Sailors from USS Nebraska visit NebraskalandDays celebration
Courtesy Buffalo Bill Rodeo
NebraskalandDays activities kick off June 13-23. Highlights of the state-wide celebration are the Buffalo Bill Rodeo June 13-16, the parade on June 16 and concerts by Florida Georgia Line on June 22 and Alabama, with the Charlie Daniels Band opening, June 23. A full schedule of events can be found at www.NebraskalandDays.com.
North Platte, Neb., always gets some unlikely guests in June. Each year, sailors from the USS Nebraska, a submarine stationed at Naval Base Kitsap in Bangor, Wash., are invited to the Nebraskaland Days celebration.
For the past 20 years, the NLD board of directors has worked with officers from the sub to host six sailors and their wives or significant others in North Platte. The sailors are chosen based on their performance and merit and are flown to Omaha, where they are driven to North Platte.
This year, the sailors will arrive in North Platte on the evening of June 13, where they will be busy with NLD activities every day, till June 17.
Justin Leisy, a former NLD board member and a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division, heads up the committee that takes care of the USS Nebraska members.
“It’s an awesome experience” for them, he said. “The days they’re here, we make sure they are very well taken care of, make sure they have a good time, and show them the things we have to offer in western Nebraska during the celebration.”
The sailors attend everything from pancake feeds to the pork breakfast, from the antique car show to making special deliveries of the sticky buns sold for NLD. They decorate their own cake as part of the “All-Male Cake Bake” event and are there for the sale, when the cakes are auctioned off.
During the Buffalo Bill Rodeo (this year, June 13-16), they are driven into the rodeo arena during the grand entry, standing in the back of a horse-drawn wagon. The crowd stands for them, and the applause is thunderous. “It gives me goose bumps thinking about it,” Leisy said. The sailors are also part of the big parade, held this year on June 16. As they stand in the back of a pickup decorated with American flags, parade-watchers stand and applaud them and veterans salute them. The veterans “get choked up,” Leisy said. “It’s a sight to see.”
The sailors come from a variety of backgrounds; many have never visited Nebraska, rural America or a rodeo. They are blown away by the response they get, Leisy said. “They really do feel like rock stars. They are beside themselves. When they leave, they say, we can’t believe how nice people are, and how thankful they are for our service and for the military.” When the sailors get off the wagon after their rodeo introduction, “their smiles are ear to ear, and they are moved by the response they get.”
There is no expense to the sailors as they visit NLD. They are housed by host families in the community and transported every day to their NLD activities.
The sailors love interacting with the public at the events they attend. “They’re very accommodating,” Leisy said. “We have pictures of sailors dancing with a senior lady. They love talking about themselves and where they’re from. Last year we had sailors from Georgia, Louisiana and Wisconsin. They come out here and they’re blown away by the hospitality, the people and the friendliness.”
After USS Nebraska crew members are done at Nebraskaland Days, they head back to Omaha, where they will take in a College World Series game, visit the Henry Doorly Zoo, and go to Offutt Air Force Base.
Being a veteran, Leisy takes pleasure in coordinating the sailors’ visit. “Having the connection has been pretty important and pretty cool,” he said. “Being asked to do this has been a very rewarding experience.” ❖