Cornhuskers Go To War
Two things have always been true of Nebraska folk: we love our country, and we love our football.
Not necessarily always in that order.
It’s true now, and it was true in the fall of 1940, when Major Biff Jones’ Cornhuskers ate up the Big Six gridiron on their way to a finish at #7 in the national polls and a berth in the program’s first-ever bowl game.
And not just any bowl game, either: this was the Rose Bowl, the proverbial Granddaddy.
Forty-nine young men made the team roster that season, players who hailed primarily from the Cornhusker state and who had wanted nothing more all their lives than to shine on the field for Big Red.
And shine they did. Nebraska’s hard-hitting first team and fleet second platoon pushed #2 Stanford’s vaunted T formation offense and stingy defense to a near upset.
The hometown heroes left their hearts and souls on the field that day, and a faithful Husker Nation welcomed them back to Lincoln with open arms.
In fact, the state’s pride in their Rose Bowl team was such that Bob Devaney—when he arrived to take the helm at Nebraska two decades later—would joke that he had always thought that the Cornhuskers had won the contest.
It was a singular group of men, that ’41 Rose Bowl team . . . and they were about to be caught up in the global events that were overtaking the world.
Before the end of World War II, nearly every member of the 1940 Husker football team had traded Husker red for OD green or Navy blue.
All served proudly. Some would train up enthusiastically, do their duty honorably, and then return to lead out the rest of their natural lives as Nebraska farmers or teachers or lawyers or storekeepers.
Some, though, would take their place proudly among their brethren and have their lives cut short on battlefields far from their beloved Nebraska plains.
Cornhuskers Go To War takes a journey across the muddy fields and down the Main Streets and across the goal lines with men like Lincoln’s Hermie “the German” Rohrig and Ord’s Allen Zikmund and Cambridge’s Walter “the Butcher” Luther and Grand Island’s King Kong Royal Kahler.
We get to walk in their shoes for a country mile and more, exulting in their triumphs, laughing along with their foibles, and—perhaps most importantly—gaining a sense of what can cause a generation of Americans to willingly lay down their slide rules and pitchforks to pick up rucksacks and M1s.
Cornhuskers Go To War is available at Amazon and at www.cornhuskersgotowar.com, as well as in the fine stores in your area.
Above: Cambridge's Walter "Butch" Luther strikes a pose in his Nebraska uniform. Below: Luther shows off his form as a member of the ski troops of the 10th Mountain Division.
The first and second team Cornhusker platoons for the 1941 Rose Bowl.