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.

Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
Keystone XL pipeline backers blast 'political expediency' as foes hail ruling to delay decision
< >
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »