Sources: Omaha World-Herald archives; National Archives & Records Administration; Central High School Advanced Placement History 2006 reports, courtesy of the Omaha Central High School Foundation.
A World War II memorial that had hung at Rosenblatt Stadium was discarded years before the stadium was shut down. Now, the plaque, which lists 40 names of Omaha amatuer baseball players -- including Iowa Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick -- who died in World War II, is about to resurface. Some S.O.B's -- South Omaha Boys -- came into possession of the plaque and raised money to display it at historic Brown Park, a South Omaha ballfield where the men all played in the 1930s and which recently has been renovated to the tune of $1 million. Organizers are looking for descendants to participate in an Aug. 14 dedication ceremony.
Click each name below to learn more.
was one of eight sons of Minnie Adler to serve in World War II. Emil, a private first class in the Army, was killed in action in Luxembourg on March 2, 1945, a short time after returning to his outfit, upon recovering from wounds suffered five months earlier. He was 34. His brothers who served in World War II were Otto, George, William, Roy, Louis, Eugene and Leonard. Leo tried to enlist, but the Army denied him because of his eyesight. Anton was over-age.
The boys’ father died in 1931.
In an April 2, 1945, story about Emil’s death, The World-Herald wrote, "The little house at 3105 Bridge Street is quieter these days. War’s toll has deepened the hush that hangs over the modest dwelling, so filled with life when nine of the 10 sons of Mrs. Joe Adler were home; so quiet when eight of them went off to service. ... The other boys have stormed atolls, have slogged through the jungle with the infantry, have looked down at enemy flak. Scattered on a global basis, it is probable that word of their brother’s death has not reached some of them."
JAMES J. ANDREWS
Andrews, a private in the Army, was killed in action Dec. 20, 1944, in Belgium. He was 28. He had been overseas since May 1944, serving with the Gilder Infantry. He had seen combat in Holland as well. A graduate of Omaha South High School, he had worked for the Union Pacific Railroad before going into the service. He was survived by his wife, Dora Andrews; his mother, Mary Andrews; and father, Robert Andrews.
SAMUEL P. CENTRETTO
Samuel P. Centretto, private, killed in action March 23, 1944, on Manus Island. Son of Mr. and Mrs. Nick Centretto.
GORDON P. CHRISTENSEN
Gordon P. Christensen, private, killed in action.
ARTHUR J. CLARK
Arthur J. Clark, private first class, killed in action.
JOSEPH P. CRONIN
Joseph P. Cronin, first lieutenant in the Army, killed in action Aug. 25, 1944, in France. Before his death he had been wounded twice while serving with the Fifth Army, once at Cassino and again at Rome.
A graduate of Creighton University, Cronin went overseas in September 1943. Before entering the service, he worked in the dispatch department of The World-Herald. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Cronin.
WILLIAM J. FENTON, Jr.
Fenton, a private first class in the Marines, was killed Feb. 22, 1945, on Iwo Jima. A member of the Fourth Marine Division, he was a veteran of campaigns in the Marshall Islands, Saipan and Tinian. He had been overseas for 14 months. He had graduated in 1941 from Omaha’s old St. Joseph’s High School and entered the service in December 1942. A brother, Marine Sgt. Jerry P. Fenton, also was serving in the Pacific at the time. He had been employed by Northwestern Bell. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. William Fenton.
Gillis, a Marine Corps fighter pilot and squadron leader, was reported missing in action Nov. 12, 1944. He was listed as dead Jan. 5, 1945. First Lt. Gillis, 22, was based at Peleliu Island. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lee J. Gillis, had been told that his plane landed in the Pacific, presumably from fuel or oil-line trouble, after an engagement. Gillis had been overseas since July 1944. He had graduated from Omaha North High School and attended the University of Nebraska, cutting his studies short to enroll in the Civilian Pilot Training Program while working at the Federal Land Bank. He entered the service in May 1942.
Griger, a yeoman third class in the Navy, was killed in action in the Pacific in late 1944. A former Technical High School student, Griger worked at the Omaha Printing Co. before entering the service in 1944. A son of Mr. and Mrs. Steven Griger, he had three brothers in the service when he was killed: Boilermaker 1st Class Steve, in the Pacific; Pfc. Richard at Camp Polk, La.; and Marine Pfc. Clarence in the Pacific.
