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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Remembering Nick Bacon

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On July 17, Arkansas lost a true American hero. As a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army, serving in Vietnam in 1968, Nick Bacon displayed unselfish bravery and heroism in the face of intense enemy fire, even while wounded. His leadership of his platoon during that dangerous battle was so remarkable that he was honored with the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration this Nation bestows for acts of valor above and beyond the call of duty. I was fortunate to know Nick Bacon well and to work with him often after he returned to his native Arkansas.

Nick was born in the small Craighead County town of Caraway. As a young man in Arizona, he sacrificed his own education to help support his family, then joined the Army at 17. He would serve a distinguished 21-year Army career, including two tours in Vietnam and numerous awards and distinctions. He retired as a First Sergeant in 1984. Even after his military retirement, Nick saw it as his duty to continue serving his fellow members of the Armed Forces. As Director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs from 1993 until he retired in 2005, he adamantly advocated for thousands of his fellow Arkansas veterans.

I was a State Senator and then Attorney General during much of that time, roles that gave me the chance to know Nick and to call him my friend. Though he rarely spoke of his own heroism, he quietly and stoically made it his mission to ensure that veterans were recognized and respected by their fellow Americans. I relied on him as a trusted advisor on military issues, including those concerning the Arkansas National Guard.

During his tenure at the head of Veterans Affairs, Nick made it his mission to establish a state veterans' cemetery. He impressed upon others the importance of honoring our men and women in uniform in death as in life, and he worked to help thousands of Arkansas veterans gain the benefits and respect they deserved. His efforts led to the opening of the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock, on Veterans Day 2001. We lay him to rest there this week, in the place that was so special to him and to his family.

Since we lost Nick to cancer last week, the local and national media have memorialized his service to the United States and noted his unique distinction of being our state's last living Medal of Honor recipient. But Nick was ever humble, and I know he would want to use this opportunity not to focus on himself, but to remind others that he was but one soldier among millions.

First Sergeant Nick Bacon was a patriot and an exemplary representative of our country's men and women who are willing to sacrifice themselves in the defense of liberty. Arkansas is proud to call Nick Bacon a native son, and we celebrate his many achievements in life as we share our condolences for his loss.