A new display commemorating the World War I service of Nebraskans and University of Nebraska students will be dedicated during a Nov. 11 ceremony at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.
The dedication is among several events and activities arranged by the university and the Department of Athletics to recognize military service members and veterans during the week of Veterans Day, including a salute to veterans during the Nov. 10 Nebraska vs. Illinois football game.
The impact of the university’s decision to honor those who were willing to serve in World War I cannot be overstated,” said Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard, who will be among speakers at the 7:45 a.m. ceremony, which is free and open to the public. “The restoration of the plaques with the names at Gate 20 is entirely fitting with the spirit of Memorial Stadium, which reminds all who gather there of those who serve to protect and defend the inalienable rights we all enjoy in our form of democracy.”
The event marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, which marked the cessation of hostilities in World War I. Armistice Day now is called Veterans Day to recognize the service of all who have served in the armed forces.
The ceremony also will reveal the design of a veterans tribute area planned for near Nebraska’s Pershing Military and Naval Science Building. The university consulted with an advisory group of about 30 military stakeholders in developing the plan for the tribute area.
A 30-minute program, beginning at 8:15, will feature appearances by Chancellor Ronnie Green, Athletic Director Bill Moos, Regent Rob Schafer and Bohac. Attendees, including the media, are asked to park in the lot directly east of Memorial Stadium and enter the stadium through Gate 19.
Facts about the new display:
It consists of two plaques installed on each side of the stadium’s original entrance, Gate 20 inside the stadium’s east concourse. The 9-foot by 5-foot plaques will include the names of 113 Nebraska students who enrolled at the university and signed up to participate in World War I. The display also will recognize Gen. John J. Pershing, a former University of Nebraska faculty member and graduate who served as commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, and all Nebraskans who served in the Great War.
Like many major national universities after World War I, the University of Nebraska opted to build an athletic stadium to honor fallen soldiers. Led by 1917 alumnus Harold Holtz, the Nebraska Memorial Association of the Nebraska Alumni Association collected enough pledges and donations to allow groundbreaking in April 1923. Nebraska defeated Oklahoma 24-0 during the first game, played Oct. 20, 1923.
Renderings of the stadium in the NU’s 1924 yearbook show plaques on each side of the entrance. “Bronze tablets bearing the names of the University of Nebraska students who made the supreme sacrifice that freedom and democracy might live, are placed on either side of the massive entrance to the new structure,” the yearbook said. However, aside from a single 1924 letter requesting a design concept by Mount Rushmore creator Gutzon Borglum, no photos or official records of the plaques exist in university or state historical archives.
Josh Caster, an archives manager, and Cathy Urban, a quality assurance specialist, combed university yearbooks and student records to identify students who served. The design allows for more names to be added if others are identified later.
Michelle Waite, assistant to the chancellor for government and military relations, said shadows on the columns on either side of Gate 20 make her think some sort of plaques were hung there, but no one knows for certain what they were.
In 2016, John Hilgert, director of the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs, approached Waite about the university doing something special to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
“All the stars sort of aligned at that time,” Waite said. “That led the university to taking the lead on these plaques and working toward the creation of a reflection area near Pershing Military and Naval Science building.”