Greenwood’s Gene Nix considers himself blessed to have served his country, community, family and God
Gene Nix said he feels like the wealthiest man in Greenwood from all the blessings he’s received in his lifetime. If he had to account as to why, he said it’s because he’s lived his life with four priorities: “I’ve served my country, I’ve served my community, I’ve served my family and I’ve served my God. If I can honestly say that, and I can, that’s all I want.”
Nix grew up in Gary, Ind., enlisting in the Navy after Pearl Harbor. The Navy turned him away due to him having a perforated ear drum.
“I was ashamed,” Nix said. “It was like you had aids or something. Nobody wanted anything to do with you – or you felt like that, but that wasn’t true. I think everybody wanted to do their part. It was terrible. I was healthy. I didn’t even know I had a perforated ear drum.”
Nix went to work in a steel mill and later decided he wanted to go to college, at 21 years old. He graduated from Western Kentucky, the first in his family to do so, with a degree in education in 1948. He worked for the welfare department, investigating parents who wanted to adopt children, for three months before being drafted for the Korean War.
He acted as supplemental security for President Truman. Due to him having a college degree and his brief time in the welfare office, Nix was assigned to the Counterintelligence Corp. Fifteen to 20 agents were trained and sent to replace people who had been serving in Korea for a long time. One person was chosen not to go to Korea: Nix. He was sent to Nagasaki, Japan and served there for three years. His wife joined him for the final 15 months there.
“I have not been in sustained combat like many people who served in Korea,” Nix said. “There were times I’d have to meet people at midnight in rice fields. We had what we call a safe house to meet informants. I would be down there for a couple days. The Japanese, I would answer anything they wanted. I would gain their confidence and they would share things with me… They used to refer to me as Mr. CIC because I’d been there so long and I had to handle all these high level jobs.”
Nix not only was able to visit where the atom bomb was dropped in Nagasaki during WWII, but also in Hiroshima. He worked with officials from the Atom Bomb Casualty Commission. On occasion, Japanese officials would invite his wife, Viola, to dinner which was an honor at the time because he said women were not treated well in Japan at that time. While in Japan, his wife would often volunteer to go to orphanages in the city, delivering food.
“One time the maid came running in the barbershop and said ‘come quick,’” Nix said. “I jumped up, thinking someone had attacked my wife. (We) were threatened because of the job I had. But I went and she was with this two-month-old Japanese baby, fathered by an American who never returned. My wife wanted the child, so we took her home.”
After his three years were up, he was selected to serve as a special agent in the Pentagon in Washington D.C. He was there two years there and got out of the military in 1956 because he wanted to offer different opportunities for daughter. He took a job with State Farm as a claims superintendent, handling car accident claims at a regional office in Indianapolis. He said his military experience earned him a job as an investigator into insurance adjustors who were misappropriating money. He would investigate claims all over Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, “cleaning up the whole thing.”
Nix and Viola, now deceased, had four children. He said his family has always remained of upmost importance to him.
“Both my daughters were drum corps majors in the Greenwood band and I was more proud of that than anything I did,” Nix said.
Through his time living in Greenwood, Nix spent 18 years serving on the parks board, 10 years on the state parks board and 10 years on the planning commission. He was instrumental in the creation of the community center and the amphitheater, which he said earned him a lifetime achievement award from the state parks board.
In October, Nix was selected to take part in an Indy Honor Flight, visiting the war memorials in Washington D.C.
“It meant a lot to me,” Nix said. “I was a little apprehensive because I had been to D.C., worked at the Pentagon, but that was before they built all those monuments. They talked me into going. I was very pleased, especially with the Korean one, because I was entitled to a Korean Theatre Ribbon.”
Nix said he’s proud of everything he’s done, and will often talk about it, whether that’s at St. Johns where he attends church or at the Greenwood Rotary club where he is a member.
“God’s been so good to me,” Nix said. “I’ve taught the bible for so long. I’ve been to the Holy Land and was baptized in the Jordan River. That’s important to me. I don’t know how I could account for everything. For a graduate to go from a Gary steel mill to have all these blessings in my life, I’m just thankful.”
Perry Township’s Francis Howery always knew he’d enter the air force and serve for his freedoms
Francis Howery said serving in the military was something he always knew he wanted to do – the air force in particular. He said it gave in the opportunity to travel all over the Pacific: Japan, Tokyo, Korea, Guam, Okinawa, Philippines, “you name it.”
“I always knew I’d go into the air force,” Howery said. “I felt I owed the country. I felt I wanted to pay them back. I don’t want to make myself a hero. I wasn’t.”
Howery grew up in Indianapolis and joined the air force at age 19. He wanted to fly the airplanes, but ended up flying as a crew member as a flight engineer. He went through 18 months of schooling, then was sent to California to be certified.
“Then they sent me to Hawaii,” Howery said. “I loved Hawaii. I’d go back tomorrow if they’d send me. It was beautiful over there.”
Howery has received numerous medals and honors for things he has done during his time of service, including a purple heart after taking shrapnel to the arm and leg and a bronze star for his act of bravery during one incident while flying over Vietnam.
“We had two turning, two burning. (two engines out, two running),” Howery said. “We were carrying wounded. There were eight of us. I pushed the copilot’s body, he was killed, pushed him back and I landed the airplane. The pilot had shown me what to do before. That’s all I know. I couldn’t tell you to this day how I got the airplane on the ground. Lucky, I guess.”
Howery served from 1953 to 1965, with multiple tours overseas. He participated in many Black Ops missions, and said he remembers how quiet the plane was that he flew in. He had good friends who were killed in the combat. Through the hard times, he said they still managed to make some good memories.
“Our pet was a full-grown tiger,” Howery said. “You know where he slept? Anywhere he wanted to. But, he was a pet, (belonged to) a Special Forces guy. He wasn’t mean. Boy, he loved his beer… We had two navy guys come in one night in Saigon. It was raining so hard they couldn’t see their carrier so they had to land on our base. We picked them up. We had a jumbo pick-up truck. They opened the door and there’s Tuffy (the tiger) in the back seat. They closed the door real quick. He was something else. We’d wrestle with him and everything. We had a basketball and we’d throw it and he’d catch it like a dog. He’d carry that durn basketball around. I’m sure most of the guys in Saigon knew Tuffy. We’d take him into the city once in a while.”
When Howery returned home, he went back into law enforcement. He said he went to work with the Hilton Corporation, the Hilton Hotels downtown, as a house detective. He said that was a fun time, and he had the opportunity to meet many prominent people including Elvis Presley, Presidents Reagan, Bush and Ford. Howery met his wife, Marty, after he got out of the service, and said he has the “greatest wife.”
“I know he loved his service,” Marty said. “I am proud for him for being in the service and serving his country. You have to be proud of them for risking their lives.”
Francis and Marty have two daughters, twins. He said two of his grandchildren, a grandson and granddaughter, are both in the military.
“I was surprised and happy when they joined,” Howery said. “My grandson and granddaughter will make a good career out of it.”
Francis Currently resides in Forest Creek Village, an American Senior Community, on the Southside on Indianapolis.