Columbia County resident Cindy Guthrie and her brother Kenneth Nichols Jr. were very close. So when she received a phone call from her sister at 3 a.m. in December 2009 informing her of Nichols’ death, she was devastated.
“I just broke down,” she said.
Prior to enlisting in the Army, Nichols was struggling to make ends meet in his hometown in Illinois.
He asked his older sister, who was in the Army at the time, if the military was a good option.
She said it would give him a great career and provide benefits for his four children.
Nichols enlisted in 2005 and completed a tour in Iraq in 2006. He was then deployed to Afghanistan.
The same day he was promoted to sergeant, Nichols volunteered to go out on a night patrol.
His vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Nichols’ funeral was held in the high school gymnasium in Danville, Ill. The small town showed up in a big way to the 28-year-old’s service.
Guthrie was astounded by the number of people at her brother’s funeral and the things that were said by those attending, including former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who stayed for about an hour speaking with the family.
“He was known by everybody,” Guthrie said. “It just made you want to break down.”
A few months after his death, the family received a letter from former President Obama.
In May 2016, a section of Illinois Highway 1 between Westville and Georgetown was named in memory of Nichols.
More than his name, Guthrie hopes that people will remember her brother for always trying to build morale among his peers and that he was a fun-loving and energetic person.
But most of all, for the sacrifice he made for his country.
“He volunteered to go out there that night,” she said.