N-Sider: Nebraska Veterans Recall Visit to WWII Memorial

By NU Athletic Communications
The Kansas games mark Veteran's Day at Memorial Stadium, as well as a military salute.
The Kansas games mark Veteran's Day at Memorial Stadium, as well as a military salute.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

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They're All Predicting a Husker Win Over KU

Three of the four World War II veterans who are honorary sentinels at today’s Nebraska-Kansas football game had the experience of a lifetime this year. They were flown to Washington D.C. to visit the National WWII Memorial built four years ago, and they hope others will contribute to the Heartland Honor Flight Program so the 750 Nebraska veterans who are still on the waiting list can have the same kind of experience they did.

Army Corporal Lambert Mills, 86, Army Air Corps First Lt. Lloyd Brownlee, 85, and Navy Seaman First Class Robert Jenkins, 82 – three of Nebraska’s four WWII Gate Sentinels for today’s annual Veterans Day Salute at Memorial Stadium – would drive the fourth honoree, Marine Private First Class Ralph King, 86, to D.C. themselves if they could.

“I’d like to go if I get a chance,” said King, who lettered four years as a high hurdler on the Nebraska track and field team. “It’s been a great trip for everyone who’s gone. I know all the fellas really appreciate getting the opportunity and having the experience.”

“I wish my father would have been afforded this opportunity before he passed away,” Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne said of Charles Osborne, a WWII vet who is a personal inspiration for his support of Nebraska veterans visiting the memorial through free flights that cater to those in poor health, have limited financial resources or might have emotional reservations about making such a big trip.

“The experience was unbelievable,” Mills said. “I can’t believe the way we were treated in Omaha the morning we took off . . . 10 motorcycles in front of us, Legionnaire members in cars with police car lights, stopping traffic for us, long lines of people holding American flags on both sides of the street, bagpipes playing, cameras clicking, soldiers standing side by side at attention . . . we all had tears running down our face before we ever took off. All of us felt so honored, so very, very honored.

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“We got the same kind of reception when we arrived in D.C. and visited the memorial. Junior high school kids from Columbus, Ohio, were lined up for two blocks – on both sides of the sidewalk – when we got off the bus. They all clapped (just like they do in that television commercial) and kept saying ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’ Bob Dole, Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel were there waiting for us. Thirty-four of us were in wheel chairs, but we all felt very special.”

They should have. They all had put their lives on the line, held their country’s trust, kept its faith and, unfortunately, saw too many of their fellow soldiers lose their lives.

Most Honor Flight veterans had never been to D.C., but after going, they understood the symbolism of all memorials, including Iwo Jima and Korea. The Changing of the Guard and visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were as poignant for them as the WWII Memorial.

“I won’t deny it. As I was standing in front of Audie Murphy’s grave, I choked up a little bit,” Jenkins said. “I was really moved by the whole experience. I couldn’t believe how quiet and peaceful it was in our most famous national cemetery. Here we all were, in the middle of D.C., and you just can’t believe how quiet it was.”

Jenkins spent 3 ½ years on the same ship with more than 700 others in the South Pacific. The Blue Springs native manned a 40-millimeter cannon, served as a captain’s orderly and was one of four helmsman who actually steered the boat. They were in combat from New Zealand to the Marshall and Carolina Islands and wound up fighting in the second Battle of the Philippines. About midnight on Nov. 3, 1944, their ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, and 125 fellow American soldiers were killed or missing in action.

Two heart attacks also threatened Jenkins’ life when he was 67, but he’s come back strong. For the last 15 years, he walks two miles a day at least five days a week.

Twenty-eight years ago, Mills had colon cancer. “It had spread to my liver, and I was told I had six months to live,” he recalled. “I always believed in prayer, and I never stopped praying that entire year taking chemo-therapy.  I’ve been blessed.”

Mills served on the front lines in the European Theatre in WWII. He had story after story of near-death experiences, and never really understood why someone in the next foxhole wouldn’t make it when he did. One of his best buddies was shot right beside him. Once, at 4:30 in the morning, Mills was able to convince three German soldiers to drop their guns and surrender, trapping them near a river bank next to a small, but important bridge.

This is a ‘Great Country and a Very Caring Nation’
“I was a brave soldier and a tough soldier, but no better than others who served around me,” said Mills, who spent his last 30 years in the workforce as a mechanic at Goodyear. “I believe the Lord answers all prayer, even when the answer isn’t always the one we want. This is a great country, and we are a very caring nation. I had a commander who gave me his jeep and every three days it was my job to make sure our German prisoners were properly fed and taken care  of. If they needed medical attention, they got it right away. When we joined our allies from Russia in France, everyone wanted to come over to our side of town because we treated them so much better.”

Mills, Brownlee, Jenkins and King share something besides their military experience. They are all devout Nebraska football fans, and not surprisingly, all four predict a Cornhusker victory over Kansas on Saturday.

King, who will spend time in good friend Don “The Fox” Bryant’s West Stadium suite, is the most confident, predicting a 35-17 Nebraska win. Mills, whose favorite all-time players are Dave Humm, Tommie Frazier, Dean Steinkuhler and Grant Wistrom, forecasts a 27-14 Nebraska win. Jenkins, acknowledging Freeman White and “Big Bob” Brown as his favorite players of all time, sees a 37-31 Nebraska victory.

A big Tommie Frazier and Eric Crouch fan, Brownlee predicts a 51-49 NU win. “I’m expecting a footrace,” he said, admitting that just the thought of a wide-open game might explain why Frazier and Crouch are his favorite all-time Huskers.

Big plays triggered one more favorite memory. “I’ll never forget Bobby Reynolds’ run against Missouri,” Brownlee said. “That wasn’t just sensational. It was super sensational.”

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He should know. Brownlee started coming to Nebraska games in the 1930s when he was a freshman in high school and sat in the South Stadium knothole section. For 50 years, he found better seats at almost every home game and served for decades assisting Nebraska statisticians in the press box.

Even though he retired from that duty two years ago, “I still keep track of everything about Nebraska football every,” Brownlee said. “I hate to see Phil Dillard out at linebacker in this game because we’re going to need all the good ones we can get. When I say 51-49, I know it can go either way. It’s a real toss-up. I hope the game isn’t a footrace, but I’m afraid it’s going to be.”



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