Gene Livingston had a blazing introduction to the Cold War's first conflict.
He and hundreds of other new Marine Corps arrivals heading to the front in railroad cattle cars were ordered off the train to help stop a breakthrough during the Korean War in late summer 1952.
Under enemy gunfire, Livingston and his M-1 rifle landed in a muddy ditch. He didn't fire a shot. A Navy corpsman grabbed him and started an arm-to-arm blood transfusion to a Marine who had been wounded by a burst from an enemy burp gun.
“I was so scared. I did just what they told me, '' Livingston said in 2012. “I had a good life and planned on having more.''
During the months and decades that followed, Livingston chronicled the war's peace talks as a Marine historian, returned to ranching on the edge of the Sand Hills, championed soil conservation practices for north-central Nebraska farmers, delivered mail on a 150-mile rural route, served as his hometown's mayor, married twice and raised a family.
Livingston, 85, died Sunday of heart failure at Lakeside Hospital in Omaha, where he had been treated for pneumonia. He had been in failing health for several months.
“He made a lot of contributions,'' said son Shawn Livingston of Omaha. “He recently told us, 'I've had a good life, but I'm ready to go.' ''
A native of Atkinson, Neb., Livingston was named Lou Gene after New York Yankees baseball player Lou Gehrig and world heavyweight champion boxer Gene Tunney. He was the son of the town butcher and attended country schools.
He boarded in town weekly during the school year before graduating in 1946 from Atkinson High School, where he played football, basketball and American Legion baseball. He ranched south of Atkinson and married Jeanne Scott in 1949.
In 1951, he was named Atkinson's Hay Days king.
Drafted that fall in 1951 at age 23, Livingston was given a choice between the Army or Marines and then received a deferment for a few months to finish picking corn.
“The war was bad, '' he told The World-Herald two years ago. “They were desperate for anybody warm.''
After landing in South Korea, Livingston was assigned to the historical section at 1st Marine Division headquarters. He gathered daily reports from units in the field to create war diaries.
Livingston's job kept him on the front lines of history. He photographed President-elect Dwight Eisenhower, who visited troops in 1952. As a corporal, Livingston regularly traveled to Panmunjom, where truce talks eventually ended the fighting. At war's end, he returned to the United States on the same ship carrying the first prisoners of war released by North Korea in 1953.
After the war, he served out his enlistment as a guard at the Naval Ammunition Depot near Hastings, Neb., and was promoted to sergeant.
Livingston returned to ranching. His wife, Jeanne, died in 1962. The next year, he married Brenda Kelly of Park Ridge, Ill.
Livingston served as Holt County chairman of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service. He was a rural mail carrier from 1965 until retiring in 1995. As Atkinson mayor for six years during the 1970s, he pushed through a project to pave neighborhood streets in the town of 1,500 despite opposition from property owners who didn't want to pay higher taxes. He was a member and past commander of American Legion Post 86 in Atkinson and chairman of the Holt County Democratic Party.
As a founding member of the Atkinson-Stuart Country Club, he provided pine trees from his backyard to the golf course. Livingston enjoyed golf, hunting, fishing and playing pinochle.
The Livingstons moved to Omaha in 2006 to be near family. In addition to his wife and son Shawn, survivors include sons Dana of Dubuque, Iowa, and Thad of Omaha; three grandsons; and two granddaughters. Thad Livingston is sports editor of The World-Herald.
A service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Seger Funeral Home in Atkinson.