NORMAN ALLEN GROVE
a Marine private first class, died March 2, 1945, of wounds suffered on Iwo Jima. He was 21. Grove, a 1942 graduate of Omaha Central High School, was one of the few athletes to receive four letters — baseball, football, basketball and track — in one year. He also wrestled for Central. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 after attending Northwestern University for a year. At Northwestern, he played on the freshman football team.
Grove received boot training in San Diego, and was transferred to the Fifth Marine Division after the unit with which he was training as a machine gun raider was disbanded because of changed battle conditions. He had gone overseas in October 1944. In his first action, he fought in an invasion of Iwo Jima beginning Feb. 19, 1945. Grove was killed by a shrapnel wound to the neck in the fight to take Hill 362A, according to a history compiled by Central High School student Michael Walsh.
A brother, First Lt. H. James Grove, Jr. served in the European Theater.
ROBERT T. HAZEN
Hazen was a private first class in the Marines. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. John T. Hazen.
BERNARD T. HEALEY
Healey, a second lieutenant, was killed in action. Playing for McDevitts, he had won the American Legion batting title in Omaha in 1938. He hit .431 that year. The World-Herald called Healey, a center fielder, "a Babe Ruth type hitter, a game wrecker."
EDWARD T. JELEN
who at age 23 had served in the Nebraska Legislature in 1935, took a leave of absence from the Douglas County Board to serve in the Navy. He died of a kidney ailment in April 1945 at the Norfolk, Va., Naval Hospital. He was 33.
Jelen had graduated from Creighton University, where he was a backfield star on the football team. After college he played baseball for the Miller-Knuths team in Omaha.
LEO B. KALAMAJA
Leo B. Kalamaja was a quartermaster third class in the Navy. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. William Michael Kalamaja.
NILE C. KINNICK, JR.
Nile Kinnick, an ensign in the Navy, died June 2, 1943. The Grumman Wildcat fighter plane he was piloting in a training exercise went down in the Gulf of Paria between Trinidad and Venezuela. He was 24.
An Adel, Iowa, native, Kinnick moved with his family to Omaha in 1934. In his one season at Benson High School, Kinnick was all-state second team in football. He was All-Nebraska in basketball. As a baseball player, he teamed with Hall of Famer Bob Feller to form an imposing battery on a central Iowa town’s team.
Kinnick went to University of Iowa. He won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards after the 1939 season and was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, beating out Joe DiMaggio. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951, was named Iowa’s greatest player in a fan vote in 1989, and was picked as a defensive back on Sports Illustrated’s all-time team for the first 100 years of college football. The stadium at Iowa was renamed in his honor in 1972, and the Omaha schools named the stadium at Northwest High School after him.
JAMES L. KRISS
Jim Kriss was attached to the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment, according to a history compiled by Omaha Central High School student Paul "Pete" Fey. Kriss was wounded in action on March 24, 1945, during an assault in Germany. Kriss was discharged later in 1945 and sent back to the U.S. to recover. He died Aug. 27, 1947, of an illness reportedly related to his war wounds.
Kriss had graduated in 1940 from Central, where he played baseball and football, and starred in basketball.
JACK E. LANG
Lang, a sergeant in the Army Air Forces, was declared dead late in 1944 after having been reported missing in action on Nov. 13, 1943. Lang served with the AAF in the Eighth Army as a radio operator and photographer. He held the Distinguished Flying Cross, for his role in a raid on the Ploesti oil fields in Romania, and the Air Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster.
An Omaha South High School graduate, Lang was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Lang. His brother, Sgt. James Lang, was serving in the AAF in France when Lang was declared dead.
GENE E. LEFLER
JOHN A. LESAC
John A. Lesac, a sergeant in the Army Air Forces, went missing in action over England on Jan. 21, 1945. He had been overseas since December 1944 as a gunner on a B-17 bomber. A graduate of Omaha South High School, he had worked as a checker for Swift and Co. before entering the Army. Pitched for the 1939 Red Tops team that made it to the Omaha American Legion Championship before losing to eventual national champion McDevitt’s. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lesac.
