Let the memory of Donald be with us forever
  • Passed away on April 13, 2011 .

Friends, family and Army brethren remember Spc. Donald Nichols as a fun-loving young man with great ambitions and a can-do attitude.

At just 21 years old, Nichols' dreams for the future were many and prone to frequent change. But his love for his family and fiancee, Chelsey Bliss, and his commitment to this country were unquestioned.

Nichols died April 13 in Afghanistan while serving in the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry of the Iowa Army National Guard, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Red Bulls Infantry Division. He had joined the National Guard just after high school and deployed to Afghanistan in October 2010.

On Saturday, Nichols' life and service were honored in a somber ceremony at Waverly-Shell Rock High School, where he graduated in 2009.

From a poem written by her uncle, Bliss read of the loss felt by those close to Nichols.

"All friends and family, this pain cannot be true, this cannot be real," she read.

She fought through tears to read the poem, then added at the end, "he wanted to do so much."

Chaplain Mike Crawford gave the eulogy. He shared that Nichols' family had talked about how he had known very well the dangers he would face when he enlisted.

"His commitment to freedom was greater than his concern for himself," Crawford said.

Nichols' family filled the first rows of folding chairs in the high school gym. Across the aisle sat Gov. Terry Branstad, along with current military members and former military.

Prior to the service the country song, "Heaven was needing a hero," by Jo Dee Messina played repeatedly. During the service, Crawford took a break to play "Hero," a hard rock song by Skillet.

One of Nichols' fellow soldiers shared his experience with Nichols as other soldiers rose to pay their last respects to Nichols.

Pfc. Aaron McNew, of Gladbrook, talked about how Nichols introduced him to his dad and made him feel welcomed at the send-off ceremony.

"Donny was the first one to pull me in," McNew said, voice cracking with emotion. "It's the kind of guy Donny is, he brings people in."

Other soldiers read statements from those who served with Nichols in Afghanistan. They testified to Nichols' strong work ethic, bravery and ability to lighten the mood for stressed troops.

The program handed to mourners and a slideshow displayed above the W-SR gym floor showcased a young man with a zest for life. He loved getting outside and seeking adventure - going mudding in his Jeep, playing high school football and wrestling, riding ATVs and playing poker.

Pictures showed Nichols hugging and grinning with family at his unit's sendoff, flashing a goofy grin with hat askew in a tent in Afghanistan and hanging out with friends in Iowa.

Nichols brother, Joe, also serves in Afghanistan. When Don was killed, Joe escorted his brother's body back home.

Crawford read comments Joe Nichols had written as he flew back to the United States.

Joe Nichols wrote about how soldiers in the field never think about how any conversation could be their last. He wrote about how the soldiers do their work without thinking of the comforts of home or complaints about conditions.

"I don't know if I ever told my brother I loved him or to be safe," Nichols said, noting those aren't the type of talks they have in theater.

He also wrote about his regrets that it was Don that was going home in a casket.

"He is a true hero to me and I'll miss him every second of my life," Joe Nichols wrote.

Nichols was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Cedar Falls, on a bluff high above the Cedar River.

As his family said their final goodbyes, they were ringed by hundreds of friends and hundreds more Patriot Guard and AMVETS motorcycle riders.

The procession had driven past many hundreds more who had lined the streets from Waverly to Janesville to Cedar Falls to wave flags and honor the fallen soldier.

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