25th Infantry Division

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'I don't mind people calling me old,' says Sgt. Nicholas, left, with a colleague in Afghanistan earlier this year. He joined the Marines in 1971.

Staff Sgt. Don Nicholas disproves the old refrain: Old soldiers do not, in fact, fade away. They re-enlist.

At 59, Sgt. Nicholas is the oldest of the 6,000 soldiers in the 25th Infantry Division in eastern Afghanistan, the Army says. And he is probably one of the very few Vietnam vets now back for more in Afghanistan. He’s certainly the only one who saw first-hand the ugly end of that war from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

“It’s really not a fascination with war itself,” Sgt. Nicholas explains. “It’s more trying to keep people from getting killed. I’m taking the spot of some 19-year-old.”

Raised in Magnolia, Ohio, Sgt. Nicholas dropped out of high school and joined the Marines in 1971, expecting—almost hoping—to go to Vietnam. At the time he was a believer in the domino theory. He remembers telling a local TV reporter at the recruiting station that he didn’t want his children “living under communism.”

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