By RYAN THORBURN
Boulder Daily Camera
G. Allan Nelson still drives his own car. He golfs. He stays up late following the Rockies on their West Coast road swings and he gets up early to go to work five days a week in downtown Denver. He recently made his first trip to Blackhawk and pocketed over $150 from the “one-arm bandits” – also known as slot machines.
Fresh off celebrating his 88th birthday, the 6-5 Nelson looks like a prospect who could rebound better than anyone on the Colorado basketball team did last season. And the Battle of the Bulge survivor, who will be honored during the Bolder Boulder’s Memorial Day tribute at Folsom Field, still has some eligibility left.
Nelson returned to the University of Texas after World War II - he recalls watching the Longhorns beat CU 76-0 on Sept. 28, 1946, in Austin - and
was asked by the basketball coach if he’d like to try out for the varsity team.
“What’s crazy is I didn’t think I could,” Nelson said. “I told him I had too many labs. But it turned out that the captain of the team was also a geology major.”
Nelson, a consulting petroleum geologist who has been living in Colorado for more than 60 years, arrived at Texas from his native New Jersey to begin studying in 1941. He also became part of the Army’s Enlisted Reserve Corps.
“We had an infantry basic (training) and went back to college in uniform,” Nelson said. “There were thousands of us in all colleges.”
Nelson became a part of the Army Specialized Training program designed to identify, train and educate academically-talented enlisted men as a specialized corps of Army officers during WWII.
At least that’s what he was told.
“Our IQs were so high we thought we’d go to officers’ candidate school,” Nelson said. “We were in college for six months and they threw all of us in the infantry.”
Nelson went into combat in November 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge – named for the westward bulging shape of the battleground on a map – which began with an aggressive German attack the morning of Dec. 16.
“My misfortune is I was not only in the Battle of the Bulge, but I was there the first day,” Nelson said. “At the end of three days there were probably less than 50 men left in my rifle company. We started with 180 men. The rest were killed, wounded or captured.”
Nelson was a member of the 99th Infantry Division, which did not yield to the German attack despite being surrounded and greatly out-numbered.
“There were 1,000 of us hit by 12,000 Germans,” Nelson said. “That means there were 12 Germans coming through the woods trying to find one person like me. I was a bazooka man.”
In March 1945, Allied Forces were able to capture Ludendorff Bridge at a town called Remagen. Adolph Hitler had ordered the bridges over the Rhine, the last major geographical hurdle to Allied troops, destroyed.
“One significant thing that happened is the 9th Armored Division had unexpectedly captured a bridge over the Rhine at Remagen. I ran across the bridge under fire and the next day I was in two very bad patrols in the morning,” Nelson recalled. “My foxhole mate and I were wounded in the afternoon. He was standing right next to me and he was killed. It was the worst day of my life.”
Things would only get worse after dark.
“The ambulance I was in was in a head-on collision that night,” Nelson continued. “We had our ‘night lights’ on and we were sideswiped by a six-by-six truck. Now we were all walking wounded. I had to go up through the front of the ambulance to get out, and the driver was unconscious. We ended up in a farmer’s field.”
Nelson’s next assignment was to be a bodyguard for two-star Maj. General Walter Lauer.
After serving the country with honors, Nelson was awarded a Purple Heart. He then returned to Austin and received his B.S. in geology in 1947. He went to work in the giant Rangely oil field in northwest Colorado before starting his own business as a consultant in 1957.
When asked over a cup of coffee if he has thought about retiring, Nelson said, “No, I wouldn’t know what to do.”
Nelson’s wife, Ruthie, a nurse during WWII who he met later in Denver, passed away three years ago. On his 83rd birthday five years ago he promised her he would never go out on an oil well again.
“Last December I went out on a well next to DIA,” Nelson admits. “That’s what I call cheating on your wife.”
In 1993, Nelson was named Chairman of the 99th Infantry Division Association. He organized a reunion in Colorado that drew 1,000 people and was then elected president of the association.
“My biggest accomplishment was getting a beautiful, big granite monument built in Belgium in what were called the Twin Villages three miles from the German border,” Nelson said.
Nelson has children and grandchildren who run the Bolder Boulder every year. Instead of waiting for them in the Folsom Field stands this Memorial Day, he will be honored on the field.