sure he reconciled with him, because they hadn't been close for years. Okay, so, it was that kind of, you know, brigadier general kind of thing meets a child. [laughter] Although I was a child of the '60s, he was a child of the '70s.
SI: Going back to the ROTC at Georgetown, how big was the unit?
JN: Well, let's see, we had two battalions, so, that was thirty, sixty, ninety--probably several hundred [men], at least three, four hundred, you know.
SI: It was all voluntary.
JN: All voluntary, all voluntary, and, again, this was '63 and there was still no major military engagements. ... In '61, I guess, was the Cuban Missile Crisis . That was, you know, the worst thing that we had experienced, outside of having to get under our desks and cover our heads in the '50s, okay.
SI: What was it like being in Washington in that intense moment, where it would obviously be a major target during a nuclear attack?
JN: [laughter] ... Well, it was interesting. ... I remember, it was sophomore year, because my roommate, with a bunch of people, went to West Virginia, drove to get out. I was in ROTC. I'm going to save the world. You know, if I'm going to go, I'm going to go, and I had an exam the next morning and it was an ROTC exam, which the entire class flunked, as I recall, because ... we figured we wouldn't make it to the next day, to the exam. ... In those days, I was, you know, invincible. I would live forever. I would be in the basement--I think I went to the basement of the building as the ships neared in Cuba--and we were listening on the radio to whatever was being discussed. ... They didn't have helicopters flying overhead, so, you didn't know what was happening, and all the news was managed back then. So, I remember going into the basement of Copley Hall at Georgetown University, which, yes, would have done nothing, okay, but that was the only precaution. I was going to stay because, if there were a nuclear attack or an atomic attack, they would have needed people to help, get the people taken care of. ... I was ROTC and I was here to do my duty to God and country, ... but, again, the smart people got the hell out of DC, okay. [laughter] ... Yes, I was there, I remember, just because my roommate said, "John, you've got to come with me." I said, "Oh, no, I'm needed here." [laughter]
GC: This might be a hit or a miss, but I found this article. I do not know if you were here. In 1962, the ROTC was asked to perform at a movie premiere, at which one of the ROTC guys accidentally bayoneted Robert Kennedy.
SI: Do you remember that incident at all?
JN: Boy, I don't. Who was the guy?
GC: It says his name in there.
JN: Gallagher, "The bayonet of drill team sergeant Gerard Gallagher," I knew him, he was [in] my class, "scraped Kennedy." You know what this [is]? This is a media creation. I don't remember any big issue about this. This was '60-what?
GC: 1962, October 11th.
GC: It was on the front page of The Washington Post the next day.
JN: [laughter] Yes, Gallagher, I knew. He was really a gung ho guy. It didn't make any impact on me. ... I don't remember. I mean, the drill team, see, you know, '62, again, I mean, things were quiet. ... You know, Kennedy was, September of '63, as I recall, or November of '63, I guess it was, November of '63. Yes, that was a major thing. '61 was the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, there was nothing, you know, big. I'm trying to think. ... I don't remember it being discussed or anything else. So, no, it wasn't an issue. I do remember him, though. He was a very gung ho guy, who was physically fit and he was a little bit extreme, Gallagher. He was an extreme soldier, I guess. ... I don't know what happened to him. I don't know whether he went to Vietnam or whatever, but he obviously ... would have volunteered. He would have volunteered if he were not selected to go to Vietnam, let's put it that way. [laughter] I do remember him, kind of a short guy, but, no, ... good research, sorry, not a big issue, that I remember.
SI: Tell us a little about the training. Was it classroom work or would you go out on maneuvers?
JN: Yes, it was at least three days a week of classes. So, I mean, it was like a whole elective. You had to use up an elective to take it in junior and senior year and it was supplementary to your basic course in the first two years. ... I was gung ho my senior year. It was funny, I was just up at Lake Placid, [New York], with a classmate, and he and I were both ROTC. There was Ranger training. We had Ranger training senior year, which meant, five-thirty in the morning, physical education, you know, PT [physical training] and all this kind of gung ho stuff.
SI: That was something you had to volunteer for.
JN: Yes, it was extra, and so, we got a patch and he and I were gung ho. We were almost arrested, as a unit, attacking Key Bridge [in] the Fall of '62 or Spring of '63, whatever, because the captain in charge of this little unit had [not] notified the DC Police. [laughter] ... So, here we were, with our M-1s [rifles], which had no firing pin, attacking, maneuvering to attack Key Bridge, which was right down the hill from Georgetown, which we would have been shot for today, [laughter] or incarcerated at least. Someone stopped us and said, "What the hell are you guys doing?" "Well, we're on maneuvers. We're from Georgetown," "Get out of here. You know, you can't [do that]," Between junior and senior year, you attended, I think it was a four-week, if not six-week, camp. Indiantown Gap Military Reservation is where the Georgetown people went, where you had a training environment. You did have to crawl underneath live ammo shooting over you, you know, ten feet over you, but you had to go through that. You had real exercises for leadership. You had escape-and-evasion for two or three days. So, you were taught these things between junior and senior year, in a six-week, probably, summer camp, but, outside of that, it was just three extra classes a week, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, as I recall, and you learned a lot, but it was textbook kind of stuff. You wore your uniform one day a week, when you had drill that afternoon, as a unit. ... You trained in drilling. That was once a week. You wore your uniform and you were kind of [left alone]. I don't remember anyone disrespecting the ROTC, back in the early 1960s. It was before the bad stuff started, before the demonstrations and sit-ins, at least at Georgetown. ... You know, I just ... don't remember discussions in the student government. I was on the student government my senior year. I don't remember big issues, from the administration or from the students, regarding ROTC. So, it was just too early, I think. So, it was good in that sense.
SI: Was there more awareness of what was happening in the world, particularly being in Washington, the seat of power?
JN: Yes, and that depended on the individual, I think. You know, again, back in the '60s, we were still [isolated], as a country, I believe. ... If someone had said [that] what went on in Greece is going to affect your stock market, you'd go, "What? What are you talking about?" The world was not flat, okay--you know, Friedman's book. [Editor's Note: Mr. Nugent is referring to Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (2005).] You know, it just wasn't. You didn't have competition off shore, from off shore. We were pretty insulated and pretty isolated, still, in the early '60s. The Cuban Missile Crisis, yes, but, you know, the occupation [of] Hungary, I remember Hungary in '56, I believe it was. [Editor's Note: Beginning on October 23, 1956, Hungarians revolted against the Communist government installed by the Soviet Union after World War II. Following an invasion and brutal occupation by Soviet forces, most resistance ceased by November 10th. Approximately 200,000 Hungarians fled the country after the Hungarian Revolution and many settled in the United States.] I mean, I'm trying to think back. That was high school days, but I remember being really upset about that, the bad guys running in to take over Hungary, Russia coming in or putting down their rebellion, the uprising, but there wasn't [a hue-and-cry]. ... It could have just been myself. It could have been ... that I wasn't that worldly-wise, but ... the headlines were more US-centric. They weren't focused that much overseas. ... The reason I chose infantry, one of the reasons is, it would get me out of this NY-DC corridor and I could go to Germany. That's where all infantry officers went. I could get to see Europe, what was going on in the world.
SI: You come from a Republican family, but, also, heavily Irish Catholic. How did you feel about the Kennedy Administration and his campaign?
JN: Yes, Kennedy, ... everyone in my family voted for Kennedy. I don't even think I knew whether he was good, bad or indifferent. He was Irish Catholic and he was the first Catholic, okay, and I was going to vote for him. My mother, I remember my mother, you know, "Kennedy, is it?" ... "What does he stand for?" "Well, he's Irish Catholic," okay. I didn't have the discussion with my dad, because we didn't have those kinds of discussions. I resented, a little bit, the newspapers, the editorialists--I didn't really understand liberal versus conservative so much, in that I'm not sure the tags were applicable back then--but the ones who said that the Pope will be running the country, that ticked me off, because that meant there's no such thing as free will, you know, or that, you know, you're not American first, and then, "Are you a Catholic first? You're Roman Catholic first? You know, you do everything the Pope says?" and I'd been in the challenging period of my faith anyway. So, yes, it was a big deal, because it was the first Catholic. It was a big deal because it kind of positioned where the Pope was and where religion was in one's life, and so, that was important, because I was going through that at the time. ... I thought Kennedy was foolhardy for the Cuban Missile Crisis. I thought that was just so stupid, to risk that--you know, intellectually, just so stupid to risk what he was risking. I agreed a hundred percent with the objective of getting the missiles out of Cuba, but to bring the world to the precipice? I remember, I had focused on, in ROTC, mutual annihilation, and how mutual annihilation was such a good strategy in that neither one would push the button, because, then, we would annihilate each other, annihilate the world. ... I remember thinking how stupid that truth is, [laughter] that we would think of doing that and that, mutual annihilation would, you know, be the reason we would not do it, because ... we were building up all these missiles. I remember thinking how stupid that was. I remember thinking that maybe I should go into politics and make sure that didn't happen. Later in life, at P&G [Procter & Gamble], I realized that you're always beholden to the people who give you money when you're a politician and I had to be my own person. ... That was one of the reasons I didn't go into politics. I don't know, does that answer, help answer, the question?
SI: Yes, those were your opinions and feelings at the time.
SI: Do you have any questions about Georgetown?
GC: Yes. For your major, why did you choose economics?
JN: Well, I wanted it to be somewhat pragmatic, so that when I graduated, I theoretically could do something. I knew I did not want to be doctor. Okay, I didn't like the sight of blood. I didn't like science that much, although my senior year, my second semester senior year, I took an elective-- physiological psychology and I became absolutely fascinated about mind-body interaction and it was the first science course I enjoyed. Well, by then, it was too late. I was already going to the University of Chicago to get an MBA. I had already accepted, and so, it was too late to even think about a change, ... but I remember, I was fascinated by that, physiological psychology, where you learned about the human body and the mind's impact on the body. Acupuncture, I learned about for the first time there. You know, it was just ... fascinating to me.
GC: Why did you choose economics?
JN: Yes, economics. So, medical doctor, I didn't want to be, although that was a great course. Law, I didn't want, because I didn't want to be governed by precedent. I don't know, it was a strange reaction. Yet, I was more of the mindset that I had to do my own thing, you know. I wanted to make my own mark. I didn't want to have to be successful because I knew precedent better than somebody else, which, naively, a little bit, I thought that's what law was. So, business, I wanted and economics seemed, better than English, philosophy, whatever, and so, I knew I wanted to go into business, but I didn't know what type. So, that's why--it was more pragmatic--plus, I liked economics. I liked supply and demand. You know, that made sense to me, you know, logically. ... I liked macro and micro economics and finance. I had taken a couple of finance courses. I took a business course in the graduate school on economic philosophy. So, I kind of liked the impact that that had and it was so pervasive in society, the impact of economics on society. So, I kind of liked that, though I didn't know what I wanted to do exactly. So, that's how, I picked out economics.
GC: Interesting. Do any faculty or classes stand out in your mind?
JN: Well, there were bad ones. I remember the bad ones. ...
GC: What were the bad ones?
JN: [laughter] Well, [one of] the bad ones was a theology teacher. ... It was a history course in theology and he would give every class a ten or fifteen-question test on the readings since the last class and he would leave out words and you had to fill in, you know, dates or people. ... It was the most stupid [thing]. ... You know, history is the story of man, or, in this case, the story of the Church. So, what was the story? What was the learning? ... It wasn't that--it was details, it was facts. It was the most stupid class. I hated it. So, immediately, that jumps to mind. I loved logic. There's a course in logic that we had, ... and some of the philosophy, I loved. I had one great ROTC course, ... only because I liked the teacher, and he'd been in combat in Korea and he had the CIB, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, and so, he was infantry. ... I respected the heck out of him. ... There was one economics professor that stood out. He was a graduate school instructor, but he was kind of esoteric and academic, as opposed to pragmatic, but ... he pushed me, mentally, to think philosophically in economics. I tend to be more pragmatic than philosophical--so, no, there wasn't one influence. There was one guy in the administration that pushed me for the Rhodes Scholarship, to help me, said, "You should apply for this." ... He helped me--Egan was his name, another Egan [laughter]--helped me write the application and the essays that I had to do. ... He got me the scholarship to the University of Chicago, or he was influential in getting the scholarship. So, he was important. I kept in touch with him for five or six years. He passed away, but he wasn't a professor, he was an administrator, yes. [laughter]
SI: Was there anything else involved in applying for the Rhodes Scholarship?
JN: No, it was a pure application and what they wanted--well, I had distinguished myself in ROTC, in some of the rewards I'd gotten there, and I was on the rifle team and I ... was an expert rifle man. So, I had sports. I'd played basketball, first year, ... Then, I had good co-curriculars--head of the radio station, student government--and then, ... I had good grades. ... You had to have the broad perspective, plus, you had to have--my weakness was, ... "Why did you want [to be] a Rhodes Scholar? Why'd you want to go to London School of Economics?" So, you had to have an international focus. ... Heck, I wanted to get out of the, you know, New York to ... DC corridor, okay. [laughter] So, that was international business, was where I went with that, which wasn't good enough to get me a Rhodes Scholarship, but I remember Dr. Gallup, of the Gallup Poll. I was interviewed. He headed up the committee at Princeton. It was at Princeton that they were meeting and the candidates from New Jersey went there. So, I remember meeting Dr. Gallup, of the Gallup Poll, and whoever else was on the committee, but ... I was a semifinalist. So, the application went in, then, they selected people to be interviewed. So, that was the semifinal, and then, final was getting it and I didn't get it. ... I didn't have a good reason for international business. ... I had never had a white collar job. I mean, I'd only worked at the post office. [laughter] ... I was, again, somewhat naive when I got out of college, in [that] I knew what I didn't want to do, I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I had good, quote-unquote, "credentials" to allow me to get ... by the second weeding out. You had to be selected by your school, then, you had to be selected for the interview, and then, you were awarded [the Rhodes Scholarship]. So, those were the steps. ...
SI: Tell us a little bit about your involvement with the radio station and why you were interested in that.
JN: Well, I always had a deep voice and I went and signed up the first day and I ended up getting some news show. ... People would recognize your name and I loved it. I loved being in front of the mic and we would do election coverage, and so, I enjoyed that. ... Then, I got promoted pretty quickly, so I was picked to be program director, at the end of my freshman year. ... I was station manager from the second semester of sophomore year to first semester of junior year. That's how it went. It overlapped that way. It wasn't a school year, it was a calendar year, as it turned out, okay. Why? I guess for transition purposes. So, all of a sudden, I was program director and I was doing well. You like what you're doing well at and I enjoyed it. I'd be there at eight o clock Saturday morning to open the radio station and Victory At Sea, side two, cut three of a thirty three LP record was our opening that we had for the station, and then, you would [say], "Good morning, welcome to WGTB-FM, 90.1 on your FM dial." [laughter] So, you did all that good stuff, and ... I enjoyed it. It was fun and I did well, [laughter] and then, I ended up station manager all of a sudden, because there weren't any guys the year ahead of me that the moderator of the radio station thought were good enough to do it, I guess. I enjoyed the work. We went to FM from AM while I was there. We used to go through the radiators of the dorms at first. That's how we were transmitted, and then, we got our own FM transmitter. I'll never [forget], [laughter] I was doing a classical music show and all we had in our LP records at the time were just ... selections, you know, Mozart's concerto #X, Chopin's concerto #Y or whatever, but we didn't have the whole concerto. We had maybe the prime song. So, I said, "Oh, call in," and so, we had someone call in and I said, "Whoa, we got our first call. This is really great." "Yes, I'd like to hear," A, B, C, D, okay, and I went, "Well, we have a cut from it. We have one song I can play for you." [laughter] So, I think we lost our one listener, to our classical music [program]. We stopped that. We finally got the budget approved, so that I could get a whole classical piece I could play, not just cuts from it. ... That was my involvement. Then, you know, I got promoted rapidly and I enjoyed it and I was learning a lot and thought about a career in that, but, then, I opted to go to graduate school. ... The amount of pay for reporters was really small and I got an offer from P&G after grad school, so, I ended up [there]. That was better than being a reporter, a local reporter, but I enjoyed it. ... The broadcast media, I would've enjoyed. I would've enjoyed going into television. ... In those days, the three networks, ... ninety-five percent of television viewing was done on the three networks, not like today, where it's less than twenty percent, fifteen percent of the viewing is done on the three networks, okay. ... It would have been fun, but I did not go that way. [laughter]
SI: You mentioned this administrator at Georgetown who led you to Chicago for graduate school. What appealed to you about going to graduate school, as opposed to finding a job right away?
