Forty-six years after he saved the lives of his comrades in Vietnam by throwing away a grenade that had rolled near them, a Brewster veteran was awarded the Bronze Star.
David Nugent, 72, received the award during a private ceremony Monday at Hanscom Air Force Base attended by about 70 people.
Nugent was pushed by his son-in-law Brady Bagwan, an Army Rangers captain, to pursue the award. Nugent contacted Niki Tsongas’s office, because he is a Lowell native, and they got the ball rolling. Nugent needed signatures from the Marine Corps and the Navy, which he quickly received, and with the help of Sergeant Major Alfredo Franco, the ceremony was organized.
“I’m still a little nervous about it,” said Nugent, a quiet man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, in a phone interview. He is proud of receiving the award, but is mostly happy that he could share the experience with his family.
“It was so nice sharing it,” he said. “I was overwhelmed.”
Nugent is hoping that ceremony will “stir up patriotism” among the 20 younger members of his family who attended, including his grandchildren and his grandnieces and grandnephews.
His wife, Marcia, said, “It’s great to have an increased awareness of patriotism at a young age.”
His medal was adorned with a “V” for valor — a symbol a soldier receives for heroism in conflict with an armed enemy.
Nugent was in the midst of a battle on Sept. 7, 1967, in Con Thien, Vietnam. Taking cover in a small hole in the jungle, he saw a grenade rolling his way.
Nugent grabbed the device and threw it away, saving himself and his fellow Marines but losing two of his fingers in the process. He didn’t realize his fingers were gone until he tried to pick up his rifle to fire at the enemy. After picking up his rifle with his other hand, Nugent ran to get reinforcements. In the process, he was shot in the hip and in the leg, Nugent said.
“You wouldn’t even know I lost use of my left hand,” said Nugent, who is reluctant to talk about his experience. “I’m very fortunate to come back.”
Nugent was a section leader and staff sergeant in the H and S company of the Third Battalion 26th Marines. His Bronze Star was awarded for both his bravery in throwing the grenade and running for reinforcements.
Unlike her husband, Marcia is happy to boast about his Bronze Star.
“I’m very happy for Dave,” she said. “He deserved it. ... It was a long time coming.”
Military service is not rare in the Nugent family. Aside from his son-in-law’s service for the Army, Nugent’s three brothers served, and his son was a Navy correctional officer.
Now Nugent believes the military chapter of his life is finally closed.
After leaving the service he worked in the Billerica post office for 37 years. He is a baseball umpire, spends as much time as he can with his grandchildren, and spends time in Florida with his wife.