A love story for the boys of Company C

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UNL alumnus, 88, sends money for Love Library, along with a story explaining why.

Helen (Plasters) Nemzek received a brochure in the mail at her Minnesota home the other day. It was from UNL, her alma mater, asking for money for Love Library. It needed renovations.

Helen is 88. The last time she’d even stepped foot in Love to study was long ago.

Yet she sent in a check for $50, along with a note explain why.

I couldn’t send this check without writing these lines, hoping someone might read them. …

She sent a love story, of sorts:

It was the war, she wrote. She was in her first year of college when she met the boys of Company C — soldiers who’d come to Lincoln to study engineering and other fields at the university. They were part of the War Department’s Army Specialized Training Program, called the ASTP, which sent solders to campuses across the country.

And the ones who came to Lincoln to study lived at Love Library.

Love Library stood new and used only by the ASTP, a military force in World War II. They were billeted there. …

One night at a dance, the boys of Company C of those ASTP troops chose her to be their beauty queen for a contest among all the ASTP units – their “Sweetheart of Company C.”

Her story was so good we phoned her, for more.

She was a small-town Nebraska girl, from Stella, she said, who’d come to college to study theater.

“When we were going to class, walking along, the Sarge would see us girls on the right side, or the left side, and he’d say, ‘Eyes right!’ or ‘Eyes left!’ And all of the boys would be looking at you!”

And she’d be looking back.

She chuckles.

“I think I was in love!”

Helen became the sweetheart of Company C one Friday night at a dance at her dorm. The girls had invited the boys of Company C over that night.

One of the boys seemed to be “like a guru.” The others all looked up to him, it was clear. He had everybody from Company C dance with her, while he sat in the corner and watched. He was handsome. Charismatic.

At the end of the evening, he took the final dance with her.

“That’s when he told me that they were going to pick me as their sweetheart,” she says. “He was that kind of a guy.”

She can’t remember his name. But she’ll never forget that fun night.

Memories, memories, memories!!!!

Having those troops living on campus was a big deal at the time. The 1944 Cornhusker yearbook devotes a lot of space to photos and stories of the soldiers and the other troops who lived in Love.

More than 13,000 soldiers received training on campus during the program’s three years, according to yellowed research papers stored in the UNL Archives and Special Collections in Love Library. As many as 1,600 men of the ASTP and the Air Corps training programs lived in Love Library from 1943 until the ASTP program ended in March of 1944.

They mingled with the regular students at the university, especially the girls.

They dated.

They danced.

They fell in love.

Then they went off to fight in the war.

Helen lost touch with them. But she never forgot them.

On the phone, Helen sounded decades younger than her years. Radio actually had been her career for many years. She still has her radio voice.

Out of college, she said, she’d co-hosted show in Lincoln on KOLN with her first husband. (They became friends – and double-dated – with another UNL grad named Johnny Carson.) Remember David Doyle (“Bosley” from “Charlie’s Angels”)? She once acted in a play with him.

She’s loved her life.

“It’s been a lot of fun.”

She’s lived in Moorhead, Minn., most of her adult life. Like everyone, she says, she’s had her share of joy and sadness. Her first marriage didn’t last. She married another man, a realtor, and they had a great love story for 40 years – “what a wonderful time we shared together.” She’s now a widow.

Her greatest gift in life, she says, has been her three children. All of them earned doctorates: Jean, in veterinary medicine; Laura, in English; and Robert, in physics. Education is important, Helen says. Books are important. Libraries are important. She encourages other UNL alumni to remember Love Library, too.

And she’s telling her story, she says, because she wants people to remember the boys who used to live in Love. It’s in giving, she says, that you receive.

“The boys of Company C will always be deep in my heart,” Helen says, “because they gave me a wonderful experience during the war.”

It wasn’t until years later, when Helen returned to campus for the 50th anniversary of her Chi Omega sorority class, that she learned how their story ended.

Many had died, someone told her, during the landing on Omaha Beach.

That hit me hard … because I was their Sweetheart.

Love Library has helped students and faculty pursue their academic goals for decades. Now, it needs your help. Two key funds support the Libraries’ current priority needs: the UNL Libraries Development Fund.

We hope you will support Love and the other UNL Libraries through a gift or pledge of a larger amount that can be paid over time. For more information, contact the University of Nebraska Foundation at 800-432-3216.

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