JN: Well, I didn't know what I wanted to do in business. It was a scholarship, full boat, full ride. It rotated among colleges, Georgetown was one of them. It was Georgetown's year. He pushed me to get it--I got it. It had to be done that year, you know. Should I have gone? I had met my future wife by then, but we weren't engaged. Should I have gone in and gotten my military service over? Yes, that would have been smarter than coming on active duty in '66, because ... I graduated in '63, but it was available and it was only available that year, because it was a rotating offer with other [colleges]. I think Chicago ... had it rotating among three different universities or colleges, and so, it was only available that year. So, it was a way of going and going on a, full ride, and my dad had my sister coming along for college and had said, "Anything beyond this is yours." ... So, I think those were, the reasons. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I could get a deferment. This was only available then. It would help me get an MBA, which I wanted to get, because it seemed smart to have, ... trying to get up the pyramid in those days. So, I think, for those reasons, that's why I took it.
SI: Tell us a little bit about your studies there, what interested you, what you remember about the courses.
JN: Okay. Can we take a break?
SI: Sure, yes.
SI: We are back. We are going to talk about your classes at Chicago and what you remember about your courses, professors, that sort of thing.
JN: One of the most eye-opening two years I've ever spent in my life, because I'd never had a white collar job. All of a sudden, ah, that was it, and, conversely, ... I would have benefited more from, you know, the Nobel Prize-winning economists that I had as teachers if I had had a job before going to graduate school, quite frankly. Nights at the post office in Newark, New Jersey, or delivering mail in Summit, New Jersey, were not the best preparation, but, you know, Milton, Stigler, Davidson, these great professors that won Economics Nobel Prizes, I had and I was just a sponge. [Editor's Note: Many recipients of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences have served on the University of Chicago faculty, including Dr. Milton Friedman (1976) and Dr. George J. Stigler (1982).] I mean, I was in awe, and I also had to work, part-time. I can remember my first marketing course. I don't remember the teacher, so, was not one of the shining lights that I mentioned earlier, but ... I just fell in love with marketing. I had no idea what I wanted to do in business, before I took a marketing course. ... To try to figure out what the need of a consumer was, when he or she cannot articulate that need, then, to be able to meet that need better than competition, over the long term, knowing the competition, as soon as you've got ... a better mousetrap, that they would be along with an even better mousetrap, was just exciting to me. It was like chess, it was like a war, you know--constant battling to get this consumer's dollar--and so, I just fell in love with it. So, I found what I wanted to do in my life. Plus, there were no rules. ... Well, there were rules, legal, moral, ethical rules, but there were no rules of how to play the game in marketing. You know, how do you come up with the best mousetrap? Okay, so, unlike law, which had precedent, ... you wanted to [win]. You know, one of my business [endeavors], the best business success I had, was "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter." I launched that, okay, and that became almost a billion-dollar business worldwide for Unilever. Well, I broke rules of marketing, and it was great, I fell in love with marketing. The other major thing I remember, besides just, you know, learning ... so much about business, textbook-wise, was a class that Milton Friedman taught. ... He's, I guess, the University of Chicago's most well-known exponent of the free market theory and he had this "stupid idea"--and I took him on in class--of creating a highly paid military that would be an all-volunteer army. He thought that was the way to go, to make it economically viable for people to want to go into that profession, as opposed to the draft and the antagonisms it caused, because, by then--this was '65, '66--by then, demonstrations were starting up. Now, I knew better, as an ROTC graduate, [laughter] about the military, that an all-volunteer army was stupid. ... He's proven to be right, and I remember taking him on in class and he just chewed me up. I was coming from a blind spot, because this is the way it'd always been. "How do you command people in wartime if they're volunteers? How do you get them to be, 'Okay, let's take that hill.' 'You know, I don't want to volunteer anymore.'" [laughter] So, I was arguing that, whereas he was doing it from an economic, theoretical point of view as a very viable career option, but you had to pay more than what you do for draftees. I mean, to wit, we have an all-volunteer military today, ... which has its pluses and minuses, but ... it's, I think, the way to go and he was right. But I remember taking him on in class. ...
SI: Did his laissez-faire viewpoint really resonate with you?
JN: Yes, it did, exactly, philosophically as well as economically, and going back to my comments about the post office, earlier, ... and the fact that, you know, as I said, even being a Roman Catholic, you may have to jump ... a ten-foot high fence, but you should be able to get in, okay, if you're good, so that if you bust your tail, work hard, you should be rewarded, economically. You don't want the restraints of a bureaucracy inhibiting what you can and cannot do. Now, I firmly believe that the financial meltdown that we experienced four, five years ago was due to the lack of regulation and that we had pure greed and ill-conceived objectives by bankers, investment bankers, mortgage derivative type people, that caused that. ... It was the lack of regulation that led to that, because it was a failure of recognizing the greed in human nature. So, I think you need regulation. You cannot let free enterprise run rampant, okay, although there's self-correction and there is the self-correction that just occurred, but you do need some regulation, because it hurt too many people to have that correction occur. So, yes, it reinforced that. ... I was shocked at how much I hated accounting and I had difficulty with accounting. Statistics, I loved. The computer, for the first time, I became aware of the computer, back in ... '64, '65. ... One computer course I had to take, it was COBAL. I had to learn the language of COBAL, C-O-B-O-L, which is no longer around, although a lot of systems are predicated on it. ... To pass the course, you had to write a program. Well, I had a shoebox, a box that was like one of my two-foot long trays back in the post office, [laughter] with these punch cards, you know. ...
JN: And I had it stacked up, and then, you would feed the punch cards in, so that you would then get a stack of paper two feet tall that would have your printout, which is what you needed to go to the professor with, to prove you could write a program. I mean, it was stunning, you know, how advanced we are today, how technology [has advanced]. I keep on saying to my kids, who are, your ages, "Do you understand this technological revolution that you're experiencing?" and so, I said, "Well, think back to Pac-Man and Pong, they were the first games, on the Atari 6400, or whatever it was, the first computers, back in the '80s, I guess it was. It's just stunning how game systems [changed], how far we've come. It's just fascinating." I was always surprised that the Federal Reserve, throughout the '90s, was shocked at the productivity increases in America, whereas I was witnessing what the computer was doing. ... So, I can remember the computer, at the University of Chicago and it was huge. It was three times the size of this room. That was the computer at the University of Chicago, one of the premier business schools in the world. So, it was incredible learning. I was really tight on money. My fiancée at the time--no, fiancée-to-be--had to go to my father to have him send money to me. ... I ran out of money. [laughter]
SI: How did you meet your wife-to-be?
JN: I met her the beginning of my senior year of college. She was a resident of Maryland and had gone to a party of a Georgetown guy, whom I knew, who was having a going back to school party before everyone went back to school. I was at Georgetown early, because, as treasurer of the student government, a major portion of the money we made in the student government was from buying books at the end of one year and selling them at the beginning of the next year. So, I was down to get my bookstore ready and volunteers were coming in and we took up a huge floor with books, so that we could sell them. We had to get them out and price them and all that. So, I was down early. He invited me to the party and she was there with her boyfriend at the time and she was a sophomore at Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross, an all-women's college in the area, and I was a senior at Georgetown. ... We just celebrated forty-five years.
JN: ... Thank you-- she's a saint, [laughter] to stick with me that long, I mean. She's a good person, to put up with all the stuff I've made her put up with over our marriage. I'm not sure I would have stayed with me, but she did. She stayed with me and I call her "Saint Helen," as does everyone else. [laughter] Yes, forty-five years, just celebrated forty-five years this past May--yes, that used to be old.
SI: Not anymore.
JN: Not anymore, can't be old anymore. [laughter] So, yes, Chicago opened my eyes, confirmed that marketing was what I wanted, especially consumer marketing, not business-to-business. I really wanted to deal with the consumer, Chicago put me in touch with guys I never would have met with. ... It's interesting, I came across a bunch of smarter guys than I was--like, the chairman of Aramark, right now, was a buddy of mine ... and they were older. I was one of the youngest. Well, I was twenty-one my senior year, March of my senior year of college, so, I was always one of the youngest going through and these guys had been out in the business world. They were just smarter than me, but they couldn't make decisions, you know. The real smart people couldn't make decisions. I'd come up with--okay, we have a business problem--I'd come up with three solutions. I'd pick one and be moving on it--they'd come up with ten and they were debating which way to go. Meanwhile, I'd already solved the problem, was moving on to the next, you know, when we had the games, you would have business games. ... I learned logic and pragmatism versus theoretical. We would have these business games where you'd invest money in R&D versus advertising. ... You'd submit your allocation of monies to the professor and he'd run it against the other people who had made their allocations. Some people ... couldn't make the decision to get it in, so, didn't get it in on time. So, you learned what your strengths and weaknesses were, but there were a lot of smart people. ... It was worthwhile, although I was really hurting financially by the time [I graduated], because the stipend for room and board wasn't great. ... As I said, I owed my father some money. The first paycheck I got from P&G, [laughter] I paid him off.
SI: Did you live in a university housing complex?
JN: Yes. ... There was a Business School dormitory, so, part of the money was that you got a room there for free. I did that. I was president of that dormitory my second year. So, that was good, again, self-confidence--at least your peers are willing to vote for you, kind of thing--but I lived in a Business School [dorm], at 5500 South Blackstone Avenue in Chicago. It was a good three quarters of a mile walk to the campus. Chicago is brutal in February. [laughter] It's a wet cold. It does blow right through you. I appreciated warm weather, you know, when it came around, although Chicago was a clean city. I'd been in New York City and Washington, DC. ... That was the first Mayor Daley and a lot of people who were dead voted for him, but it was a clean city and it was well run, a lot cleaner than NYC or DC was. [Editor's Note: Richard J. Daley served as Mayor of Chicago from 1955 to 1976.] Yes, [I] still have good friends from those days, but ... it was very simple. Once I found the first marketing course, I then knew what I wanted. ... In those days, an MBA was rather unique, more so than it is today, and so, we had great offers from great companies. I had offers from AT&T, General Foods, and P&G which was the one, which was not the highest offer. I think I had one lower salary offer, but P&G, in those days, it was so sought-after as a company. It still is today, but, in those days, they would lower the salary, [laughter] because they had the reputation, okay, and so, people would want to go to work for them. If you wanted consumer packaged goods marketing, you'd want to go to work for them. I can remember flying--I'd never been on an airplane before. So, here I was, twenty-three years old, getting out of graduate school, and so, I went to O'Hare Airport, got on a plane to fly to Cincinnati for the interview and we're coming in. ... What you did, you came in the night before, had dinner with someone who was a brand assistant at P&G, then, had a series of interviews the next day and were made an offer at the end of the day or not. So, we're on the plane and it said we're flying into--you know, "Please, fasten your seatbelt. We're about to land in Covington, Kentucky." ... I went, "Oh, my God, I got on the wrong flight. I'm supposed to meet this guy for dinner tonight. I'm going to Covington, Kentucky." Again, you know, naïve, I didn't realize, "Well, Kentucky, I know, is kind of near Ohio, but, you know, I'm in Covington, Kentucky?" So, the Cincinnati Airport was in Covington, Kentucky. So, I kind of remember asking the guy sitting next to me, I said, "Well, how far is Cincinnati, Ohio, from where we're landing?" So, he said, "Well, it's about a twenty-minute drive,". That's when I went, "Okay, thank God." [laughter] ... I was so excited about being on my first airplane flight, and so, I got offered the job at P&G and that was a great experience, but go ahead. Anyway, Chicago, that was what I learned from there.
SI: We do not want to skip over anything, but we want to move on. We can always come back.
JN: I think, those are the key things I remember, the key professors. ... I would have appreciated it more and learned more if I'd been out in the real world, and then, quit the job, and then, gone to Chicago, as opposed to what my work experience had been.
SI: You mentioned most of your classmates were older. Would they have gone that route as well?
JN: Yes, and I guess it's just because Chicago rotated this scholarship, and so, that's the only reason. Otherwise, I don't know. In the normal selection process, ... they knew if you'd had a real world job, a white collar job, then, you were going to ... get more benefit from it, ... but, in this case I came kind of a different route, you know, because of the scholarship offer.
SI: Tell us about getting settled in Procter and Gamble.
JN: P&G, ... I was scared when I first went there. ... I'd never had, as I said, a white collar job and here I was at the Procter and Gamble Company. ... All the guys I met the first day, ... they were all MBAs from the great business schools of the world or of the country, and so, I was intimidated. I lived where they recommended single guys live. It was the George B. Harrison Club-- which was like a glorified YMCA, okay, and I didn't have a car, couldn't afford a car. It was on a bus route that went right from P&G up one of the seven hills of Cincinnati, like Rome, and had a White Castle on the corner, and then, the George B. Harrison Club. ... I loved sliders, you know, [laughter] the White Castle hamburgers, okay. So, that used to be my dinner every night and, I remember, I busted my tail, worked really hard. I put in hours and, in order to stay late at night, you had to have your department chairman--I was in the foods division--you had to have your division chairman sign for a late pass. ... To come in on the weekend, you needed--on the eleventh floor of Cincinnati headquarters is where the senior managers worked--you had to have the vice-president or senior vice-president in charge of your division sign for a weekend pass. Well, you wanted at least one weekend pass signed by him a month and you wanted at least seven or ten days of passes a month signed by your department chairman, the foods division department chairman, just because it was really cutthroat in those days. Now, this is July of '65, okay. ... I asked for and got a deferment of my military commitment, because I wanted to make a decision. I said to them--now, my dad was influential in getting that--but I wanted to decide. I never had had a real job, so, I wanted to test whether or not I wanted to ... make the military a career. I wanted to try this. Vietnam was still not a huge thing. I mean, this is '65. You know, would I have gone in earlier? but it made no difference anyway. I wanted to gain the experience. I had the offer. P&G was willing to hire me, knowing I had two years to do in the military. ... I would work late all the time. I would call my wife to-be every night. I would call her every night and spend an hour talking to her on the phone, okay. I was called in by my boss's boss--so, it was the second-highest level--one time and he said, "I understand you're going into the military." "Yes, I am." "I just want you to know, we will welcome you back. You have been spectacularly successful here. We're very pleased with your performance, but there's one issue I want to talk with you about," and I went, "Okay." He said, "You spend too many hours here. When you come back, you're going to have a family and you cannot afford to spend the same amount of time. Plus, I ask you, how much time do you waste during the day, knowing you're going to be here to nine o'clock, nine-thirty, ten o'clock at night?" He was right on all accounts, okay, but I got everyone's attention, okay. [laughter] I worked hard. I always was demanding more work. It was from July of '65 until the middle of February of '66, because I came on active duty 28 Feb '66, and I really enjoyed it and, again, you know, success defined as, "I was recognized by the boss's boss's, boss," and I liked it. I liked the work, and that's most important. If someone says to me, "What should I do in life?" I say, "Well, there are three important things, as far as your career--one, you've got to like it; two, you've got to like it; three, you've got to like it--because, if you don't like it, you're not going to be successful, you're not going to be happy, which impacts your home life, impacts your health and impacts your performance, if you don't like it. So, you've got to find something you like to do." ... Those are the first three important things, and I loved it and I loved my entire career in consumer packaged goods.