WILLIAM R. LOFTUS
GEORGE F. “Gus” LYNCH
Lynch, a Marine captain, died April 1, 1945, after a lingering illness at the U.S. Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Lynch had been overseas 25 months, including 15 months in the South Pacific. He had enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1940, along with Capt. Billy Ziesel, while the two were serving as co-coaches of the Creighton Prep football team.
A graduate of Creighton Prep, Lynch had been the top lineman on the Creighton University football team. In high school, he was a member of Prep’s city champion baseball team, state championship basketball team, and won all-state football honors.
His survivors included four brothers: Lt. Jim Lynch, based in Massachusetts when George died, and Pat, with the Army in the Pacific, Ben, a Creighton dental student, and Bill.
ANTHONY J. MANCUSO
Mancuso, private first class, was killed April 15, 1945, in the battle of Mont Della-Spe near Castellano, Italy, while serving with the Eighty-fifth Infantry in the Tenth Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. He was 23.
For scouting and warning his company of the enemy’s approach in that battle, Mancuso was awarded the Silver Star. Six members of that company had entered the service with Mancuso on June 2, 1943. They had played football at Creighton Prep, where Mancuso was team captain and an All-State player in 1939. The six — Frank Pane, Joe Furst, Al Roth, Robert Gehringer, Al Schrader and Fox Carroll — were to serve as pallbearers at Mancuso’s funeral at St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Omaha.
THOMAS J. McCASLIN
McCaslin, a staff sergeant in the Army Air Forces, went missing in June 1944 over Caen, France, and was listed as dead in June 1945. A gunner on a B-26 Marauder bomber, McCaslin held the Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for "resolute courage and heroism under fire," and the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters. He was a graduate of Creighton Prep.
A son of Mr. and Mrs. George McCaslin, he had five brothers who became Catholic priests and a sister who became a Sinsinawa Dominican nun.
GEORGE P. O’LEARY
O'Leary, a private in the Army, went missing in action Jan. 21, 1945, in Germany. Son of Mr. and Mrs. George O’Leary, he had attended Creighton University before entering the service. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in France on Sept. 13, 1944.
Pawlusiak, a coxswain in the Coast Guard, died Sept. 10, 1942, while serving in the Atlantic. He was a son of John Pawlusiak and had three brothers in the service when he died, Richard and Leonard in the Army and John in the Coast Guard.
ROBERT E. ROACH
Robert Roach, a second lieutenant in the Army Air Forces, died in July 1945 in the crash of his plane in Arizona, where he was an instructor. He was 22.
Luke had graduated from Creighton Prep, where he was an all-state and all-intercity league high school basketball guard in 1939. The son of Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Roach, he played college basketball at Creighton and Omaha University. He was a member of the Omaha University team before entering the service.
FRANK E. ROKUSEK
Rokusek, a major in the Third Air Force, died in October 1944 when a transport plane flight went down on a flight from Athens, Ga., to Tampa, Fla. He was 42 and lived in Oak Park, Ill., at the time. Rokusek had starred in sports for Omaha’s old Commerce High School around 1920, then was captain of the 1924 University of Illinois football team that Red Grange carried to fame. Grange, known as the "Galloping Ghost," said of Rokusek, a blocking end, "I got the publicity for the long runs I made, but without ‘Roke’ clearing the way, I wouldn’t have gotten loose for a lot of them."
FRANK E. ROUBICEK
Roubicek,a seaman first class in the Navy, was killed in action May 2, 1945, on Okinawa. His two brothers, Charles and Adolph, also were serving overseas at the time.
VICTOR H. SANIUK
Saniuk, private, 20 years old, killed in action in Italy. Inducted in March 1943, went overseas with an armored division in November 1943. Graduate of Omaha South High School. Survived by sisters Josephine Brennan, Julia Suhr and Mary Nickel, and brother, Joe Saniuk, who served in the Pacific.
JOHN H. SKUPA
Skupa, a second lieutenant in the Army Air Forces, was among five civilians and four soldiers killed in November 1944 when an Army transport plane en route overseas crashed against the side of a mountain in Newfoundland. Skupa was 22. He left his wife, Joanne, and their 9-month-old daughter, Julie Ann. An Omaha native, Skupa had been in the Army three years and was a co-pilot in the Air Corps.
