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— Interviewed recently about his World War II experience as a chemical warfare officer and in intelligence, Omaha philanthropist Richard Holland downplayed his role in the victory over the Axis powers.
After the war ended in Europe, he acquired three bottles of French champagne but waited for the right moment to share them with fellow soldiers.
“I saved them until the Japanese surrendered,” Dick said, quipping: “That night was the only time I was a real hero.”
On a serious note, he said that when he goes to Memorial Park in Omaha and reads the lists of the WWII dead from Douglas County, he can picture many of them from his youth.
He remembers catching a football that Benson High grad and Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick had kicked while practicing his punting at Elmwood Park. (Kinnick died when his plane crashed in a training accident.)
Dick, a chemistry major at the University of Omaha, was attending a movie at the Dundee Theater on Dec. 7, 1941, when the film was stopped. The bombing of Pearl Harbor was announced on that Sunday afternoon, and he knew that his college studies would be interrupted and he would soon be in the military.
He eventually was sent to North Africa and Italy, and he trained soldiers how to respond if they encountered chemical warfare.
The interview at his home was for a video project by the New Cassel Retirement Center. Sitting nearby was New Cassel's foundation president, Cynthia Petrich, who learned that she and Dick had some things in common.
She, too, was a chemical warfare officer who worked in intelligence, but in Operation Desert Storm. Both left the Army with the rank of captain.
Thanking him for taking part in the video project along with other WWII veterans, she gave Dick a military “challenge coin” as a remembrance.
— A small-world story:
Susan Thomas, executive director of the Omaha Creative Institute, grew up in Decatur, Neb., where her family's physician in nearby Onawa, Iowa, was Dr. Paul Wolpert. He and his wife raised nine children, all of whom became professionals — doctors, pharmacists, a lawyer and a dentist.
Susan earned a Harvard MBA, worked on Wall Street and lived in New York for 28 years before moving back to Nebraska a decade ago with husband Steve Hutchinson and their two daughters.
Last Saturday night, at a wedding reception at the Joslyn Art Museum, Steve suddenly felt severe pain. At Bergan Mercy Medical Center, he was diagnosed with a twisted bowel and underwent emergency surgery. He is doing much better.
Coincidence: His surgeon was Dr. Joseph Wolpert — grandson of wife Susan's long-ago family physician.
— It was fun watching our Class AAA professional baseball team win a national championship on network TV, even if the trophy was presented to “the Oklaho- ... er ... the Omaha Storm Chasers!”
That's not to gig Branch B. Rickey, president of the Pacific Coast League, over a slip Tuesday from which he recovered. But I've noticed an Omaha/Oklahoma confusion before.
Twice I've heard flight attendants welcome passengers aboard flights to Oklahoma, only to correct themselves and say Omaha.
I once witnessed a fender-bender in Kentucky and gave a police officer my name and address in “Omaha.” He asked: “What city in Omaha?”
The mix-up may be natural. Oklahoma and Omaha are both in the middle of the nation, and both names are derived from American Indian words. Both names begin with “O,” and all the letters of Omaha appear in Oklahoma.
But no one sings “Oooo-ohh-mahaha, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain.” Nor should they. So a difference is that “Oklahoma!” is a musical and “Omaha!” is not?
Ah, but in 1958, comedian Stan Freberg produced a humorous, long-form radio commercial for Butter-Nut coffee that was titled “Omaha!”
“If you want to hit America right smack in the breadbasket,” the narrator asks, “where would you hit her?” The crowd responds: “Omaha!”
The spoof said that Omaha had the best beef, the prettiest girls and the happiest people. It included the song, “Omaha Moon, Keep Shining,” and the lyrics: “We'd like it if you wouldn't shine on Council Bluffs or any other town.”
Anyway, no one would confuse “Omaha!” the musical with “Oklahoma!” the musical. But some folks occasionally confuse the name of Omaha the city with that of Oklahoma the state.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
— When you're having problems far from home, it's great to receive a helping hand — especially from strangers who then become your friends.
Julie Bledsoe of Omaha and daughter Jordan last month attended the annual Nebraska Star Party near Valentine, Neb..
On their way to stargazing, they saw smoke coming from the rear of their vehicle and stopped at a gas station near Atkinson. A young man, Dave Clemens, noticed that transmission fluid was leaking.
It was Sunday morning, and the nearest repair shop was 20 miles away. Julie wondered how she and her daughter would make it to the stargazing event. Jordan Bledsoe, a junior majoring in astronomy and physics at the University of Hawaii, was scheduled to give a presentation.
Dave called his mother, Elaine Clemens, and she said the Bledsoes could use her pickup truck for the week. For the week? Julie said she and Jordan looked at each other in wonder.
Dave had their vehicle towed in for repairs, and the women continued on to their destination in Elaine's truck.
Dave wouldn't accept any pay for helping. On their way home, the Bledsoes talked a few hours with Elaine, who said she and her husband would like to attend the Star Party next year.
“What could have been a disaster of a week,” Julie said, “turned out to be an amazing story of kindness. And we have met some great people.”
— As dozens of civic and business leaders from Akron, Ohio, visited Omaha this week, the Colorado Springs Gazette published an article headlined, “Downtown done right: Omaha's success could hold lessons for Colorado Springs.”
A delegation from that city visited Omaha earlier this year, as did a group from Lexington, Ky. More cities are planning to send groups to Omaha next year.
The Gazette called Omaha “one of the more successful cities over the last 25 years” and said it had “garnered national recognition for its resurgent downtown.”
— Russell Heitmann, a freshman at Hastings College, is speaking in Washington, D.C., this weekend at the 2013 Library of Congress National Book Festival.
The National Endowment for the Arts invited Russell, a two-time Nebraska state champion and a national finalist, to represent National Poetry Out Loud.
Omaha! Musical by Stan Freberg — 1958 Butternut Coffee Radio Commercial