SI: Was there a particular product that they put you on?
JN: Yes, ... at that time, I was on Duncan Hines. So, I had cake mix, brownies, muffin mix. That was the business to which I was assigned, in the foods division, which I only found out years later, you didn't want to be in the foods division. They've sold all of the above, okay. Yes, Folgers went and Pringles is about to go. ... That's the last one. Pringles was just going into test market when I was there, when I came back, after the military. It was just going into test market; remind me when we get to that point, I'll tell you a story about that. ... So, Duncan Hines, and it's ironic, thirty years later, I bid on it. I tried to buy the business when I was in the leveraged buyout world, [laughter] and I was one of seven on the business back in the mid-'60s. In '65, there were seven people to run that brand--brand manager, two assistant brand managers, and then, two brand assistants and two secretaries. That's how we ran this. There were one-and-a-quarter people thirty years later, because of technology. ... You did all the analyses and all the grunt work, figured out what was right. So, I was on Duncan Hines, and then, I left for my two years, two years active duty. ... That was a seven-month period, so, it wasn't a long time period there.
SI: It is interesting that your boss's boss had this conversation with you about your hours. We were talking the other day about corporate culture and how strong it was, particularly in this era, when you were starting at P&G. Can you characterize that for us? What role did the company play in your life? Did they try to impose a corporate culture on their employees?
JN: Yes, there were dress codes. I wore white long sleeve shirts, suits, ties, no colored shirts back then. When I got back from the military, having a blue striped white shirt, I was one of the first to do that, okay, just because ... I was pretty cocky. I'd survived a war and all that and, I wanted a little more freedom, but, you know, there was discipline, dress code. At Christmastime, the senior VP up on the eleventh floor would walk around. You could not leave the day before Christmas, or Christmas Eve, until he walked through, shook everyone's hand. He was a good guy. Ed Snow was his name. He was a really nice guy, but that was tradition, so, you were [there]. It was regimented--your report times, working late, getting passes--and what I found out later, when I came back, ... how you behaved at parties. They were always testing you, you know, how your wife behaved, how your wife dressed, whether she flirted with others. ... I don't know what the best way to put it [is]. ... They watched you. "Big Brother," "Big Corporation," was watching how you performed. You were always on, okay, and Cincinnati was kind of a corporate town, ... It wasn't that big. It wasn't New York City. So, they knew--, where you lived, became important, you know, your image. I mean, all that stuff was really important and, when I came back in '68, February of '68, when I came back, or March of '68, as it turned out, yes, that was important. ... We used to carpool ... when I came back, so, that was okay, but, lots of times, the carpool would leave and leave you there, because you had to stay late, because you're trying to ... get ahead of the other guy. It was very competitive, I mean, incredibly competitive. ... I entered as a class. ... My class really was March '68, okay. So, it was the Summer of '68 that the guys [were] graduating. ... I was the first one of that class to make brand manager, big stuff--socially, I mean, ... not just business-wise--very competitive. ... I have two, three close friends from that era. Over the years, one has passed away, the other two, I see. They were somewhat older than me, because ... they worked for a while before they went to graduate school, and then, had military as well. ... They're not in great physical shape, but ... we talk about it kiddingly, but, even in golf, we're competitive. I took up golf when I came back and, even on the golf course, it was competitive. It was the ultimate in free enterprise, in that, you know, if you performed, you were rewarded, okay. I had the least amount of time at the company when I made brand manager (two years out from the military) but I had performed, and I go back to that seven months when I'm sure they made the record, "Workaholic, achiever, ... company man, loves it." ... That was very key to my success there. ...
SI: There were others who had to go to the military. It was not uncommon.
JN: Yes, it was. One of the guys I kept in touch with over the years was a guy who joined that summer, July of '65, after finishing two years in the military, okay. He had done work, graduate school, then, military for two years and was coming to P&G. So, I mean, the good news, even when I returned, at P&G, ... I'm jumping ahead now, but the coasts were really anti-military and demonstrations were more common there. The media was more responsive to the demonstrations on each coast. In Cincinnati, I was a hero, okay. I had a hero award. I was written up in Moonbeams there, the company magazine. I was congratulated when I returned. That's [how it was], which was unlike colleagues, peers of mine, military peers, on the coasts. P&G was good, ... and still is, as far as I know, although I don't know anyone there anymore. [laughter] It's been a long time. [laughter] You really get promoted or you're gone, [laughter] from P&G. ... It was, ... I guess, the epitome of free enterprise. If you [worked hard], you were rewarded. It was a meritocracy, okay, and you could go as high, regardless of your age, experience, whatever-- you performed, you had to have the numbers. It couldn't just be hard work without results. You needed the results, okay, but it was good. I liked P&G.
SI: Where did you first report when you had to report for active duty?
JN: Went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and Infantry Officers' Basic Training Course (IOBC), reported 28 Feb, '66, and, there were forty, fifty in my class exactly. We filled a whole barracks. You know, I don't remember how many were in the class, but we filled two floors of a barracks and had ... a four-week or five-week training course, sort of like, "Okay, I'm going to take you through everything we took you through during junior and senior years of college. We're going to do escape-and-evasion, we're going to teach you military tactics, ... you've got to know the rifles inside and out," although we used M-14s, not the M-16s we ended up using. "We're going to teach you all this again," and you had noncommissioned officers that were doing a lot of the instructing as well. So, it was literally a basic training course ... for second lieutenants. Now, I made first lieutenant very quickly, but, anyway, we had orders, I had orders, to go to Germany-- Schweinfurt. ... I forget what infantry division was in Schweinfurt. I had orders to go there. I was to get married after IOBC. I didn't want to get married, and then, be in the barracks for five weeks, didn't make an awful lot of sense. So, May 7th, we were ... to be married. ... We had German measles sweep through the group. Right after that, I had oral surgery for an impacted wisdom tooth, ended up with a huge infection, like the week before I was to get married, high fever, ended up not being able to talk. I had lockjaw, because my muscles, everything, locked. I couldn't talk. I had my buddies calling my fiancée, saying, "He might not make the wedding." My mother-in-law, a very resourceful person, already had my best man ready to stand in. They were going ahead with the wedding. [laughter] My mother-in-law and I had discussions about that for a long time. My best man never got married, he was so scared, [laughter] but you could do that in DC. You could have a substitute. I got out thirty-six hours before my wedding. I was released. They finally went and did exploratory surgery, found the infection, operated, but I couldn't get out right away. My temperature had to be below a hundred. I'll never forget, the nurse, the second day, which was two days before I was to get married, the nurse said, ... "You're going to go in, take cold showers and we're going to get your temperature down. You are going to make your wedding," and this is at Fort Benning's hospital. ... I ended up with a ninety-seven-point-something degree temperature. So, they, my buddies--you could drive on the tarmac in those days--drove me to Columbus, Georgia, put me on the plane and I made it, thirty-six hours before I was to get married. My orders had been changed, ironically, at the time, two weeks before I was to get married. "All those of you who were going to Germany, please report over here," five-thirty in the morning, you know, like, "What the hell? 'Were?' What was the tense of that verb?" and we were all changed, except for two guys, to a special unit being formed up for a special mission, for a secret mission. ... We went, "Oh, crap, there's only one place to have a special unit for secret missions." There were two guys who went to Germany. One was my roommate. He spent thirty percent of the nights in Columbus, Georgia, partying. He'd come back in the morning, I'd help him get ready for the day. I'd teach him what's on the exam. ... You kind of know when life's not going to be fair. You just accept things--he was one of the two that went to Germany. [laughter] You know, life isn't fair. ... So, my orders were changed. My wife already had tickets to fly via Icelandic Airline. I was not willing to commit for three years. If they had flown my wife over, I had to commit for an extra year in the military and I was really worried about Vietnam. ... So, we were going to honeymoon in Europe and she was flying Icelandic Airlines. I swear, she was going iceberg to iceberg. I've never heard of Icelandic Airlines since. [laughter] ... So, my orders were changed and [I] ended up staying at Fort Benning for the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, which was formed June 1 of '66, and we got NCOs from around the world to come in, and thank God for noncommissioned officers. They're sort of like how the infrastructure of the government runs despite the Republicans or Democrats who are in the White House or in government. It's the staff that makes things go. The NCOs make the military go--[Mr. Nugent bangs on the table] never doubt the importance of noncommissioned officers. [laughter]
SI: Did you know that at the time?
SI: Many officers we interview say that the best thing they did was to form a good relationship with their NCOs.
JN: I did. I learned that as I went along. Well, I was a battalion liaison officer first, then, a platoon leader, then, a battalion adjutant, okay, when I got promoted to captain, over there, but I realized that really quickly ... when we started forming the unit. ... My battalion commander, Jim Boatner, who ended up becoming a two-star ... major general, ... he was a West Pointer. His father had been a West Pointer. I had infinite respect for him. He's one of the few officers, though, above me, that I came in contact with in my two years that I had respect for--and I don't mean that I was better than they, I just mean they did things because they were told to, without questioning. They did it because it was the Army way, as opposed to thinking, ... or because they wanted to be promoted or they wanted to curry favor. ... I mean, there's politics in any organization, but this was not necessarily a meritocracy. [laughter] You had to have time in grade and, if you were passed over twice, ... you were out. ... There were several captains who had been passed over once. ... They didn't want to be passed over again, so that they operated differently; ... not sure how I got on that subject.
SI: We were talking about NCOs.
JN: Yes. The NCOs were great. Sergeant Tolfree, ... when I became a platoon leader, he was my NCO and ... I worshipped the ground he walked on and he knew how to manage me, as well as he had the respect of the men. ... He made it all the way through and came back. So, he's good, but, yes, NCOs were really important. So, anyway, the five or six weeks at Fort Benning, I missed my graduation because of the surgery, but did make the wedding, ... although I still think I have a basis for an annulment, because I was so drugged up, you know. [laughter] My wife says something about, "Forty-five years, it's too late. You can't." [laughter] Then, [I] reported back to Fort Benning, after our honeymoon. We lived off base--I'm not sure why, I guess a lot of officers did--220 Ticknor Drive, which is just out the front door of the base, but I would leave at "0-Dark-Early" in the morning to go in. ... I was battalion liaison officer initially, which, I don't know, was a gopher for the battalion commander. I wrote a military history for ... The Fourth Battalion, 12th Infantry. It had been decommissioned in Germany after World War II and it was resurrected ... 1 June, '66, and so I wrote a history of 1966. I set up the protocols for reporting, all that kind of stuff. Here, is a classic military story. Colonel Boatner, Jim Boatner, came to me and he said, "I want you to go down to Eglin Air Force Base for a two-week air-ground combat school, because I have to send an officer down. You have to come back and teach the rest of us." I was to learn how to communicate between the infantry, the guys on the ground, and the Air Force. "What is the protocol? How do you do it? What's worked? What's not worked? What do you need, you know? What materiel?" etc., etc. So, I went down and I took my wife with me, just because we were newly married, and it was at Eglin Air Force Base, down in the panhandle of Florida. Panama City, Panama City, Florida, was the city. So, I report, you know, "Lieutenant Nugent," I was a first lieutenant, I think, at the time, "Lieutenant Nugent reporting, as ordered, for the air-ground combat school." So, whoever was at the desk said, "Fine, have your name checked off. Fine, you're here. You need billets [a soldier's assigned living quarters]?" I said, "No, we're staying at a roach-infested place just off the base," [laughter] but that's where we stayed. That's all I could afford and, as long as the lights were on, it was okay. [laughter] He said, "By the way, we have not yet changed the air-ground combat course to incorporate the learning out of Vietnam, because we really don't have that much learning yet out of Vietnam." This was Fall of '66. "So, all of the air-ground protocols, etc., are based on the Korean War." So, I said, "Well, have there been changes?" He said, "Oh, yes, major changes, because helicopters are now in more prevalent use and we are a lot more sophisticated;" I remember him saying, you know, more sophisticated, my words, but, "more sophisticated airplanes and, you know, bombing has advanced since the mid-'50s." This is the mid-'60s, and so, I went, "Why am I here?" So, I call Colonel Boatner and he said, "John, you're about to learn something about the Army. I cannot get my unit qualified unless I have someone attend that course. I have to be qualified. Otherwise, we're not going to go. Now, maybe that's a smart thing, not to go, but we are going. So, I need you to stay there, I need you to take the course, even though what you're going to learn has absolutely no application, because I have to check off a box." So, I mean, he leveled with me. That's the way this guy, Jim Boatner, was, just a super guy. So, I went to the course and it was all based on Korea. You know, there were no air assaults--helicopters were primarily evacuation, medical evacuation, in Korea. They weren't that [in Vietnam], and there were some supply roles, I guess, but I remember, it had nothing--nothing--to do with Vietnam, nothing that I ended up using. You learned it when you got over there. So, that was an example of the military in those days, [laughter] you know, just frustrating.
SI: Did they even have Hueys there that you could at least see?
JN: No, I don't recall that. It was all classroom. There were foreign officers. There were South Vietnamese officers there, because, I remember, I got to talk with them, but they didn't speak all that great English. Yes, so, it was a two-week course. It was a boondoggle, you know. It went from, nine in the morning until, like, one-thirty, two in the afternoon--go to the beach. ... Again, you were adapting to the situation you were in, yes. ... Outside of a couple of times in Vietnam, one of the worst entire times in my military career, my two-year military career, was at advanced unit training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. What a horrible place; [laughter] it's in the middle of the swamps-- snakes, hot, humid, but, in order to qualify, our battalion, our brigade, for combat duty, we had to go through advanced unit training. So, we had maneuvers. Now, thank God, I was still a battalion liaison officer and I had a shift from midnight to eight o'clock in the morning, as I recall. So, I would do the communications checks. I kept the log in the command post. ... I would go to brigade headquarters twice a day. A helicopter would pick me up, go to brigade headquarters. [laughter] You'd strap yourself in, you know, to go on the helicopter. Over in 'Nam, ... you'd just hang on to something. [laughter] It was just, you know, the dichotomy of how you were trained versus how you performed over there. It was just a totally different world, and then, it was getting ready for how we were to deploy. ... We took buses from Fort Benning to the Atlanta Airport, and then, all this was secret. I mean, we left at "0-Dark-Early," two o'clock in the morning or something. Then, we flew to San Francisco and we would got on the [USNS] General Daniel I. Sultan [(T-AP-120)], which was the troopship, all secret. I couldn't say anything. My wife knew, but I couldn't tell my parents or her parents, or anyone else, where I was going or what I was doing, because the Viet Cong, I guess, would have found out or something? I don't know, you know. I'll tell you about our reception, which blew my mind, but, anyway, so, that was when I was helping the S-3 [the operations officer] in logistics and trying to make work for myself, because there wasn't a lot to do as a battalion liaison officer, but Boatner needed me. I helped him and we'd play off each other. We did PT a lot. We played handball as our PT. So, we were at Benning from July ... or June of '66 through mid-November, which is when we ended up heading overseas.
SI: Was Shelby just a temporary duty?
JN: Yes, that was two weeks, I guess, of advanced unit training. The whole brigade went down, and so, you learned how to maneuver companies, platoons, and to march forward in swamp water with snakes and stuff, and it was just [miserable]. It was hot, it was humid, it was, miserable, just miserable. "Vietnam, let's get to Vietnam. ... Let's get out of here, let's get to Vietnam."
SI: Were the men coming into the unit regular Army or were they draftees, in general?
