Virgil A. Nelson, 97 of Potter, Nebraska died Tuesday afternoon, October 30, 2012 at Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.
Funeral services will be held at 10:30 A.M., Saturday, November 3, 2012 in the Prairie West Christian Church in Potter with Pastor Doug Birky of the Sidney Evangelical Free Church officiating. Burial with military rites will follow in the Potter Cemetery.
Memorials have been established to the Potter Rescue Unit or the Prairie West Christian Church.
Friends may call from 1:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. Friday at the Holechek Funeral Home in Sidney.
Virgil Alvin Nelson was born on May 15, 1915 during a blizzard to Vernon Ankar Nelson and Mary Sophia (Larson) Nelson. They lived in a farming settlement southwest of Potter, Nebraska known as “Little Denmark”. He was the fourth of eight children.
Virgil began attending a country school, District #82, at the age of 4. But school did not meet with his liking as he would always run the few minutes back home at recess. And no amount of “persuasion” by his mother could keep him from continually doing this. So the decision was made to keep him home for the rest of that year. Meanwhile, the school house was relocated to the Kimball County-line, two miles away, and re-designated District 82-J. When Virgil resumed his education the following year, he soon learned that it was not practical to pull that same stunt. Virgil did graduate from the 8th Grade in 1929 and from Potter High School in 1934. Before his senior year, he stayed home to help pick corn as this was the middle of the Great Depression and hiring help was out of the question.
Virgil learned early on what it meant to be a farm boy. Cows had to be milked early morning and every night, livestock had to be fed and watered, horses had to be tended to, and crops needed tilling. Virgil and his younger brother Kermit devised a method of feeding the pigs where they would carry a large bucket between them while they each carried a smaller bucket in their other hand to balance the load. It was an efficient way to carry a lot of feed in a short amount of time.
At the age of 9, Virgil was able to fully harness a horse and buggy by himself. At the age of 12, his father died, leaving the family to fend for themselves. But they rose to the occasion, working very long hours every day, just barely getting by as it was the Great Depression. At times, Virgil would work for neighbors for as little as 25 cents to a dollar a day.
In 1938, Virgil enlisted in the United States Navy. Shortly after arriving at the Naval Training Facility in San Diego, CA, Virgil was taken to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Upon completion of his naval training, Virgil was assigned duty aboard the USS California where he served for about a year as an engineer. He then was transferred to a new Destroyer, the USS Sterett, being constructed in Charleston, SC. Virgil served aboard the Sterett for three years as she patrolled and escorted shipping convoys across the Pacific and Atlantic, protecting them against Nazi submarine “Wolf Packs”. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, he transferred to Camden, New Jersey for assignment to the new battleship USS South Dakota, which was then under construction. Virgil was promoted to Chief Machinist Mate, First Class, and placed in charge of twenty-five subordinates who all monitored the construction of the ship’s four engine rooms. Upon completion, Virgil was placed in charge of Engine Room #1, which meant that he was also in charge of the other three engine rooms, as well. On August 16, 1942, the South Dakota and crew left the home waters and went to war. Virgil endured many major naval battles keeping watch over his engine rooms, making sure that the engines were always ready to go. He was there at the Battle of Santa Cruz, where the South Dakota shot down thirty-two enemy planes; a record that stands to this day. History would record subsequent battles: Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, Iwo Jima, Leyte Gulf, Luzon. Friends were buried at sea, wounds were inflicted, and scars would be engrained forever. Each time, Virgil kept the ship going. In all, Virgil’s beloved South Dakota and crew earned 14 battle stars, steamed 247,000 miles, was the first battleship to fire on the Japanese mainland, and was present when, on September 2, 1945, the Empire of Japan surrendered to General McArthur in Tokyo Bay, which Virgil witnessed from the deck of the South Dakota.
In a few weeks time, Virgil returned to Potter where a good friend encouraged him to purchase his first farm ground in Kimball County, Nebraska. Another friend helped him get a new Farmall tractor, which was in short supply. The war hero was once again a farmer.
In 1947, with the help of a cousin, he contracted to share-crop more land 7 miles north-east of Potter. This land had a farm house which Virgil moved into. On February 8, 1948, he married Katheryn Moore Hagemeister, to whom four children were born. They were married 64 years.
In June, 2005, after 60 years of successful farming, Virgil retired and moved into the former Methodist Parsonage in Potter. Virgil loved the people of Potter and was very fond of visiting anyone with time to talk. The people of Potter will long remember watching him riding down town on his electric scooter and sharing coffee at the Potter Sundry.
Virgil was a member of the Potter United Methodist Church for 85 years, was a charter member of the Potter American Legion, Post 291 for 68 years, the Masonic Lodge #75 in Potter for 60 years, the Potter Lions Club for over 50 years. Virgil was President of the Nebraska Wheat Growers for two years and served as Secretary-Treasurer for the Potter Cemetery Board for 26 years.
Virgil was preceded in death by his parents, two brothers, and one sister. He is survived by his wife, Katheryn, four children: Vern Alvin Nelson and wife Peggy of Potter, Mary Ann Nelson Street and husband William M. Street Jr. of Midlothian, Virginia, Val Richard Nelson of Omaha, Nebraska, and David Lee Nelson and wife Martha of Lincoln, Nebraska. He is also survived by four siblings: E. Marion Jacobs of Plattsmouth, NE, L. Kermit Nelson of Dalton, NE, Deloras Shanholtz, of Plattsmouth, NE., and Carol Spencer of Gering, NE; six grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.