The grenade had rolled perilously close. So David Nugent grabbed the device and lobbed it away from himself and his comrades in Vietnam, saving his own life and the lives of the Marines with him.
Almost 46 years later and thousands of miles away, the Brewster veteran was awarded the Bronze Star.
Nugent, 72, received the honor during a private ceremony Monday at Hanscom Air Force Base attended by about 70 people.
Nugent was encouraged by his son-in-law Brady Bagwan, a captain in the US Army’s Rangers, to pursue the recognition. A Lowell native, Nugent contacted the office of US Representative Niki Tsongas, whose district includes his hometown. He 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,” Nugent, a quiet man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, said in a phone interview. He is proud of receiving the medal, but mostly happy 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, recognizing heroism in conflict with an armed enemy.
Nugent was in the midst of battle in September 1967. He was taking cover in a small hole in the Vietnamese jungle when he saw a grenade rolling his way.
Nugent grabbed the device and threw it away, saving himself and his fellow Marines but losing two fingers. He did not realize his fingers were gone until he tried to pick up his rifle to fire at the enemy. After using his other hand to retrieve the rifle, Nugent ran to get help for the other soldiers. In the process, he was shot in the hip and in the leg.
“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.”
Unlike her husband, Marcia is happy to boast about the Bronze Star.
“I’m very happy for Dave,” she said. “He deserved it. . . . It was a long time coming.”
Military service runs in the Nugent family. His three brothers served, his son was a Navy correctional officer, and there is his Army Ranger son-in-law.
Nugent believes the military chapter of his life is finally closed.
Now, he is a baseball umpire and spends time on short trips with his wife.