JN: All of the NCOs, obviously, were from Europe, but, you know, it was interesting, ... there was a concern you never got the best from Europe, okay. So, who were we getting? Although I never had any problems with any of the NCOs--they were all, to me, really good--and ninety percent of the men were draftees, seventy-five percent of the men were draftees, and so, ... everyone was forced to us. Twenty, twenty-five percent came from overseas, or from other areas in the US. Now, P.S., what they did, after we'd been in-country three months, they took, like, twenty-five percent of our people, put them elsewhere and we got new people, because you couldn't have a hundred percent turnover twelve months out, okay. So, they rotated people in, big chunks of people would be taken out, so that ... you'd have continuity after the one-year period since we arrived,... since it was a one-year tour. We sailed over on the General Daniel I. Sultan, which was a World War II troopship. I know why God intended me to be infantry--I don't have webbed feet. We hit a typhoon one time and we literally [went] forty-five degrees up, forty-five degrees down. Lonely in the middle of the sea; I mean, we had the whole brigade on two ships--one, if not two, the second may have been on the other ship, committed suicide, jumped overboard. So, we had to circle for twenty-four hours. You know, that kind of was, a reality check in a way. It was boring as hell, for the troops as well as for us. You had them up on deck twice a day, for an hour each time, for calisthenics...to get fresh air. There were six high bunks down in the belly of the ship. If someone got seasick up on top, bam, it just spread throughout. World War II movies, John Wayne movies, at night, smoking all over--I remember smoke. I smoked at the time. What was good is that the Navy really knows how to treat their officers. We had white tablecloth meals, three times a day. ... I'm battalion staff, okay, so, I didn't have to worry about my troops, although I'd go wander around the troops, just because it seemed right to do, show the flag, whatever, which is how I know vomit smells and how quickly, stomach upsets can spread, but the first meal, I will remember until the day I die. I remember sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge, which is red colored, not golden at all. I know, when the sun's on it, that's why it's gold, okay. It is red, rust red, okay, or red paint. ... I remember saying, "Please, God, bring me back. I need to come back." The first meal we had, the first course, ... I couldn't believe it, but they brought out this big plate, looked like a soup plate. Sure enough, here come the Navy personnel that took care of us, that fed us, and poured soup in, halfway up. So, I remember looking at it, "Back and forth, back and forth," and I went, "Oh, my God." So, it's the Navy guys getting back at the Army guys, is what I say. I said, "You guys..." No, I never got seasick, but, boy, I never had an appetite, and here's the soup going back and forth.
SI: Like the waves.
JN: And, yes, just, you know, with the waves. ... I'll never forget that. We had four guys bunking in a room one-third the size of this room--I don't know, five feet-by-ten, fifteen feet--four guys, all second lieutenants, one shower, and showers in each place. It was pretty decent. The Navy officers lived pretty well, ... except for the fact that the typhoon came and I felt like ... I couldn't walk anywhere. [laughter] You know, that was a pretty good life. It took us two-and-a-half weeks to get over. ... The good news was that we then had two-and-a-half weeks in-country. ... Once you left Continental US, your twelve months started. ... I'll never forget the irony of when we arrived. There were bands. ... Now, I was battalion staff then. We were the best battalion, so, we landed first and we got off first, because we had to go secure the area first, because, ... in all our training, we had ended up the best battalion. So, we were there first and here are bands. Here are, you know, young Vietnamese women in their ao dais, their native dress, with leis [a wreath of flowers], putting the leis on the officers. That was the brigade commander and battalion commander, not me--I was on staff. I was lined up, but I was one of the first off, and I remember saying, "What the hell? You know, we're infantry. We're supposed to 'kill or be killed' and we have a band?" I just [thought] it was so incongruous, ... and then, we got on deuce-and-a-half trucks, two-and-a-half-ton trucks, with sandbags up the sides and we were in the middle. ... We took off from Vung Tau, where we landed, to Long Binh, which was our headquarters, to be our headquarters. ... We got there, it was still a muddy [place]. It was muddy. ... I mean, we lived [in it], you know. We had wall tents, built on wooden platforms. ... That was our life. Yes, I'm trying to think what else would be [pertinent].
SI: What were your initial impressions of Vietnam?
JN: Well, I can remember there--okay, good question--I can remember, we were a day-and-a-half out, two days out, and I remember going out on deck one morning and it was like a wall of invisible water hit me. It was just heat, and I was dripping wet from humidity. ... Whatever winds had been blowing, they were coming from the country and it was an intense heat and humidity that just shocked the hell out of me, just shocked the hell out of me, and we saw birds for the first time. So, we were within, I don't remember, two days, three days of landfall. I can remember and I said, "Holy hell, how are we going to live? [laughter] What do we do? How do you survive in this?" It was just the heat and humidity. It was absolutely stunning, and that was a day-and-a-half out, I don't know. ... I can remember being shocked. Conversely, when I came back a year later, landed in San Francisco, it was freezing. ... Your blood thins out. You know, again, you adapt. You just adapt to your environment. Your system adapts to the heat and humidity. I remember the stench. It was just the smells. I remember the poverty. I remember little kids running along the two-and-a-half, the deuce-and-a-half, you know, "Give me candy," or C rations, or just going like this, you know, "Gimme," you know.
SI: Waving their hands.
JN: Yes, "Give me, you know, whatever," cigarettes, they wanted C rations, whatever. So, the stench, the poverty, the heat, the humidity, it was stunning, absolutely stunning, couldn't believe it, just couldn't believe it, the reality. I mean, we didn't chamber a round, but we put our magazines in. "Ooh, it's getting a little closer, you know. [laughter] Yes, man, maybe this is going to be it, you know. This is going to happen, okay." ... Let's see, I think it was the 25th or the Ninth Infantry Division, one of the divisions came in over Christmas and New Year's of '66 and we--my battalion for sure, I don't know if the brigade, but the battalion--was perimeter defense in Long Binh for the arrival of this unit, so that every Christmas and New Year's, I think back. I can remember. So, we were in a foxhole. I was out in the middle of somewhere, outside Long Binh. You could hear the sounds of music, Christmas music, when the wind was right. We were eating C rations and celebrating Christmas out on the perimeter. I can remember the battalion commander, "John, Merry Christmas--next year will be better." I remember him saying that. I remember, ... we were out there for a good couple of weeks, acclimating ourselves, plus, providing the perimeter security. I remember a mad minute at New Year's Eve, okay, everyone firing into the air in the rear, just because, celebrating New Year's, you know. I can remember that, and I remember just tremendous heat, humidity. I was still a gofer then, until sometime in January, I think it was late January. ... Colonel Boatner there, we'd had several actions, several wounded lieutenants, ... and some lieutenants weren't doing well, okay, and so, he sent me down. He said, "You need to spend some time out in the field. I can't hold on to you up here and, by the way, it's for your career;" I mean, we had talked and I had said, "You know, I'm really open right now," whether to make the military a career or not. ... I remember him saying, "For your career, it's good to have combat experience. You need to go down." ... He felt bad, I think. [laughter] He didn't want to send me down, you know, from battalion, which was more of a leisurely life, but, you know, we'd been in-country at least a month-and-a-half and there were issues with lieutenants, wounded/incompetent. ... So, I went down to Charlie Company, Third Platoon, Sergeant Tolfree, who saved my butt. [laughter] I can remember the first--I didn't know it at the time--but they sent me out on my first exercise. ... You know, the lessons, I mean, what they were trying to teach me was to position your ambush points correctly. It was an overnight ambush. "Position your ambush points correctly. Make sure each ambush point knows where the other is, so [that] you don't have friendly-fire. Get your listening posts out, ... to understand the climate, what's going on," etc., etc. ... I was in the field until July or August; July for sure. So, it was, like, six [months], but I think it was closer to August. The only reason is, I went on R&R in July, ... so [that] I'd have less than six months left to go, because I only had one R&R, and I met my wife in Hawaii and I came back. I was still in the field and I was promoted. I came back to the US in November. So, like, September, I was promoted to captain. So, I was January, end of January, until September, in the field. So, that's, what? eight, nine months. I was a platoon leader, but my first time--so, the first time I'm out there, and so, I learned, I always took the first watch, okay. ... You had to communicate back to your company every hour with a handset, "Commo check," there, you know, and you'd squeeze once. That way, they would know someone was alert out in the field, okay, and the company had the same thing back to battalion communications, you know, "Check," and so, you'd press your mic. So, that would be the signal that you're alert, ... everything's okay. So, at two, I can remember it, 2:08 in the morning-- Sergeant Tolfree calls me and says, "I see movement to my front." Now, we only had one star scope, which was not at his location, which was a night vision. Now, they have these binocular star scopes, you see, that they put down, like this. We had one that was three feet, maybe two feet, long, weighed twelve pounds, it was about six inches in diameter and that was it, and so, you protected it with your life, okay, and it was hard. So, I couldn't see anything. I kept it. I couldn't see anything from my position, because I was in the middle, Tolfree was all the way to my right. So, I said, "Well, what?" you know. "The nipa palm is moving," he said. I said, "Well, can you see anyone?" "No, I can't see anyone." "Well, stay, you know, keep alert. Keep watching." This was my first time. My heart's going, "Bump, bump, bump, bump." I'm worried about my men. I've got forty-three men, you know. I don't want them to get killed. You start thinking about all this stuff. Thirty seconds later--it might have been three seconds later--"It's getting closer. I need to open fire." I said, "Open fire." "Brump-brump-brump," starts down there, and you're supposed to keep fire discipline. You're supposed to shoot in bursts of two or three, not on fully automatic. Well, these guys, and every fifth round's a tracer, okay, so, you see the bullets' path, ... these guys, you could just see, they were putting out fully automatic, and then, the next ambush point, then, the next, then, mine, then, the next. All of a sudden, I had seven or eight ambush points firing like crazy and that's what, you know, the fog of war is--the noise, the smell, the inability to communicate, the inability to think--it's just that you've got all this stuff going on, and there's smoke. You can't see because there wasn't any breeze that night. It was just hanging. So, finally, I was able to get through. "How many? Who's hurt? Any casualties? Where are they coming from?" "I don't see them. There's nothing, no casualties." I said, "Well, cease fire," and it took--I have no idea. To me, it took five hours, it was probably five minutes. ... "Do you see weapons? Any casualties? Everyone, check in." So, everyone checked in, everyone was fine, ... you know, "Low on ammo. Low on ammo. Need ammo." So, we started, you know, shuffling ammunition, ... and so, I said, "Well, you know, can you go out and check for a body count and weapon count?" because that's how I'd been trained. Body count, weapon count, that's your metric for success, okay. "No, don't see anything." ... So, we waited until dawn. So, I had two ambush points come around to check this area. What we had done was decimate a water buffalo, okay. [laughter] We had absolutely slaughtered a water buffalo. So, we paid the farmer off, but we learned important lessons, and the lessons were-- I never had trouble with ammunition. ... Always, my guys carried a triple load of ammunition, okay, because they, pure panic, had shot it all, and water, ... because everyone had been up all night and was drinking water. This was the first real contact the platoon had had. Because everyone had been up all night, ... you know, they had just swallowed all their water. So, I never had trouble having them carry at least two, if not three, canteens, very interesting. They got rid of all the crap to carry extra ammunition. So, I mean, it was a good lesson learned, but that was my first engagement--what a success. [laughter]
SI: You made a hand gesture before to indicate that the M-16s were on full automatic and it was going up.
JN: Yes. The kick from the rifle, ... if you're on fully automatic, it's hard to hold it down. So, it looked like Fourth of July again, okay. I mean, every fifth round, you could see, was lighting up, ... but they were shooting up in the air. ... Again, so, it was a good lesson learned. It was my first chance, really, to sit with Sergeant Tolfree and with my guys and say, "Okay, guys, what did we learn?" ... I think I mentioned earlier, I liked being with people and working with people and there are lessons learned and, if you tell them, that's not as good as doing it. You don't tell them the time, you know, you teach them how to tell time, as opposed to telling them the time, okay. So, I said, "What did we learn?" So, they [said], "Well, we ran out of ammunition, we ran out of water." ... I said, "Well, why?" "Well, because we didn't have water discipline and because we had it on fully automatic." I said, "Duh." Okay, I didn't say it that way, but I said, "Okay, didn't we learn something? Okay, so, let's make sure..." So, it was a good learning lesson and I established credibility with the platoon that way, okay, because I didn't lose my cool and we handled it well the next day. I found out, subsequently, like a week or two weeks later, that it was a safe area, but they had never said it was safe or unsafe. ... They said no one should be moving at night, that there was no Charlie anywhere. [laughter] So, that was a little embarrassing. I'm sure they got a big kick--no one ever said anything--but back up at battalion, "Oh, we sent Nugent out, yes, and he kills a water buffalo, you know. Really good, Nugent." [laughter] [Editor's Note: The Viet Cong or National Liberation Front, often referred to by US servicemen as "Victor Charlie," "Charlie" or "VC," was a Communist guerrilla force that fought United States and South Vietnamese forces in both Vietnam and Cambodia.]
SI: It was your first time in combat, but had the men you were in charge of been in encounters before?
JN: Not any major one. ... It'd been only, like, a month-and-a-half, ... because we arrived mid-December. We were on perimeter security until early December, or early January, and it was the end of January when I went down. These guys had not been on any missions. They'd been claymore-ed, I think, you know, because Charlie would steal our claymores [anti-personnel mines]. ... They hadn't been in an actual engagement, rifle engagement. They were command-detonated. "Hello?" since where have we heard that before? [Editor's Note: Mr. Nugent is referring to the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan.] There'd been some casualties, that was it. ... I don't know, the platoon leader ended up going up to battalion level. So, I don't know whether he was good, bad or indifferent, to be honest with you, but he ended up there. He and I swapped jobs. So, he had to be good enough to get up to battalion level.
SI: When you were at battalion, what was a typical day like?
JN: Well, ... I'd have the night shift, okay, so, midnight to eight AM was my shift. You'd do ... the hourly communication checks. Anything that went on, you would type up onto the log. It was a daily log, starting at midnight. Then, you'd catch a couple hours' sleep, and then, you'd do whatever the battalion commander wanted to do, go for a run, get to brigade to pick up orders, or ... help the S-3 [operations officers] on something, help the S-4 [logistics officers] on something, the quartermaster, help them get supplies, I was writing a military history at the time through '66, the second half of '66. So, I wrote that. It was kind of make-work, I mean. ... I'd be at battalion headquarters. If the battalion commander went into the field, I went with him, okay, as a gofer, carrying whatever they would give him. So, it was if he went out into the field. He was really good, so, he was gone a lot in the field. Then, I'd try and catch a couple more hours sleep later in the day, before I'd come on duty for my eight-hour shift, and then, there was a captain and another lieutenant who would take the three-eight hour shifts. That's how we rotated. So, it wasn't that demanding. ... It was tiring, because you didn't get much sleep, but it wasn't that demanding.
SI: Once you were out in the field, first, you were on this perimeter defense. How does your deployment in the field progress from there?