Surber, hospital apprentice first class in the U.S. Navy, was killed in the vicinity of Okinawa in 1945. He was on a battleship. George had graduated in 1942 from Omaha Benson High School. He was Gold Medal high hurdling champion in 1941 and 1942, and played halfback on Benson’s outstanding football team of 1941. Before entering the Navy, Surber completed one semester at the University of Nebraska.
JAMES F. TOUREK
Tourek, a private first class in the Army, died at age 19 of an illness at Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver. Tourek, son of Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. Tourek, had entered the Army in January 1945 and and went overseas that June. He served with the Ninety-eighth Division in Japan.
A former Creighton Prep and Omaha South High School student, Tourek was active in American Legion and CYO baseball.
Towney, a first lieutenant in the Army, was killed in action in Germany on March 24, 1945. With the Third Army, Towey, 26, had been in service for three years and had been overseas since July 1944.
He was a sandlot baseball and softball star. He played on early American Legion teams and was a member of the Omaha Central High baseball team from 1934-36. He also played CYO ball. He graduated from Central in 1936, and worked for the Internal Revenue Service before entering the military. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. M.J. Towey.
JOSEPH L. TYNDALL
a corporal, was a draftsman in the intelligence branch of the Army Air Corps station at Tucson, Ariz. He died when the bomber in which he was riding crashed near Dallas, Texas. Tyndall was 29.
He was a great-grandson of legendary Omaha Chief Logan Fontenelle. He had worked as a commercial artist in Omaha before entering the service.
ELMER J. WACHTLER
a staff sergeant in the Army, went missing Jan. 5, 1945, in Belgium and was later declared killed in action. An infantryman, he had entered the combat zone as a replacement the previous fall.
Known as "El," Wachtler was a pitching great in Omaha who went on to play in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, as did his brother Billy, who also left baseball to go to war. They and brothers George and Eddie were well-known sandlot players in Omaha and Nebraska. Among El Wachtler’s pitching exploits in Omaha, he won 13 games and lost three in pitching Storz to the Community league championship in 1941. He batted .339. He also played with Tekamah in the Pioneer Night league, barnstorming all over Nebraska and western Iowa.
ERNIE J. WEEKES, JR. *
Weekes, a staff sergeant in the Army Air Forces, was killed in action on April 11, 1944. He was 23. Weekes was assigned to the 96th Bomb Group, 338th Squadron in March 1944, according to a history complied by Central High School student Chris Miller. On April 11, 27 B-17 bombers were dispatched in the 96th Bomb Group. Eleven bombers would not return, nor would 120 crewmen. Three men returned dead in damaged planes. Weekes was an engineer and top turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress named "The Duchess," based at Snetterton Heath airfield in England. That morning it was on a mission to Rostock, Germany. The Duchess was hit by cannon fire and crashed into the into the sea off the Swedish coast. Only one crew member survived. Weekes was assumed to have drowned in the wreckage. He had graduated from Central High School in 1939. His classmates voted him most athletic in his senior year. Weekes was a starting running back and captain of the football team and played basketball and wrestled as well. He attended the University of Omaha and University of Nebraska before entering the service in January 1943. He had a brother named Richard.
* -- World-Herald archives suggest a different spelling than the plaque displays.
GENE L. ZIESEL
Ziesel, a first lieutenant in the Army Air Forces, was shot down Jan. 11, 1943, in Italy. Ziesel was the co-pilot on a B-24 bomber piloted by a fellow Omahan, First Lt. Louis A Prchal, that was attacked by a German fighter plane at high altitude. The bomber went down in flames, but Sgt. Duffy Madsen, of Rutland, Iowa, saw from another plane that four crewmen had parachuted out of Ziesel’s bomber. Ziesel’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Ziesel, had some hope that he might have survived and been imprisoned. He had previously been a prisoner of war in Turkey after his plane was grounded there. But this time he did not survive. Military services were held for Ziesel and Prchal on Jan. 25, 1950 at Little Rock National Cemetery in Arkansas.
Ziesel starred in football and basketball at Creighton University. When he was imprisoned in Turkey, The World-Herald wrote, "Lt. Ziesel will be remembered best by sports fans for his 40-yard dash in the dying minutes of Creighton’s 1940 homecoming game with Marquette to score the tying touchdown in that 27-27 football game."