Al Nichols was born in 1940 in Texas. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on June 13, 1959, and entered the U.S. Naval Academy on July 5, 1960, graduating with a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy on June 3, 1964. Ens Nichols next completed flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in December 1965, and then attended A-1 Skyraider Replacement Air Group training followed by service as an instructor pilot with VA-122 at NAS Lemoore, California, from January 1965 to May 1966. His next assignment was as an A-1 pilot with VA-25 at NAS Lemoore, and deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea (CVA-43) for combat operations in Southeast Asia from June 1966 to May 1968. After attending TF-9J Cougar training with VT-22 at NAS Kingsville, Texas, LT Nichols served as a TF-9J instructor pilot with VT-26 at NAS Chase Field, Texas, from August 1968 to March 1971. His next assignment was to A-7 Corsair II Replacement Air Group training with VA-125 at NAS Lemoore from April to November 1971, followed by service as an A-7 pilot with VA-56 at NAS Lemoore from November 1971 to April 1972, and then deployed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVA-41) from April 1972 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on May 19, 1972. After spending 314 days in captivity, LCDR Nichols was released during Operation Homecoming on March 28, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California, and then served as an A-7 pilot with VA-122 at NAS Lemoore from October 1973 to January 1976, followed by service as an A-7 pilot with VA-25 at NAS Lemoore from January 1976 to October 1978. CDR Nichols' next assignment was as Operations Officer and then Executive Officer of NAS Fallon, Nevada, from October 1978 to May 1982, and then as Strike Operations Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65) from June 1982 to November 1984. His final assignment was with the Defense Nuclear Agency Field Command at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, from January 1985 until his retirement from the Navy on June 1, 1988.
His 2nd Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
For heroism while participating in aerial flight as a pilot of jet aircraft attached to Attack Squadron FIFTY-SIX embarked in USS MIDWAY (CVA-41). On 19 May 1972, Lieutenant NICHOLS led an Iron Hand section designated to provide missile suppression for armed reconnaissance flights into a heavily defended area of North Vietnam. While on station, he observed a flight of attack aircraft under heavy and accurate anti-aircraft fire. Rapidly analyzing the situation, he engaged the site without regard for his own safety. During his attack his aircraft sustained a direct hit. Although subsequently forced to eject over enemy territory, he displayed uncommon valor in the face of enemy fire. The courageous leadership and aerial skill of Lieutenant NICHOLS reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.