JN: Well, we were under [General] Westmoreland, so search-and-destroy was big. [Editor's Note: General William Westmoreland commanded Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) from June 1964 to July 1968, when he became Chief of Staff of the US Army.] We'd be out for thirty days, we'd be in for three days of R&R, back at Long Binh. We'd go out for thirty, in for three. The first time we came back in--and then, I'll get to your question--I remember, I have forty-three guys in my platoon, like seven or eight of them come down with venereal disease, and so, we sent them back to the rear area. The second time we came in, we had twenty guys come down with venereal disease. So, I said, "We made a mistake here, Sergeant. [laughter] These guys know, if they catch the clap, they can go back into the rear area for two or three days to get their penicillin shots. ... This is wrong. Everyone's coming back out with us," and so, if I were Charlie, looking at my platoon through binoculars, to see what was going on, you'd see guys, ten meters in-between each guy, lined up, going behind a bush, dropping trou, getting a shot. So, they would have said, "Whoa, these guys are super guys. ... They must be getting vitamins," whereas they were getting their penicillin shots, so that they could stay out, in the field. It was amazing. So, we had to worry about the three days we were in as well as the thirty days we were out. The thirty days we were out, at least half the time we were--if not sixty percent of the time--we were on search-and-destroy, we were on maneuvers of one kind or another, we were on night ambush. ... The company I was in was the best company, ... so, we got a lot of the prime assignments the first time. The battalion, if there were a major operation going on, you needed someone to go in and clear out, okay, ... so, we would be the first company to go in and the first battalion. ... We'd do the perimeter defense for any major operation, that ... they'd then land everyone else behind us to move out to the target. Of the seven or eight months I was out in the field, and I've just never really checked to make sure, I did get the Air Medal, so, that was at least twenty-five helicopter assaults, in seven or eight months. So, at least three times, if not four--three or four times a month, so, like, once a week--we were having a major helicopter lift to something, into hot landing zones or into enemy territory. It didn't have to be hot, just into enemy territory. So, like, once a week, we'd have that kind of a major maneuver. You know, search-and-destroy was stupid. The night ambush; well, one of the things, let me say what was stupid. Sometimes, search-and-destroy worked. We would move in at night, surround a village, and then, sweep it the next day to catch all the bad guys. Rarely did we have any success. Charlie had dogs and the dogs would smell us, hear us, even though you were a mile out, you know, or half a mile out. ... The terrain was [rough]. I operated in III Corps, which was the [Mekong] Delta. I operated from two to five o'clock around Saigon, like three miles out, okay, and that was the wet area. So, it was flat, it was not in the mountains, except one or two times, which was good, because there were a lot of tunnels up there. ... So, it was pretty flat and Charlie could smell us or hear us and the dogs would bark, and so, Charlie would escape from the village, okay. ... So, we'd finally complete our loop, wait until the morning, sweep through, you know, pick up, generally, nothing. Ambushes, it was pretty good. ... One time, they helicoptered our battalion in, then, everyone left, except our company. After two or three days of searches, you'd just move out and do sweeps and check to see if there were bad guys and all this. I only had contact twenty, twenty-five percent of the time, you know, firing. The other seventy-five percent of the time was maneuvering, walking, flying, that kind of thing, but this one time, okay, so, they pulled out the company, and so, it was my platoon was left and we had contact. Charlie thought everyone had moved out. So, we would have contact mainly at night. One time, on April 27th, and I got a Bronze Star for Valor, we have major platoon-size activity, and then, near the end, before I came out of the field, when the North Vietnamese regulars started showing up, because Tet was coming, okay. [Editor's Note: The Tet Offensive, a series of offensives conducted from January 30, 1968, to September 30, 1968, by the Viet Cong against every major city in South Vietnam, is seen as the point when American public opinion began turning against the war.] There were no North Vietnamese regulars in my area. ... There were a couple of trainers, but it was mainly Charlie. So, in this one operation that I keep interrupting here, they moved out the company, my platoon was left and I had a three-person Australian SEAL team with me. These guys were, like, .02 percent body fat, huge arms. Their arms were bigger than my neck, you know, just massive, you know, great people, who didn't want us around, because they wanted to kill Charlie, and were waiting for us to pull out. So, we had a couple of nights of contact. This was maybe day seven or eight of the whole operation. We had a couple nights of contact. Then, we pulled out, so that they could kill Charlie. They'd called in artillery and everything else. So, okay, I'd have all my guys sleeping in the muck around the dikes. They would swing their hammocks, you know, in-between the nipa palm, because they could hear. I said, "Well, you know, you're not setting a good example for my men." "You take care of your men, I'll take care of myself," you know, because they could hear any mortars coming in or anything and they'd quickly flop down and get cover. So, that type of operation, ambushes, you know, conflict of men versus mission sometimes common. I'd had major contact the night before. There's a river that went north to south and split into a "Y," and I was at the midpoint of the "Y," and so, hard to get out of, hard to get into. So, we helicoptered in down below, south, and then, moved up at night, dark, to the point under the "Y." ... We had contact that night, ambushes, sampans, Charlie moving stuff at night. The company commander wanted me to move back in the next day. ... You know, this was near the end--I was getting short. I didn't want to do that. You know, we'd had some casualties, wounded, thank God, nothing--some grenades thrown from Charlie before we got him. ... I wasn't going to go back in there. It was, you know, wrong. So, we came in over here instead and had contact again that night from a heavy group that was over on this side. So, I mean, there were things where you had to, you know, use your own judgment and experience. You know, this is a company commander who was OCS [Officer Candidate School] and the others were West Pointers and he wanted more body count and I didn't want to overly risk my men's lives. ... So, you had issues like that that you had to constantly address, but it was a lot of ambush, search-and-destroy during the day, night perimeter operations, moving in ahead of a bigger unit, coming in to secure landing zones. Yes, does that help, the types of things?
SI: That gives us a good idea of the types of operations you were on.
SI: You mentioned that, in these ambushes, twenty-five percent of the time, you would have contact.
JN: Yes, about twenty-five percent of the time.
SI: What would that generally consist of? What was contact?
JN: ... You'd have ambush points along a river and you'd have your radios and your contact. "I saw something," okay, and then, you always were facing out into the river, or you'd hear something coming down and they'd be out in the middle of a river, you know, a sampan or a lighted junk, okay, the bigger--I don't know, bigger boats, I guess is the best way to call them. ... They were trying to move supplies and men at night in our area and the closer we got to January 31, '68, Tet, the worse it got, the more movement occurred, and we would generally initiate the fire. ... You learned not to shoot, you learned to use grenades and M79, the grenade launchers, because, otherwise, they'd know where you were, because they would quickly return fire, okay. ... So, it'd be more return fire in situations like that. The one time that I got the Bronze Star for Valor, we were moving. I guess the second platoon was up front, I was on the left, there was another platoon on the right, another one behind. We were moving. ... We were up north. We were north, in the mountains, and came across an entrenched North Vietnamese unit-- but it was the first time we came across AK-47s. Otherwise, they were older weapons. ... It was the first time we had engaged AK-47s. I guess there had been AK-47s on some of the bad guys we had captured in towns and things like that, but we hadn't really had an exchange. They took out the company commander. He was wounded, and so, I maneuvered. Battalion commander was circling above. I maneuvered up on the left to bring fire in this way, because the platoon with which the company commander was moving was trapped in a rice paddy, and then, I took over the company and called in the helicopter gunships. ... We ended up having to call in an Air Force--I don't know whether it was Navy or Air Force Jet--but I can, to this day, remember, I could see his nose and eyes, the pilot dropping napalm on this line of, turned out to be tunnels, where Charlie had been waiting for us to maneuver. ... The company commander was moving right across a big dike. I never moved in the open, okay. He had replaced another company commander and I was, obviously, a platoon leader. ... Always, you know, I never moved in the open, I always moved around. [laughter] I always moved my guys next to a dike, not on a dike, okay. ... I made my guys shave every morning, you know. So, you had to have discipline. ... You wanted to bring them back. Anyway, that was the first time we saw the AK, received fire from the AK-47s, and they took out several guys from the first platoon, but we called in the medevac and we got the company commander out. We also got body bags out, but, you know, again, the helicopter gunships, the first time I'd really worked with them, and that was in April. I'd gone down the end of January, so, I'd been out there a couple months. So, I was pretty familiar with things and the gunships were really good. You put out your nylon markers and the plane came in from right to left, to drop the napalm. I'll never forget, whenever I get near, if I open a door and it's summertime, I open the door and the heat hits me, it takes me back, just because I thought for sure my front line was going to--and I was with them--I thought we were going to be incinerated. I was so worried, ... the heat of that napalm and the flash, but this guy almost stalled his plane and we're in such close contact, when I moved up to the platoon that had been hit, to take over the company, I moved up to make sure the markers were put out right. ... The guy almost stalled his plane to make sure he dropped the napalm and I tried to find him after, but it wasn't important enough to be recorded, [laughter] on their part. We thought it was important. We had, ... in our area of operations, a place called "Claymore Alley," because Charlie had stolen claymores and they'd set them off against us and, boy, did they mess people up. ... You try to move, but Charlie would come in at night, you know. It's when I learned--you know, "boots on the ground," you know, like the surge that was done over in Afghanistan and Iraq--the futility ... of what we did as infantrymen. We would move into a village, we'd occupy it. We'd try to extract information. We'd take weapons, whatever. We never got great cooperation, because, then, we'd move out, and then, Charlie would come back in. Well, so, if you're not going to occupy something, you're not going to win the hearts and the minds of the people over there. We weren't willing to fight a military war. We fought a freaking political war in there--58,200 plus lives that never should have been lost once we decided to fight a political war. ... I did some studying afterwards. We were worried that China would come in if we occupied North Vietnam. You know, what, are they going to come across the Himalaya Mountains? That should be scratched, that is BS. You know, they're going to come across the Himalayas? There was no way. Would they provide arms, ammunitions? yes. They were doing that anyway. Okay, so, we didn't occupy North Vietnam. We had off limits. I can remember the AK-47s. My battalion commander said, "Well, they came down the Ho Chi Minh Trail," which I didn't know what that was. I said, "What is that?" "Well, it's a supply route." I said, "Well, why don't we take it out?" "Well, it's in Cambodia and Laos." "Yes?" "Well, that's;" he didn't use the words, "Off limits," I don't know what he used, to this day, because I went kind of ballistic. "What do I tell Bobby Jones' mother, you know? 'We had an off-limits area, the Ho Chi Minh Trail,'" because we weren't bombing it at that time, in '66. So, the supply line is off limits? You know, basic military 101, knock off their source of supply. Once we decided not to fight a military war and that we were worried about politics--fine, the Domino Effect was the guiding foreign policy, but we're not going to physically occupy something or beat up on the little guy because how would that look? --then, we should have gotten out, immediately. So, people have asked me about that, although, when I came back, I never talked about it, and I didn't talk about it, really, up until last year. When I volunteered at the [New Jersey Vietnam Veterans Memorial], I started talking about it. We never should have been there, once we decided we weren't going to fight a military war, okay, and how can you be there for ten years? ... The proof is, the best example I can give is, the villages I would go in and occupy, at loss of limbs or life, and then, I'd move on, ... Charlie would come back in. It made no freaking sense. It made absolutely no sense. ... You couldn't win the hearts and minds of the people, because you weren't going to be around, because you were moving on to the next, whatever. So, it was just futile, I thought the tactics were wrong; I never jumped, until afterwards, to the stupidity of the war, if you're not going to fight a military war. In my judgment, the military war--which is occupation, which is severing supply lines permanently, not just bombing from high altitude--so, that means, ... the answer is, you would have needed twice the number of troops. "Okay, then, either deliver that number of troops or get us out. Okay, let's make our decision." What was our exit strategy? I said to one guy, years ago. "What was our objective?" ... "Well, our objective was to save South Vietnam." "What was our exit strategy? How were we going to get out?" "Well, we were going to make sure that Charlie, you know, bad guys, didn't take control..." I said, "Well, how were we going to do that ... when we couldn't occupy it? because we needed a million men, a million, and we only had five hundred thousand at our peak. Yes, where was the thought process?" you know. ... Thank you, I feel better having gotten all this out. [laughter]
SI: When you were in-country, though, you said you disagreed with some of the tactics, but did you still see it as a winnable war?
JN: Yes, I did, and, you know, a lot of it is just rationalization, probably, okay, because I refused to accept that I was putting myself or my men through this, for nothing. We married up, eventually, with the South Vietnamese Army, a Ranger unit. Initially, the first contact, when we had a couple of, you know, claymores go off and some sniper fire at us, they disappeared. ... I remember talking the next day to the--unit commander, he spoke French--he was a captain, a political appointee, and he spoke French and I spoke a little French in those days and English. ... I said, "Where were your guys?" He said, "You Americans just don't understand. Until you came along, we only had the ammunition and food that we carried. If we used up the food or used up the ammunition, it was gone. So, when we got into contacts like this, we would be careful how much firing we did. We're still getting used to the fact that we have the resupply that you give." He said, "When we got wounded, we died," said, "Now, you have medevac. Now, you have helicopters here and can take you, take us, but we didn't know that. So, our tactics and our self-confidence;" ... it's my words, okay, but this is what he was saying, and I said, "Well, what about the corruption?" talking to this guy. He said, "You guys think it's corruption. I am given 'X' amount of money. I'm supposed to feed my troops and, because I don't get that much salary as a," he was a captain, a dai uy. He said, "And so, I don't get that much pay. What I'm supposed to do is, the money between what I spend for food and what I get is for me as a salary. It's built in to our system. Now, you come in with your Western morals," again, my words, "and say that's wrong," but that's the way his unit, at least, was set up--low pay for officers, but you make up the difference between the money received to feed your troops and what you actually needed. So, he went on the black market. It was very interesting, the judgments in morality we imposed from a Western mind and Western tactics versus what reality they had.
SI: You mentioned that twenty-five percent of the unit was taken out and put elsewhere. You got new men.
SI: What kind of impact did that have on your effectiveness?
JN: Oh, good question. Obviously, there were a lot of rookies. Some, most of them, were new recruits coming in. Most of them were, because others, ninety percent, were new recruits. You really didn't have--and it was one of the weaknesses, I thought, over there--there wasn't any time in the infantry to have a lessons learned timeout. You really did not have time, because, you know, I would have loved to do that. I mean, I could talk to my company commander, but he was only interested in body count and weapon count, and I didn't want to go above the company commander's head. So, you know, Battalion Commander Jim Boatner would have listened to me, but, like, on these search-and-destroy missions, how stupid that was, because Charlie would come right back in, and so, we were needlessly risking our lives. ... So, we would leave the South Vietnamese behind. That would work, okay. So, let me just finish answering the question, now that I remember it, about did I think I was doing good there--once we improved our tactics that way, but we didn't have time. I was happy and I made sure--I didn't know whether it was right or not--but I would say to my counterpart in the South Vietnamese Army, "Stay there. You leave a squad there. I don't want Charlie coming back in," because we just got some good information and Charlie would come in and cut the tongue out of the guy, okay, because others will rat on him. So, once we got that going, the South Vietnamese worked better, I felt more successful, but, in reality, to really answer your question, ... if I made it through the day and I didn't have casualties, that was success. You know, I wasn't sitting back, thinking about the progress in body count and, weapon count, ... I wanted to live, I wanted my men to live. ... You know, my men were really important to me, and so, I really thought no casualties was success. It's kind of a negative thing, but you couldn't measure this. I'd go back into the same areas sometimes. I'd taken casualties there before--we, two months later, had an operation back in the same area, because we hadn't occupied it, and so, Charlie had come back in. ... So, we had to go back and kick them out, again. I mean, ... for mental health and sanity of yourself, you didn't dwell on that kind of an issue, because I'm not sure where you would end up, okay. So, it was, "Get through this operation. Get through this day. ... Get back for the next three days of R&R without losing any men." It became a survival game, especially the shorter you got. God, the shorter, the less time that you had left in-country, that became really important. The new men, to get to that part, the old-timers--and, now, the "old-timers" were eighteen-and-a-half-year-old kids who'd been in-country four months--took them under their wing. Everyone knew, in the infantry unit, the importance of the guy next to you. You fought for that person next to you, you protected that person next to you. It was really intense. I made the mistake, one time, of saying to my wife, "I had relationships from that year that I will never have in my entire life," and it's just because you fought with them, you know, bled with someone and it was just unique. It was just a unique situation, and so, you just formed these incredible relationships. So, we all knew we were dependent on the next guy, the guy in the foxhole with you, the guy out on the listening post, okay. If you were back trying to catch some sleep and you had a listening post a hundred meters out, a hundred yards out, those two guys out there better stay awake. So, you trained them. So, you found the "old guys," eighteen-and-a-half years old, nineteen years old, [laughter] training the "new guys," eighteen years and one month, the importance of it and, in the infantry, you did maintain discipline. I never saw drugs out there, I never saw alcohol--I never saw that kind of stuff, no. The guys would go crazy when they went back in for the three days, okay, but you never saw it out there. ... It was too intense, it was your life, okay, and so, you never screwed around. One time, a guy got a "Dear John" letter. He was on point the next day. ... He was wandering out in the field, I'll never forget, and so, I remember saying--and I was moving, like, seven or eight back, which I always did. So, if a claymore or something went off, you wouldn't have yourself taken out, too, because you were the leader, you needed to be there. This guy was wandering right out in the middle of a rice paddy, and so, I remember saying to ... whoever the sergeant or the squad leader was, "What the hell is going on?" He says, "Oh, he got a 'Dear John' letter. I knew--I knew--he'd do this." He was trying to, you know, not shot-by-cop, but shot-by-Charlie, you know. He just wanted to end his life, and so, you had those kinds of strange things that would go on. So, the ... old guys took the new guys under their wing. The sergeants, man, I just respected them, and you had nineteen-year-old sergeants who were PFCs [private first class] when we started out in June of '66 at Fort Benning, Georgia, but they ended up as squad leaders, because they survived and because they were smart and they were tough. ... They'd just beat the crap out of these guys if they did something stupid. Okay, so, the training was, because it was so personal, because your life depended on them being trained, they did the training, even though there were no lessons learned, per se, that went on.
