He buttons his old Army coat, which still fits.
He bounds onto the Memorial Stadium turf on this Saturday before Veterans Day, impossibly light on his feet for a man born when Woodrow Wilson was president.
He moves as if the things he saw — the things he survived — don't weigh him down at all.
How do you feel, Shorty?
“Blessed,” he says.
Shorty Heins is 97 now. When he stands at attention, he is 5 feet tall. He has 11 grandkids and 35 great-grandkids and step-great-grandkids. If you ask when he retired from farming, he'll give you a puzzled look and say, “I haven't.”
He still gets up every morning and gathers eggs from the henhouse on his farm near David City, Neb. He still trims the trees on his property.
And when he has visitors, and somebody mentions pushups, Shorty Heins will drop out of his chair and onto the floor, eager to show he can still do five crisp ones, no problem, just like he's back at boot camp.
“Dad!” yells Bev Bennett, his daughter.
Shorty Heins' doctor has told him that, at 97, pushups are probably a bad idea.
Heins lifts himself up off the floor, sits back down in his chair and shrugs.
“Fine,” he says.
Shorty doesn't have time for pushups right now anyway.
Corp. Harold “Shorty” Heins fought in post D-Day France, lived through the Battle of the Bulge and then saw firsthand the horror of the Holocaust. He's one of a dwindling number of men who remember all that and more.
He leans forward in his chair. He has three stories to tell.
The first begins with a strange threat from Shorty's superior officer on the morning of June 5, 1944.
Shorty and several other men are manning a giant, 40-mm anti-aircraft gun perched at the end of a runway at Spanhoe Airbase near Kettering, England.
The officer strides up and tells them, “If anyone leaves this gun today, you will be court-martialed. Stay on this gun.”
This strikes Shorty as both odd and a tad harsh, until planes began to amass on the runway.
B-47s. More B-47s than he's ever seen. Eventually they begin to take off, one after another, roaring oh-so-close over Shorty's 40-mm gun at the end of the runway.
Shorty drops down into a crouch and squeezes himself into a tiny ball as the planes clear his head by a few precious feet. Sometimes it pays to be 5 feet tall.
But that's not the lesson from the hundreds of planes that carried some of the 165,000 Allied troops who eventually waded ashore at Normandy Beach.
The lesson of D-Day is this: Shorty heard those planes take off, and he realized that his country could do most anything it put its mind to.
“All of that material, equipment, the men, the magnitude of what was accomplished that day,” he says. “It was awesome. Even today, I think about it, and I get tongue-tied.”
Around New Year's Day 1945, after making his way through France, Shorty Heins found himself in Luxembourg near the front line of the Battle of the Bulge.
What he remembers most about the Bulge isn't the fighting, or the fear, though there were plenty of both. Mostly he thinks about the coldest night, and he thinks about Ott. Shorty no longer remembers his first name.
It was always cold then, Shorty remembers, so cold that you couldn't even remember what it felt like to be warm.
But one night, Shorty felt the humidity in the air, and he considered how still it got before a storm back in Nebraska, and he made an announcement.
“I'm sleeping under the truck tonight,” he told Ott and the others. “It's going to snow a lot.”
At 4 a.m. Shorty startled awake. Ott was reaching underneath the Army vehicle and tapping him on the head.
I'm so cold, he told Shorty. I can't take it any longer.
Shorty looked at the ground beside the truck. A foot of snow covered everything.
He shimmied out of his warm bedroll, crawled out from underneath the truck, and looked at Ott. Ott was from Louisiana. He was shivering and shaking. He looked sick.
OK, Shorty said. Get into my bedroll until breakfast.
Ott protested. Shorty insisted. Ott climbed in, boots and all.
Weeks later, after the Allies had pushed back the Germans, after they had won the Battle of the Bulge, Ott approached Shorty.
He said thank you. And he said this: “You saved my life.”
“That is how close you get” in war, Shorty says. “You will stand in a snowstorm, do anything for one another. You are like brothers. You are brothers.”
The third story that Shorty would like to tell you happened just a month before the end of World War II.
Heins and his unit were traveling with the 4th Armored Division near Weimar, Germany, when they came around a bend and saw what at first appeared to be an abandoned military base, or a prison.
They got closer. Shorty saw what looked like a trench, maybe half the length of a football field, filled with tree limbs.
They got closer. Shorty realized that he was looking at a stack of bodies, covered by a layer of tree limbs. Another layer of bodies, then another layer of brush. A third layer of bodies. A third layer of tree limbs.
Maybe 400 people killed because they were Jewish. Maybe 800. He doesn't really know.
Nearly 70 years later, Shorty Heins is still trying to understand what he saw. Nearly seven decades later, ask him about the Holocaust, and Shorty Heins will start to cry.
“You cannot imagine how horrible people can be to one another,” he says. “You cannot fathom the extremes they went to do this. ... The inhumanity of it, it's just ...”
His voice trails off. “I'll never understand that,” he says.
Shorty Heins made it home from World War II, and he went right back to the farm.
He has survived floods, droughts, a couple of farm crises and the 1994 death of his wife, Ruby.
He survived a trip to the 2002 Rose Bowl, where the then-86-year-old rented a car and drove by himself down the Los Angeles freeways.
Last week, he survived fluid that built on his lungs and required a Friday trip to the emergency room.
Daughter Bev worried he might not be able to make it to the game. She showed up at his farmhouse at 8 a.m. Saturday.
He was wearing his Army coat, ready to go.
A half-hour before game time, Shorty marches through the tunnel and out onto the field. He shakes dozens of hands. He waves to the crowd. He gives a thumbs-up as people take his photo.
And then his face flashes onto the HuskerVision screens. The public address announcer tells the crowd that he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and helped to liberate a Holocaust prison camp.
“Ladies and gentleman, Corp. Harold Heins!”
The crowd roars. A minute later, thousands of red-clad Husker fans are standing and cheering for the nine Nebraska veterans, Shorty included, who together have fought in each war since World War II.
Shorty cannot stop waving. He cannot stop smiling. He could do five pushups right now. Heck, he could probably break three tackles and sprint to the North End Zone.
So how do you feel, Shorty?
“You know, some days were hard. You gritted your teeth and got through,” he says of World War II as he stands on the field and awaits the Tunnel Walk and the national anthem.
“There are only a few really nice things in a lifetime,” he says. “This is one of them.”
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