WILLIAM J. NICHOLSON, 69, RETIRED CAMDEN COUNTY EMPLOYEE AND DECORATED VIETNAM VETERAN HELICOPTER PILOT
William J. “Nick” Nicholson, 69, retired supervisor at the Camden County Juvenile Detention Center, decorated Vietnam veteran and longtime resident of Gloucester City, NJ, died Mar. 22, of heart failure at his home at Caye Caulker Island, Belize, Central America.
“Bill, had an easy-going, laid-back and disarming personality coupled with a sense of humor which enabled him to fluidly and calmly deal with even the toughest kids at the shelter,” said a friend familiar with his work. Another friend said, “His enthusiasm, interest, concern, fun, was infectious and so well shared.”
Born in Bethesda, MD, he was a resident of Gloucester City, NJ, from the age of seven until he graduated Gloucester City High School in 1967. For a short time he attended Elon College in North Carolina. Nicholson enlisted in the Army and served from 1969 to 1971. He was honorably discharged with the rank of Chief Warrant Officer (CW3.)
During his tour in Vietnam with the First Cavalry Division as a helicopter pilot, Nicholson was awarded the Silver Star Medal for an action which involved repeatedly and under heavy enemy fire evacuating wounded US soldiers from the battle area. His awards and decorations also included two Bronze Star Medals with “V” (for valor) device, the Air Medal with 21 clusters, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with palms and the Vietnam Campaign Medal with three battle stars. From 1983 to 1986 he served as a helicopter pilot in the NJ Army National Guard.
Though small in stature (5-foot-six, 140 pounds), Nicholson was a stand-out guard on his high school football team and several times received the Coaches Player of the Week Award. He was on the 1964-65 football team that won its first Tri-County Championship in 35 years. After winning the title and being undefeated in league play, the team was designated South Jersey Champions.
After retiring from the detention center where he worked for more than 20 years, Nicholson moved to Naples, FL, where he lived for more than 25 years. Each year for the past six years he would spend some time on the island of Caye Caulker, located about an hour boat ride from Belize. He acquired many friends there and at the time of his death was known to many of the islanders as “Papa Nick.” Four months ago he moved there permanently.
Two months ago he started his own business out of his home, making and marketing sauerkraut and pickled eggs, two items he noticed were not found on the island of only 1,100 persons. This past January 19th was “Papa Nick’s” birthday. That morning when he took a cab into town to eat breakfast the driver refused to accept his fare because, said the driver, “It is your birthday.” Inside the café the owner had a neon “news” sign on the wall that today, rather than news headlines, proclaimed “Happy Birthday Bill.” When Bill got up to leave the owner said Bill wasn’t allowed to pay for breakfast on his birthday. The cab ride home, this time with a different driver, was also free with the cabbie saying “Happy Birthday.”
Since his early youth Nicholson was a fervent Philadelphia Eagles fan. His lifelong hobbies included fishing, gardening and macramé. Surrounding his backyard water fountain in Naples he created a miniature village with Lincoln log structures he called “Boon Town” with its own “Boot Hill” cemetery complete with names of still-living Naples friends on head stones.
Nicholson was a member of AMVETS in Naples.
He married the former Joy Toll McMillan in 1998. She died in 2007.
Survivors include a daughter, Tara A. Nicholson Barnstead; a son, William R.; four grandchildren, Emily, Evelyn, Reid and Reese; two brothers, James D. and Robert R. and his former wife of 20 years, Susan Quigley Hanson.
Services will full military honors will be at Arlington National Cemetery, with inurnment in the cemetery’s Columbarium, within the next few weeks.
Contributions may be made to the charity of the donor’s choice.
Arrangements are by the Gardner Funeral Home, Runnemede, NJ.
Related: VIDEO: Remembering Lt. Col. Jim Nicholson