SI: You told us before about the course at Eglin Air Force Base that was not really beneficial. How quickly did you learn what you should have learned there once you got in-country?
JN: Real, real quickly. Whenever my platoon was moving in an operation, first, I had the artillery forward observer moving with me. So, you quickly used him. He would call in the artillery and that's the first thing you did. If you were to come into contact, you'd return fire and call in artillery, and I had a FO, a forward observer, who would do that and he always moved with me in my command, little command unit, and he was good, okay. ... I had a good guy from the University of Idaho when I was out there. ... When I had to call in helicopter gunships, the battalion commander, who was--I have a ton of respect for this Jim Boatner, B-O-A-T-N-E-R, for posterity, he's a good guy--he would circle. He would be in touch with helicopter gunships, and then, put them on my radio band. So, I'd communicate directly with the lead Cobra [an attack helicopter manufactured by Bell Helicopter], in some cases, a gunship, or, otherwise, just gunships, saying, "Where are you?" and I would throw smoke, to define the area, and I'd say, "I am south of smoke," or I'd put out these orange and pink and yellow banners defining my forward point, okay. ... So, the helicopter gunships would come in on my smoke. The one time I had to call in the Air Force ... to drop the napalm, I changed my radio, to the battalion commander's web band, or his call, his number, his radio, and I was in touch with the plane directly. ... So, that's how we did it, and it's common sense, actually. You have contact, return fire, get down, call in artillery. I mean, that was the way we operated, okay, and, if you couldn't call in artillery because you were too close to a village, which happened twenty-five, thirty percent of the time, a lot, okay, because we were real careful, ... you could walk artillery in in that case, sometimes. So, you'd be way out there and you'd start walking it in, but Charlie learned pretty soon, they're not going to fire on a village. Even if fire came from a village, Charlie knew, at my end there, end of time, that, "They won't fire on us." Okay, so, they would use the village to fire at us, but you'd start walking it in. You could get to a hundred meters, or something like that. Then, you had to stop, but, then, we learned to bring it in on the other side, okay. ... We carried more M79s, because of the nature of the mission. It depended on the operation. So, this way, the guys would carry an M-16 and an M79, so that you could launch the grenades farther than you could throw, okay. So, you adapted that way, if that makes sense.
SI: I wanted to ask, the M-16 was just being brought in, right?
JN: Yes, we received it ... just before we left Benning.
SI: How did it perform in combat in those early days?
JN: You know, initially, there were issues with it jamming. I don't know--again, I wasn't in the field initially, for the first month-and-a-half over there. I don't know whether it was lack of cleaning or whether it was an issue with them. All I can tell you is, when I got down there, ... besides shaving, making my guys shave every day, I made them clean weapons every single time they weren't moving, okay. [laughter] We never had an issue that was significant come to my memory, in the seven or eight months I was in the field, with jamming. Outside of if you were in muck or something like that and you had to go down and, you know, you were covered with mud, then, it could jam, but ... this was second half of '66. We did not have an issue, which we did have initially over there, ... but I was fastidious and a real pain in the butt in making my guys keep their weapons clean.
SI: You have questions about combat.
GC: Yes. What was your interaction with the civilian population like?
JN: When we first ... married up with the Vietnamese platoon; [laughter] what's so funny, Westmoreland came in and it was because we were the first unit to marry up with a Vietnamese Ranger unit. I was invited by my counterpart, as a platoon leader, to go over with his family and have what was like a submarine sandwich. So, I bit into it and it must've had a pepper, a hot pepper or something. My lips started to swell and I went into violent hiccupping--just, you know, thank God the cameras weren't around, because Westmoreland always brought the media with him. That's when I ended up in the hospital for two days with food poisoning; don't know what it was. My wife, I wrote letters to her both days, which you tried to do when you had a chance. My wife received the letter from the second day before the letter from the first day and all she knew was, "Still in the hospital. By the way, these sheets are great and it's cool. It's air conditioned." She went, "Holy--what happened to him?" Then, she got the first one, explaining that it was food poisoning. The interaction with civilians, outside of that interaction, [laughter] which was not that great, it was ... sweeps, sweep missions, search-and-destroy missions. ... They didn't like us. They didn't trust us. This was a Charlie [area], you know. This was a VC area. We caused them angst, initially. Towards the end, when we married up with the Vietnamese unit and we left the Vietnamese behind after an operation and they the Vietnamese villagers got to understand that we were going to do that more and more, there was more occupation going on, at least in this one area, I remember an old man coming up to kiss my hand, okay. The interpreter said, "Well, ... the Viet Cong raped his wife and stole his crop, ... and so, he's happy you're here and are going to stay here." So, I mean, there was that kind of expression, and this was a guy my age [now], an old guy. [laughter] So, there was that appreciation when we did the right thing, but, otherwise, yes, you know, ... they looked at us suspiciously, we looked at them suspiciously and you never knew--half of them could've been Viet Cong. You couldn't tell, as you know, just like the guys over in the Mid-East today can't tell. There were no lines. There was no "good guys on this side, bad guys on that side,". ... So, you were wary of them. We all knew the stories of little kids running up and dropping a grenade in your backpack--didn't happen to us, but, we were wary. ... We'd treat them respectfully, but we would sweep through, stop, and then, when we had ... the South Vietnamese with us and do our interrogations, but, then, move on. So, there was that disconnect, at least in my area, I mean, because we didn't occupy. We didn't stay in one area. We didn't get to know people. It wasn't, ... part of the military strategy of building a country, which, now, is important. Our mission was just body count and weapon count. That was how we defined it. So, it wasn't that close of a relationship. We didn't mingle that much.
GC: During these sweeps, were you just going house to house, searching them?
JN: Yes. What you'd do is, ... I had four squads, so, I'd have a squad on either side of the village and I'd move my guys up the middle. I was always reluctant to put a lot of guys up north, but I would put a couple of older, experienced guys there, because I didn't want friendly-fire. People would then sweep through--I didn't want them shooting at each other. So, I was always worried about that. So, you'd have the guys on the side. ... This was after a night spent surrounding, okay. Then, you would just push through slowly, looking for spider holes, looking for rice. You'd stick a bayonet in, make sure there's no one hiding there. When we had the Vietnamese, you'd do an interrogation, but, if you didn't have the Vietnamese, I mean, you couldn't, you know. It was senseless, you know. You couldn't even talk, and then, they'd get up to the two or three guys who were on alert to make sure no one was running away. Then, they'd bring the other guys back around, form a perimeter and discuss what you got, what you didn't get, report back to company, see what they wanted to do, whether they're going to send the helicopters to pick you up or [not]. Ninety-five percent of the time, we moved on helicopters, five percent on trucks. They'd send the deuce-and-a-half trucks, but we were rarely in areas that had a lot of good roads. Plus, I didn't want to move on the roads. Yes, you'd get, yes, command detonated weapons that can be set off on the roads.
GC: Did you usually find things?
JN: Yes. We always found some weapons. ... The area we operated in, ... Charlie was present, and so, we'd always--I don't know, over half the time, we'd get a weapon count. Twenty-five percent of the time, we'd have gunfire exchanges, just because, as I said, Charlie could hear us. Any smart Charlie would get out. [laughter] Some heroes, some Charlie heroes, would stay around to try and shoot at us and, we'd usually take care of them, but you always were on alert, yes. ...
GC: In these villages, you had both Viet Cong supporters and non-supporters.
JN: Everyone was looking out for themselves. Did they have particular loyalties? I mean, here's what we knew--we knew the sons were taken from families and would be shot if the family would tell on them and the son was conscripted into the Viet Cong. He had to fight and, if he didn't fight, they'd go back and kill the family and, if the family talked, they'd kill the son. ... So, no, they're not a supporter, okay, but they had no option. So, they were survivors. They were surviving. Same thing with women; you would either send the women to live ... in the city with relatives, because, if the women were out in the ... hamlets, around, and Charlie came through and he ... needed some relief that night, he took it, okay, and what are you going to do? "You cooperate or I'll kill your parents," and so, you know, it's why war sucks, okay. If we were to come in, if they believed we were going to stay and give them freedom, yes, they would support the heck out of us, tell us what they knew. You know, that was survival. It was just survival.
SI: You were in Long Binh for three days, then, out in the field for thirty. When you were out in the field, were you operating out of a forward base or were you bivouacking in different areas?
JN: Yes and yes, okay? It would depend. About sixty percent of the time, when we were out--I think this will be consistent with what I would have said earlier--about seventy percent of the time, we were on maneuvers, about thirty percent of the time, we were just sitting back, kind of like, you know, one time, we were in a safe area out front, if that makes any sense, but there were other operations going on around us. We'd been out for two nights of ambush and we were beat. So, they brought our platoon back in, flew in a Chinook [Boeing CH-47 Chinook, a tandem-rotor helicopter], and one of the greatest things that ever happened to me over there, we had Red Cross "round-eye" girls, i.e., Caucasian women, come out and give us little toothbrushes and toothpaste. ... They brought stoves and we could have breakfast, anything we wanted for breakfast--well, God's gift, yes, how simple life can be. [laughter] ... So, there I was--I was out front, but in a safe part of out front, wherever that was. You know the maps. We were given maps and I was given a map for every thirty days I would go out. Generally, it was the same map, but you'd turn it over and you're over here, you know, five miles over here, versus three miles up here, versus two miles [this way]. So, you got to generally know safe areas, non-safe areas. If you were not doing a sweep--well, as I said, on average, once a week, we had a helicopter operation, okay. ... That would last three to five days. So, at least once a week, we were doing a sweep of several villages, ambushes for several nights, moving in, cleaning out, and then, perimeter defense for something, someone coming in behind us. ... That's probably the best way I can explain the percent of times, and it got more intense the closer we got to the end of '67, because of Tet, Jan 31, '68, which was no surprise. I don't know whether you want to get there yet.
SI: These operations we have been discussing sort of flow together--you would be flown in by helicopter, and then, you would go through ambushes and sweeps. It was not that you would go out for an air attack one time, then, you would go out for an ambush on another.
JN: I remember one perimeter defense and it was up north and it was in the mountainous area, where we were for a good two weeks. We had probing contact at night, but nothing--no battles--during the day, okay, nothing. You know, luckily, [Mr. Nugent knocks on wood]--I don't know why I'm knocking on wood, since I'm not there anymore [laughter]--but, luckily, we never, you know, I never, had a three or four-day battle. You'd have twenty-minute battles. You would have six five-minute battles in a ten-hour period. You would have brief firefights, except for when I got the Bronze Star for Valor that one day, which was a whole, at least a platoon-sized, unit that pinned us down for the better part of a day. That was a full day--you know, I don't know, eight hours--of intensity, of that whip crack of bullets. So, I don't know. Yes, so, there, it would come and go until [Tet], as the intensity increased, the number of contacts, the amount of fire received, but, again, I came out, ... it had to be the end of August, beginning of September. I was promoted to captain and I became a battalion adjutant, which was a whole new assignment. Some of the worst nightmares I ever had were of going to the hospital to see the guys as they came in, because the battalion adjutant is the personnel officer, but I had, like, a month-and-a-half as battalion adjutant. ... I could've extended thirty days and had less than three months of obligation and they would've released me as soon as I got to Continental United States, but this was November of '67. We were mortared all the time. I can remember spending October of '67--I don't remember who was playing the World Series, but it was on the radio--we were being mortared. [Editor's Note: The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Boston Red Sox in seven games in the 1967 World Series.] We were listening to the mortaring. You know, we were listening to the World Series as mortars rained down on us, okay. Now, we were in bunkers, because I, at that time, was in a, quote-unquote, "rear area," [laughter] but there was no real rear area, and we were getting closer to Tet, and so, the intensity increased. I did not extend an extra month, so [that] I would have less than three. I just wanted my butt out of there, okay, because of the intensity of it ... and Tet was not a surprise.
SI: Yes, let us go into that.
JN: Okay, Tet was ...
SI: What were the signs?
JN: I had a lot of contact and that's the first time I saw North Vietnamese regulars. ... It was in August and we'd had a particularly bad firefight, defined as maybe a half an hour of intensity, back and forth, okay. So, that was a long one, half an hour, because, ... by that time, you'd called in artillery. ... We captured these North Vietnamese regulars and I was married up with the South Vietnamese guys at the time and they interrogated them. ... I'll tell you, this one time-- I didn't know what was going on. They took this one guy. They flew in, the South Vietnamese flew in, their top guys, because we captured a colonel in the North Vietnamese Army, maybe a general. I think it was a colonel, and they took a guy away in a helicopter and I was tending to my wounded and I was doing other things. My battalion commander was in, or my company commander was in, and so, I was paying attention to whatever over there and, all of a sudden, this helicopter lifts off and it's a South Vietnamese helicopter. ... It gets up a thousand, two thousand feet and, all of sudden, "Ahhh," a guy falls out, crashing down. ... So, we all looked around, thinking, "What the heck is going on?" So, we went over and the helicopter comes back, lands. We go over. I go over to my counterpart, say, "What was going on? Was that one of the prisoners you took up there?" and he said, "Listen." What he said to me was, in so many words, "Listen to this guy talk now." So, here, I mean, there was no American involved in that decision, but what they had done was, "We'll take you up and throw you out." So, this guy started talking and he was at least a colonel, a full colonel or a bit higher, whatever, commander, and that's when we knew that major cities were going to be hit on Tet. So, this was August . I was still in the field. It was one of my last, you know, combat situations--so, the end of August, September, October, November, December, five months [prior to the Tet Offensive]? I knew about it and I remember coming back to the US and seeing the shock-and-awe in the newspapers that this had happened. Well, you know, that ... that word information gathered from prisoners went up, okay, whether the military kept it quiet or the politicians kept it quiet because they were manipulating the news, didn't want anyone to know that they the VC and NVA could mount an offensive of that scale. ... Yet, you know, reading all the history, that was one of the biggest military defeats the Viet Cong ever suffered, North Vietnam ever suffered, because, finally, they massed, and so, our military superiority could be used. We could blast them with artillery, gunships, air power, okay, whereas in guerrilla warfare, you can't. Okay, so, ... I forget what book I read that said, "We snatched defeat from the jaws of victory," because [TV news anchor Walter] Cronkite shows up in Vietnam two months later and Cronkite ... comes back on air and says, "We have lost the war. We cannot win this war," and he was "the godfather" in the United States at the time. He was the George Washington, if you will, of the '60s. He pronounced defeat and that's when the defeatist attitude and everything else started, but Tet was absolutely no surprise. ... The intensity of the contact increased, the number of North Vietnamese regulars increased. The Colonel, in order not to get thrown out of the helicopter, told us. He may not have said Tet. He said, "There's a major battle coming up in major cities." I don't think--that might just be faulty memory--but he knew why they were there. He was present to get people ready to attack cities. "Hello? ... Is this the manipulation of the news by the military and/or politicians?" sure, you know, and then, Cronkite came out, I'll never forget it, "We cannot win this. This war is not winnable," or, "We cannot win this war." I didn't listen--I didn't hear it [the broadcast], but I read it. So, the war just never should have happened, absolutely never, yes, once we decided not to fight militarily, and that was Jan 31, '68. We completed the US troop withdrawal from Vietnam in, what, '73?
