Kelly: For 1st time in 67 seasons, WWII vet to miss a Husker game at Memorial Stadium -
Published Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 9:47 am
From the Notebook
Kelly: For 1st time in 67 seasons, WWII vet to miss a Husker game at Memorial Stadium

For the first time in 67 football seasons, World War II veteran Warren Nelson of Bellevue will miss a Cornhusker game at Memorial Stadium.

He has owned season tickets since 1947, but today he will experience a different kind of home game — watching the game from home.

He had a pacemaker inserted this week and decided it was best not to make the trip to Lincoln to watch the Huskers play Michigan State.

“I'll be right in front of my TV set,” Warren said. “If we play like we did last week against Michigan, I think we have a chance.”

He first attended a Nebraska game while in high school, sitting in the knothole section. He and Cecelia, his wife of 71 years, married when he was 19.

He served in the Philippines under Gen. Douglas MacArthur with the Army's 240th Combat Engineers and survived a 1945 kamikaze attack that sank a troop carrier. After two and a half hours in the water, only part of it in a life raft, he and others were rescued by a U.S. destroyer.

A longtime hog buyer in the old South Omaha stockyards, he raised three sons with his wife: Warren Jr., Conrad and John.

The elder Nelson recalls Bobby Reynolds' legendary, zigzagging run for a touchdown in 1950 — a 33-yarder that may have covered 100 yards — and many more great plays, including Ron Kellogg III's Hail Mary touchdown pass two weeks ago to defeat Northwestern.

“That had to be in my top five plays,” Warren said. “That was beautiful. Just unbelievable.”

All these years, he has enjoyed games from the East Stadium in section 7, row 40, seats 13 and 14. Today, his attendance streak ends, and the Huskers will have try to win one without him.

Husker fans' long tradition of applauding opponents, win or lose, isn't a con game. It's gracious and respectful, not an attempt to kill with kindness.

Just the same, could it get into opposing players' heads?

“It's just different,” Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard told the Detroit News. “They are very loud, but at the same time's it's a different atmosphere because they're friendly, saying, 'Good luck,' and that kind of throws teams off a little bit.”

Right tackle Fou Fonoti said he was caught by surprise two years ago at Nebraska.

“When you go into a hostile environment, you're not expecting people to welcome you the way they do,” he said. “When you walk in, people say, 'Welcome to Lincoln. It's a pleasure having you here. We wish you all the best.' As a player, you really don't know how to cope with that.”

It's a great NU tradition, and it's sincere.

Having said that — ahem —I'd like to add a warm welcome to the Spartans, perhaps the finest fellas ever to visit Memorial Stadium, not to mention the smartest, handsomest, classiest, most well-mannnered guys you'd ever want to meet. Enjoy a leisurely, lovely Lincoln afternoon, have a nice time and please don't overexert yourselves. Remember, it's just a football game.

The Exchange Club of Omaha honored WWII veteran and Purple Heart recipient Joseph “Pep” Vocelka with its first “Relentless Warrior” award.

Pep, a Marine veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima who also served in the Korean War, received a standing ovation at the Happy Hollow Club on Tuesday, the day after Veterans Day.

“I'm not a hero,” he said, remembering those who didn't return. “A lot of guys are still over there.”

Pep, 88, has been married for 66 years. He and his brother, Frank, owned a South Omaha bar for 42 years.

A touching moment occurred when Lyle Stevens, a Navy veteran who served on a landing ship at Iwo, told club members how much he admired the Marines that his ship had dropped off for battle.

OWH Columnists
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.

With a tear in his eye, he shook Pep's hand, one veteran to another — two long-ago teenagers who survived the horror of war and lived to old age — and thanked him for his service. That drew another appreciative round of applause.

Eighth-graders at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic School in Omaha received an assignment to find an article and write how it witnessed faith and the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Kennedy Nowak, 13, daughter of Doug and Natalie, was sure of her topic: Jordan Westerkamp's Nov. 2 catch of Ron Kellogg's Hail Mary pass.

Her mom tried to talk her out of it, suggesting she find something more religious. Kennedy persisted.

As Natalie explained, “She said, 'Mom, everybody prayed and he caught that ball and it brought joy to everyone.'”

She based her 200-word reflection on World-Herald sports columnist Tom Shatel's “A Catch for the Ages, a Season Revived.”

On that play, Kennedy wrote with no hint of irony, Huskers and their coaches displayed the gifts of wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

Husker football has been called Nebraska's secular religion, and that pass was definitely heaved on a wing and a prayer. And for NU fans who kept the faith and stayed until the end, the outcome was a blessing.

Kennedy, by the way, was named for John F. Kennedy Jr., who died the year before she was born.

A Pennsylvania woman, pursuing her goal of visiting all 50 states, came within one of that magic number after a six-state swing.

It included Nebraska, and now all she needs is Alaska. Tracy Certo wrote in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she hopes to visit her 50th state next summer.

Tracy, publisher of the website Pop City, said a wise friend once advised her: “Don't compare places, but rather enjoy each for what it offers.”

A thumbnail take, referring in part to the Old Market: “Omaha's historic district is a treasure and 'The Bob' a delight. Officially the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, the pedestrian- and biking-only bridge curves with great flair to the Iowa side of the Missouri River.”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

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