Navy veteran Sandi Niccum dies at age 78 in Las Vegas

Navy veteran Sandi Niccum became blind after her service career, but that never stopped her from being an advocate for veterans and others like her.

The upbeat, retired medic died Nov. 15. She was 78.

Her ashes will be buried at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City with full military honors at 10 a.m. Dec. 12.

“Sandi was an extraordinary woman and as tough as nails, but she was also an inspiration to everyone that knew her and worked with her,” said Joe Tasby, president of the Blinded Veterans Association and commander of American Legion Post 14.

In a 2011 interview with the Review-Journal before the 66th annual Blinded Veterans Association convention in Las Vegas, she talked about how she adjusted to her blindness by learning to bowl and drive golf balls at the range by developing a feel for the location of pins or a ball on the ground.

“You have to use your imagination to figure things out,” she said.

Sandra Arlene House was born April 28, 1935, in Seattle.

She joined the Navy after graduating from high school in Washington state’s San Juan Islands.

Niccum’s blindness stemmed from diabetes she developed during her fifth year on active duty with the Navy Medical Corps as a medic for the Marine Corps at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Paris Island, S.C.

Because she had no history of diabetes in her family, her disability was deemed to be service-connected at the time of her honorable discharge in 1958.

She married Harold W. Niccum of Seattle in 1967.

She lost her vision in one eye in 1983 and the other eye three years later but learned how to cope with blindness through rehabilitation programs in Hawaii and Tucson, Ariz.

The family moved to Las Vegas in the early 1990s. Harold died in 2002. Their son, Brian, preceded him in death.

She became a volunteer at the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1998 and was awarded the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for her service to veterans.

In Las Vegas, she led the charge for a group of local female veterans with a dream to boost its membership to continue providing volunteers for veterans hospitals, homes and services at the Boulder City cemetery. She was president of the WAVES — Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — Nevada Gems Unit No. 146.

“You always do whatever they call for you. We always look for women who need help, mostly veterans at nursing homes,” she said in 2009.

She had served as a volunteer for the Lions Club and the National Council for the Blind Veterans.

She is survived by her aunt and uncle, Woody and Rose Woodall of Renton, Wash.; a cousin, Gerald Dompier of Renton, Wash.; and his daughter, Vickey Gasca of Las Vegas.

Donations can be made in her name to the Blinded Veterans Association, P.O. Box 46272, Las Vegas, NV 89114.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.