SI: Five years, five more years.
JN: Five more years, and then, the [Paris Peace] treaty in '75, right; five more years? Whoa, don't get me going on that. [Editor's Note: The Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam, better known as the Paris Peace Accords, went into effect on January 27, 1973, leading to the withdrawal of all US combat forces in South Vietnam two months later. On April 30, 1975, the last US military personnel, US Marines guarding the American Embassy, left Saigon as North Vietnamese forces captured the city.] That's, you know, lessons learned. If you're not going to fight a military war, do not commit--you know, I won't go to that ... white men cannot win in Asia idea. I won't go there, because I don't know. We don't know, okay, because we've never fought a military war in Asia, okay, but, if we're not going to fight a military war there, get out, okay.
SI: At the end of this period, you were the battalion adjutant.
JN: Yes. A month-and-a-half, the last month-and-a-half there, I was battalion adjutant and that was--I don't know, it's kind of a blur. I remember, I used to get mortared all the time. As I said, in October, [I remember] listening to the World Series, ... being mortared. I remember thinking how stupid this was, I don't know, but I would go to the hospitals whenever there was an injury, you know, especially if they're any of my guys, you know, my platoon. ... One of the nightmares I still can have to this day is a guy in a plaster of Paris cast with his arms, like, out, like a scarecrow arm, with hooks on the top of his shoulders on the cast curving up behind him, another hook on his head, up to a sling up above him, two eyes and a mouth, and, you know, a nurse, I don't know, with a straw--I mean, you know, I just can still see it. He had been burnt, I guess, and he had broken this, that and the other thing. I mean, I used to wake up howling after this nightmare, okay. It was just amazing and that's one of the things that I recall, one of the horrible memories, you know, of things. I mean, there are other things you remember and, sometimes, I remember nothing but wake up, and my wife will tell me, "You had a nightmare again," but that thing, that just--ah, it's just right there. So, you know, it's funny, not funny, but the things you remember. So, yes, I'd visit the hospitals when we had contact and just, you know, ... lie low, you know. I was short. I just wanted out. ... I'd been in the infantry over there for seven, eight months. You know, on the ground, you just want out. ... I was going to jump to what someone told me before I got out of the Army, but I'll tell you that later.
SI: Particularly when you were out in the field, how heavy were the casualties and how affected by casualties was your unit?
JN: ... Probably, I had about a third casualties. So, I had about--out of the forty-three guys, I had ten, I had eleven [casualties]. I had, like, two killed and the rest sufficiently injured not to be able to come back to the field. So, there were eleven, twelve guys. You know, I really haven't gone back. I just don't particularly want to, although, for a year-and-a-half, two years now, I've been at the [NJ Vietnam Veterans] Memorial. I just ... haven't revisited that. I don't have a picture of my platoon. I have a picture of the officers of the platoon, but I don't have a picture of my platoon. ... I don't know why. ... If there were cameras, I don't know, we didn't take one, yes. ...
JN: So, yes, like a third. I had two killed and one of them was my platoon sergeant who died on my first day of R&R, not Sgt. Tolfree. He was from West Virginia and I won't mention his name, but I was worried. Tolfree had moved on. Sergeant Tolfree had moved on and this guy was lazy, but ... he had come to me from outside the unit. I said to him; ... we were doing river boat operations. That was another thing we did, river boat operations, where you'd get into a landing craft, like an LST, World War II, Omaha Beach kind of thing, and the ramp comes down. ... We'd go up the rivers, and then, they'd drop us, you know, drop the plank and you'd go off and do your thing, do your search-and-destroy. So, we were doing a month of this. It was just before I went on R&R. So, I said to the Sergeant, I said, ... "You remember how I've always told you that you put the ramp down on top of nipa palm? Do not go into a clearing and put the ramp down," and I said, "Don't you be the first one off the landing craft. Be the third or the fourth, in case there are booby traps." ... You know, you could hear these damn things [the LSTs] coming. Again, I don't know why we used them, but you could hear these things, it seemed like, for miles away. [laughter] So, Charlie would either get out or get ready, okay. So, that night, and it was my first night of R&R, because I only found out about it when I came back, ... he went into a cleared area, put down the plank and walked out and right into some bad guys, and so, he was killed and there were several wounded as well. ... So, that's the way one guy died, and then, another guy died in the exchange when I got my Bronze Star, when we were maneuvering up toward the enemy and we were hit there, and then, there were others that were wounded. Among the South Vietnamese, there were quite a few who were wounded. I don't know why. They would generally move in front of us--not because they wanted to, but because it was their country. So, you know, God was good for my guys in that for the half the time I was over there, I was married up with them [the South Vietnamese unit]. Half the time I was in the field, I was married up with them. They would catch it first. So, they had a lot of casualties, which my guys would've had. So, you know, the good Lord works differently.
SI: You went to R&R in Hawaii.
JN: Yes. I went there, because it was seven days, six nights. It was the longest R&R. What I didn't think about was, it was, like, three-quarters of a day to fly there, okay, but I met my wife, and I think one of the lowest points, outside of that summer before high school, was flying back from R&R, because I knew what I was going back to and I knew what I had left. I can remember being on that plane, and it wasn't full. ... I don't know why, but ... I think I've never been more depressed in my entire life. You know, it was just stunning. "How could I leave what I'd just left [laughter] and go back to what I was going back to?" and I knew it. I knew what I was going back to, whereas I didn't really know when I sailed over what I was going into. So, you know, that was rough, that was rough.
SI: You mentioned earlier that, in your talks with Colonel Boatner, you had been open to the idea of a military career. How quickly did that change?
JN: I got back, I went back to Fort Benning, because I had four months left on my tour of duty. November, December January, yes, February 28th, I got out. So, I went back the beginning or early, mid-November and I was assigned to an Army liaison office. I would give speeches, a canned speech, to military suppliers on the needs of today's infantry, so that they would understand the needs that existed. ... I won't mention his name--there was a guy who was running the office and he called me in and he said, "Nugent, I understand you're getting out in a couple months." "Yes." What I knew at the time, and the real reason to get out, was that there was a nine-month turnaround time for captains in the infantry in the beginning of 1968. So, nine months after coming back from Vietnam, I would've been back there, and God had been really good to me. ... There was one time, thanks to a dog, I didn't trip the booby-trap wire, which would've taken my life, and two other times that God said, "Not now. I want you to have kids," or whatever. Okay, so, three times, you know, ... I could've not come back. So, I was getting out because of the nine-month turnaround. ... I couldn't even think career. Whether it was right long-term, this was a pure, short-term decision and, you know, I still was having nightmares and, you know, all this stuff I just experienced. My wife said, "You can't stay in. ... I can't let you. You will not go," you know, all that kind of stuff, and this guy, ... this colonel, called me in and he said, "You've had a great career, you know. Your recommendations are high. I want you to go regular Army. I want you to stay in, but I understand you're getting out," and so, I said to him--and he didn't have the Combat Infantryman's Badge. So, number one, at Fort Benning, at the Infantry School, you don't have the CIB, I don't care what rank you are, you're not worth the powder it would take to blow you up, and I had my CIB, okay. So, I didn't respect him anyway. ... I said, "Yes, I'm getting out. I'm going back to Procter and Gamble," and he said, "Why?" and I said something along the lines of, "Well, the responsibility is really good. ... It's like running my brand. It'd be like my own little company and I'd run it and, you know, I have great responsibility," or something like that, and so, he said, "You will never have more responsibility than you have in the US Army," and I said, "What do you mean by that?" He said, "You have responsibility for men's lives in war."
SI: Do you want to take a break?
JN: Let's go.
SI: All right.
JN: Thank you, I appreciate that. So, I said to him, "I don't want that. You know, I had that. I do not want that," and so, he said, "Nugent." I said, "Yes, sir?" He said, "You're dismissed." [laughter] So, I saluted and took off. So, yes, ... it was an easy decision. ... I did not want to go back in nine months, because I would've gone back not with a US unit, because I'd already been there, I would've gone back with the "Ruff-Puffs," we called them, which are like the militia, the Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, militia, the Regular Force/Popular Force, RPF. You know, that's like signing your [own] death warrant. [laughter] There were as many Charlies in the local militia as there were good guys in the local militia. So, yes, it was an easy, very easy, decision. ... I didn't want to go back, you know. God was good. God wasn't going to give me too many chances. [laughter]
SI: Did you have the opportunity to go to services, or did you seek out religious services or chaplains, when you were over in Vietnam?
JN: Yes. Every chance I had, I went to a service, religious service, okay. It would depend. I mean, there was a Catholic chaplain that was with our battalion. ... There would be Jewish rabbis, there'd be Catholic chaplains, there would be non-denominational priests who were religious that would come through, so, you could go to them. ... I remember, you know, empty ammunition boxes were the altar. ... Yes, so, I went as often as I could. You know, God's in every foxhole. You got to be pretty religious. I had a scapular my mother had given me that I wore and that was as important as my M-16. [laughter] So, yes, I don't remember, there wasn't a lot, okay, just because of your cycle--three days in, thirty out, three in--but, yes. So, yes, you'd go when you could and, every chance you had, you went, okay, and they were pretty good about that, as I remember. ... I mean, it wasn't every Sunday, but you could go. ... The priest would get out to the field, in my case, but other religious clergy would come and I'd go to the other religious services as well. You know, God is God [laughter] and God is good and I want to stay on his right side.
SI: How was your morale, particularly towards the end, before you were about to come back? Did you have contact with your family?
JN: You know, it's funny, one time, when I got to Saigon, for whatever reason, ... you could go to this office and ... you could call home, but I called home--I think it was on a shortwave radio--and I called to the States. I got someone in Seattle, or in Washington State, who then called my wife, who happened to be at my parents' home. I didn't know that. So, the only contact I had was this once and, you know, "I love you. Over." [laughter] ... She'd go back, "Oh, I love you, too. Where are you? What? Are you okay?" [Mr. Nugent imitates static.] "I love you. Over," you know, and you'd try, but you had to say, "Over," so that the guy could, you know, flip the switch, I guess, but that was the only time I ever had contact. I wrote. I thought I wrote a lot--my wife says, "Not very much, and you put five words on a piece of paper." [laughter] ... She's kept them, but I've never read them. I don't want to see them. ... I just don't want to go there. You know, I just haven't gone there, but she has them. My dad and mom would write, I don't know, once every three weeks, but that was it, and, as you know, it would take two-and-a-half, three weeks to get over to New Jersey from the field, and then, two-and-a-half, three weeks to get back. So, I'd write to my brother, "Where are you going to school?" or whatever, --it would be over a month later before you got anything back. ... That was it, outside of that one weird phone call through some radio ham in Washington State. That was it. That was the only communication, and seeing my wife ... for R&R. You got Stars and Stripes [the US Armed Forces newspaper]. So, you could keep in touch with what was going on in America and I think, as I remember, they were reasonably fair, because, I remember, I knew--I wasn't surprised--about the demonstrations when I got back, when I got off the plane. So, that had ... been covered. ... Through my wife, I got magazines. Life Magazine was big at the time. I would get magazines sent over, too. So, I'd read them. ... You kind of knew what was going on, but, as you got short, you just focused on survival. You were not Secretary of State, you were not Secretary of Defense--you were a guy who didn't want to die, okay, and it was just survival. You were happy the deep of night came. You were happy the morning came. You were happy the night came. You were happy the morning came, and especially--well, you know, I had it easier the last month-and-a-half as battalion adjutant, except for going to the hospital and being reminded of all the stuff going on.
SI: You said Procter & Gamble respected your commitment and held your job for you. It sounds like it was a very receptive company for veterans. Were there any personal challenges that you faced coming back and adapting to society again?
JN: Yes. ... Well, one was, I went out on sales training as soon as I came back, which was the mark that you were going to make it to brand manager. It was after the training--It was your second move. So, after seven months--instead of two years, inside of seven months--they sent me out onto sales training, which was your second move, okay. So, that was pretty good. I was visited three times by different people while I was on sales training, for four months... because, you know, they wanted to know, "Is he a nutcase or not?" So, there was the ... inspection of Nugent, to make sure he's got his stuff together and he didn't lose it over there. Loud sounds, even to this day; moving in crowds; you know, I wouldn't sit with my back, you know, to a window--I don't know, all these things that just became kind of second nature to you over there--it was tough, nightmares. I don't know. I've read about PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. I probably had it, to some extent, but, then, you know, you just suck it up and move on. ... I don't think I knew anything about going to see psychological services or anything like that. I don't remember any kind of discharge notice about that. I wasn't in an Agent Orange area. I mean, every area was Agent Orange, but, you know, I wasn't sprayed. [Editor's Note: Agent Orange, an equal mix of the chemicals 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, was used extensively in Vietnam as a defoliant between 1962 and 1971. Under Operation RANCH HAND, US Air Force C-123s dispersed the majority of Agent Orange deployed in-country.] So, knock on wood--I can knock on wood on this--nothing has surfaced, that I'm aware of, related to Agent Orange. ... I never talked about it. ... Especially professionally, I've only met, in the forty years of my career, less than five people who'd been in Vietnam, none who'd been in the infantry, in the circles I moved in. Now, I didn't talk about it for forty years, either, okay. So, I could've met people who just didn't say anything, because they weren't talking about it, either, ... and you didn't play it up, because a lot of people thought, you know, you were kind of nuts, you know, being in the infantry and having fought and killed people. So, you buried it. ... Given I came back okay--my wife would question that somewhat--but, you know, I've never gotten too high, never gotten too low. I've always appreciated what I have. I can remember when I would've almost killed for cold, white milk, butter and pizza. My life was real simple. [laughter] I can get cold, white milk now, I love butter--thank God, my cholesterol is only at 127, because of good genetics--and pizza, I have every Friday night, okay. So, I mean, life got real simple for you, especially if you'd been in the infantry. ... When your huge desires are as simple as that, how bad can life be? okay, but I'd never really talked about it at all, nor did anything. After 9/11 [the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks], I joined the American Legion, the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], the Vietnam Veterans of America, both, and the Memorial. I joined them, period, okay. ...
SI: Are you saying you were not active?
JN: Well, you know, I tried. This is going to make me sound like a snob--I couldn't relate to the guys. I went to local meetings. Most of the Vietnam vets had long hair, Fu Manchu mustaches. They wanted to talk about, "What'd you do? How many you killed? Let's go out drinking." These were my first impressions, ... and so, I couldn't relate, to them and I didn't want to go there. So, I didn't. I never joined any local American Legion, because the WWII guys and Korea guys would kind of look down a little bit on you, okay. This was back in, you know, '01. So, I said, "Well, you know, screw it. You know, I don't need it. You know, I'll get the magazines," and so, I got the magazines. Then, I moved down to the Shore in '05 and was teaching at Brookdale Community College. I taught Marketing 101 there until a new chairman came onboard and wanted to change the syllabus. ... We had a standard, department-wide test. My students always scored the best on the test, but I taught case studies. I used case studies; I didn't follow the syllabus that they had there. [laughter] I had made up my own PowerPoint and everything else and he wanted to change it to something else, and so, I said, "Okay, you know, I'm doing this because I love it, not because I need to. So, you know, get another instructor." So, they did. Then, I had all this time on my hands, which is why I then said, " I should volunteer at the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, ... but I'll do it in fundraising and in marketing, because I don't want to do anything else," ... but there was a need for tour guides. So, then, I started to be a tour guide. They said, "Please, you've got to help out," and it's pretty easy for me to sit and talk like this with you guys. I couldn't talk like this with my daughter, my wife, my sons. That's too personal.
SI: The comfort of strangers.
JN: Yes, exactly. ... Then, I really lecture the students, as they come through, "You know about the draft?" and, you know, don't let their vote go to waste. I always go through, "You guys better vote. How many of you are going to vote? Let me see a show of hands, because if you don't elect the right guys, you're going to have another war like we had in Vietnam and, if you allow politicians to fight a political war and not a military war," So, I get heavy. Teachers thank me afterwards and say, "We're going to follow up on that. We're going to discuss the draft. We're going to discuss voting. We're going to discuss how you decide for whom to vote." So, it's good, but it's easier for me to talk to strangers. Like, I have a good friend I've known for thirty-five years. He and his family wanted a special tour--I couldn't get through it. ... So, then, Carl Burns, another tour guide, said, "You know, we're doing it and would really appreciate it if you'd, participate [in the Rutgers Oral History Archives], because you've got a good story to tell and, you're able to think about what you did and come up with conclusions." Carl and I have mutual respect for each other, and so, that's when he said, "Why don't you do this?" So, I said, "Sure, I'd be glad to."
SI: I think Carl had a similar story, where he did not talk for forty years about his service in Vietnam.
SI: We also want to talk about your post-Vietnam career. Obviously, if we went into every detail, we would be here for another five hours. We want to go through at least each job and what you did there, what prompted you to move on to the next thing and any anecdotes you want to add. You mentioned launching Pringles.
JN: I was there when it was launched.
SI: You said to remind you about that and, also, your development of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter [margarine]. Let us start with your return to Procter & Gamble.
SI: You came back in 1968.
JN: I came back in '68 and I was there until '71 and I was on Crisco Oil and JIF peanut butter, okay, and I made brand manager on Duncan Hines, my original brand, way back when. I left because I was hired away. Someone gave me more money. I loved P&G, but I was the youngest brand manager ... in foods division and they offered me a position in the next level up, and this was Calgon Consumer Products, which ... was owned by Merck & Company at the time. They had Cling Free fabric softener, Sucrets sore throat lozenge, Calgonite dishwashing detergent, Calgon bath products. ... What it was was, a guy, an ex-P&G-er, it was, "The principles of Procter without the BS," [laughter] okay, was his pitch, which was really good. You know, Procter was really a great learning place. ... As I said, I have several friends still from those days, but it wasn't so much the people, it was the system, that carried it on. ... You could go on vacation there--it would go on. Okay, so, it was a well-oiled, well-greased, well-functioning machine, whereas this was going to be ... less staff and it was more lean and mean and it had, "The principles of Procter without the BS." Okay, so, I joined there and really had a great time, rose up to be director of brand management, which was heading up the marketing end of it. ... We were put up for sale by Merck. ... The rumor was Clorox was going to buy us and move us out to California--didn't want that. So, people started raiding us and Borden came after me and several guys had gone to Borden. So, I joined Borden as the head--well, it was the COO chief operations officer, if you will--of refrigerated products, which was the cheese business, and was pretty soon promoted to vice president of marketing for the whole company. Then, we made an acquisition and I was promoted to be general manager, senior VP/general manager, of the acquisition, which I had helped bring in. It was a pasta business up in Minneapolis, but ... the guy for whom I'd bought the company was the president. He wanted me to go up and run it. ... He wanted me to go up and bring it in to Columbus, Ohio. I didn't want to bring it in, because it would've killed the business. It was a family-run business we had acquired. People wouldn't have moved. The corporate culture would've killed them. So, he said, "Well, then, you've got to run it." So, that was, like, nine months. I was going away Sunday night, coming back Friday night, kind of a tough time. That president was fired, a new president came in. I got my family up to Minneapolis, where the company was. ... The new guy brought me back to Columbus, Ohio, because he trusted me, and ya-da, ya-da, ya-da. What he wanted me to do was consolidate Crackerjack, in Chicago, back into Columbus, Ohio, and a candy company in Boston back in to Columbus, leave my family up there, and then, have everyone come back. So, I said, "Not going to happen," okay. [laughter] So, I wanted to get stability for my family. I'd been gone a long time, was kind of a rough time for everybody. God bless my wife, that she kept the family together while I was out doing all this stuff, and so, I went to Congoleum Corporation in New Jersey, which was a privately [owned] management buyout kind of group, which I really enjoyed, because it was private. I had a run-in with the chairman, who said the key to Congoleum, which is floor covering, was building up distributors who would buy your product, and then, they'd service retail stores. So, you did that in those days, on a handshake. You could get someone to drop a competitor and take you on and you would extend terms. "So, you will buy my initial inventory, which is, you know, five hundred thousand dollars' worth of product, and you pay me back over three years." Well, we went through a second leveraged buyout and the new chairman ... came to me and he said, "I want all that cash in." I said, "Oh, no, we have agreements with them, that they will pay it back over three years." "Get it back in. Just threaten to take it [the product] away from them." So, I left. I said, "I won't do that." So, I joined Unilever and I was with them for nine years. I joined them as vice-president of marketing, which meant, professionally, I took a step back. I was senior VP, sales and marketing, before that, but I ended up becoming a general manager with Unilever for the foods business in the US, in the margarine category and the syrup. Mrs. Butterworth's Syrup was the one I had. We launched I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, which helped take Unilever from the number three position to the number one position in the margarine category in the US; went to the UK for a while as general manager over there, and introduced I Can't Believe It's Not Butter there, also helped introduce [the product] in Australia and South Africa--Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, where the name would play well. The I Can't Believe It's Not Butter brand just broke all the rules. You don't take a, you know, six or seven-word brand name, and put it on a label, but ... the key to it was the taste, and the positioning, which was tongue-in-cheek, because I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, you can't be real serious about that name in advertising. So, the initial trial generators were more tongue-in-cheek advertising, heavy advertising. At three different levels, we tested. All three paid out in twelve months, paid back in twelve months, through incremental sales in twelve months. So, we went with the highest and it was, a huge success. We introduced it over in the UK, which was fun, because the dairy lobby is so strong over there that you couldn't say, "Butter," on the primary display panel. So, here, I'm appearing before a bewigged judge over there, who was saying, "You cannot introduce this product, because it says, 'Butter,' on the primary display panel," and I'm saying to him, "Sir, it doesn't say, 'Butter.' It says, 'I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.' So, it says, 'Not Butter,' on the primary display panel." "You cannot use the word butter." Well, the dairy lobby was strong. So, it was a huge success on introduction because we got a PR effort going, saying, "They're introducing the brand as I Can't Believe It's Not XXXX. Why? because the dairy lobby's so afraid of it. It contains no cholesterol and tastes just as good," [laughter] huge success, just, you know, "Screw you, you know. Don't mess with us, okay." So, that went really well. Then, Johnson & Johnson came along and offered me a job. ... My daughter was in high school. This is another tough time. She and my wife were going to come over and join me for a year, my sons were in college. I had a two-year contract. There was going to be an international reorganization. I was going to end up international, because Brooke Bond was bought by Unilever, and I was going to be given a position there that was really good, in Unilever terms. ... It did away with the contract I had initially when I went over I wanted to return to the US, return to New York City, because my daughter was in high school. J&J was after me. I joined J&J and I was president of their Johnson & Johnson Consumer Products, Inc., which was really, really a great position. I really, really liked the company, too. The guy who brought me in ended up leaving the company. The guy who replaced him wanted his own people in place and was going to put me in a staff position, as North American strategic planning something. I'm a line guy. ... Really, you know, it goes back to something, "I want to be with the guys, be with the people. I can't go into an office by myself and do this." So, we worked out a deal where they would let me go look and I would get what I wanted, which ended up being a leveraged buyout, ... which was the most fun time of my entire career, no politics. It was Eagle Family Foods, backed by Warburg, Pincus and GE Asset Management. I could set my own culture. ... I hired all the key people. It was the most fun time I had in my entire career. It came time to sell, and so, we sold. ... I wanted to keep it. I wanted to make some acquisitions, do an IPO, initial public offering, but Warburg, Pincus said five years was it and they wanted their money out and their return. ... You're a number with them. So, we had a decent success. It wasn't brilliant, but it was a decent success. I tried to do it a couple more times. I came close twice-- getting other companies. I was doing consulting with private equity groups. I'm doing that less now, only because I've been out nine years and my contacts in the trade are less valuable than they were. My contacts, you know, within the grocery industry aren't there, but ... my white hair and scars are good, so, people tap my experience. I then was teaching, until that stopped, and then, now, I'm spending a lot of time--I'm now on the Board of Trustees--at the Memorial. We're about to do an endowment campaign. With the state aid being cut back, we need more money. So, I'm now chairman of the Ways and Means Committee at the Memorial and we're doing a lot of fundraising and trying to get more groups to support us, making it more financially viable. So, I'm doing that. I'm having fun right now, back in something I avoided for forty years, but which I can get back into without getting emotionally into, okay. So, that's a good thing for me, although my wife said, you know, a year-and-a-half ago, or two years ago, when I started, there have been nightmares again. There's still stuff that came back after not being in it for a while, after it went away for a while. ... It's rewarding and the people-- there's a different class of Vietnam veteran at the Memorial. ... They've moved forward. Vietnam was not the most important thing in their life. They had good lives and they're giving back and remembering the 1,562 names on the Wall, okay, and teaching the lessons of the war, as opposed to dwelling on it and focusing on it as one of the most important things in their entire life, okay. So, it's been good. So, I've had a great life. Life is good. [laughter]
SI: Do you want to tell us a little bit about the family you started after you came back from Vietnam?
JN: Absolutely. ... If someone asks, "What's the most important thing I've done?" it's that I have three phenomenal kids. Well, first of all, I have "Saint Helen," who's put up with me for forty-five years. [laughter] My firstborn is Michael O'Connell Nugent and he's a smart Nugent, I think. He married a wonderful young lady who's a medical doctor and he's going to retire when he turns forty-five and play golf, he said. So, I think that's pretty smart. He's got three wonderful sons, Jack, Ryan O'Connell and Conor. [laughter] ... They're great. They're a wonderful family. They live out in Glenview, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He is a vice-president with a company that's involved in consumer market research called IPSOS. He works with accounts. ... He helps meet the needs, the consumer research needs, of Shell, Unilever, Clorox, and Kraft. My second born is Mark Patrick and he's a super guy, living in Richmond, Virginia. He's got one son, Will, and is married to a great gal who's got a Ph.D. in psychology. I won't let her get too close to me! [laughter] I said, "I'm not going to talk too long with you, Kris." She teaches and has a private practice. Eating disorders is her specialty. ... So, what I've done, you know, if man is made up of mind, body and soul, my firstborn took care of the body, second born took care of the mind, so, my daughter should take care of my soul by going into the convent, okay. She says she's going to marry a priest. That's how she's going to take care of my soul. [laughter] "Wait a minute, now, wait a minute, I don't think the Church is ready for this." ... My son, Mark, is a teacher, teaches math in high school at a private school in Richmond, and my daughter is single and just moved to Jersey City from Hoboken. ... She's executive director of the NJ Democrats for Education Reform, which pushes an educational platform; ... a Republican platform, is what I mean to say. So, I haven't totally failed with her, although she's one of the most liberal people I know. [laughter] ... I mean, she's got a lot going for her. She worked with Zuckerberg to get the hundred million dollars for Newark. [Editor's Note: In September 2010, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a one-hundred-million-dollar donation to improve the Newark school system.] She's heavily involved in Newark. She knows [New Jersey Governor Chris] Christie. She knows Cory Booker [the Mayor of Newark]. ... She's a player. She knows [New Jersey Assembly Speaker Stephen] Sweeney. She just held a fundraiser for Sweeney and her objective is, in education, to get the Democrats for Education Reform platform passed by the Legislature, which is coming up next month, on tenure. She's for charter schools and that's part of their platform. So, she's heavily involved in that ... as a fundraiser, as a lobbyist, as a behind-the-scenes person in the education stream involved in Newark and the Zuckerberg money, [both] getting it and spending it. So, she loves it and that's what she believes is the only way to solve the problems of inner cities, is through education. ... She's passionate about it. She's a great kid. ... Then, I have my brother, who lives out on the West Coast, and my sister, who lives in New York City.
SI: Do you have any other questions?
GC: No, I will not keep you any longer. [laughter]
JN: Yes. Sorry this has gone [so long]. Man, I can't believe this.
SI: No, this is great.
GC: Yes, this is great.
SI: Is there anything you want to ask about?
GC: I always like to ask this question. Obviously, your life is not over. Do you have any future plans?
JN: To try and have as much impact on my grandchildren as I can, teach them what I think are the important things in life. So, my kids, my wife--it's family, more family focused. ... We live, in a six-bedroom house down at the Shore right now. So, what the heck am I doing in a place like that? Well, for ten days out of the year, we need it, when all the kids are there. So, the question is--well, when you have Chicago and Richmond, Virginia, and Jersey City, there's no central location--so, part of the dilemma right now is, "Where do you go?" but family becomes the focus. ... Not that I plan on going any time soon, but my Chicago daughter-in-law's father just was diagnosed with cancer and might not have to the end of the year. So, all of a sudden, you start thinking--you know, mortality starts entering into [the] decision-making and family becomes the important thing, friends become the important thing. We were just at Lake Placid with college friends. I was just down at the Annapolis-Air Force game with buddies who have a place in Annapolis. So, all of a sudden, friends and family become more important. ... For the next five years--I'm going to be on the board for a total six years--it's very important that I get the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on a ... sound financial footing going forward, because there are lessons learned here that should be passed on and there are 1,562 names there that should not be forgotten--sorry.
SI: No, never apologize.
JN: So, yes, that's it, family and the Memorial, need to get that going.
GC: That is the one thing that is important in life.
SI: We talked about the one Bronze Star you received on April ...
JN: 27th, I think it was, yes.
SI: Was the second one for a specific action?
JN: That was for the time period. It's for--I don't know, I forget how it reads--something, "Above and beyond normal performance in a theater of combat." So, it is a Bronze Star, but it isn't for a specific heroic act. It's for a continuous operation, continuous performance while I was over there. Okay, so, that's what that is. Then, the Air Medal, as I said, is for twenty-five assaults. You have to have at least twenty-five helicopter assaults and all Air Force people, when they do twenty-five combat missions, get it as well, and then, the CIB, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, which, ... really, that says, you know, you've been under fire. That says you have an appreciation for life. [laughter]
SI: Is there anything else you would like to add or anything that we skipped over that you would like to get into?
JN: I just think, you know, the key lesson learned ... is, I'd say to you young guys here--thank you, you know, for the opportunity here--please vote all the time. [laughter] You must vote, and vote for people who have the right sense of the role of America in the world and the commitment of US troops around the world.
SI: Thank you very much; thank you for your time, thank you for your service.
JN: Okay, thank you, appreciate it.
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Reviewed by John Connelly 5/5/12
Reviewed by Kyle Downey 5/5/12
Reviewed by Matthew Kass 5/5/12
Reviewed by Arthur Kutoroff 5/5/12
Reviewed by John Malchow 5/5/12
Reviewed by Shaun Illingworth 10/16/12
Reviewed by John Nugent 10/30/12