Augsburg legend Edor Nelson turns 100 - KMSP-TV

Augsburg legend Edor Nelson turns 100

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He's an American hero, but few have heard his story because he's not one to brag. On Monday, however, he celebrated a major milestone birthday that had even President Barack Obama sending well-wishes.

Edor Nelson has had a remarkable life. First, they named a football stadium in his honor. When they added a new scoreboard, they used the occasion to celebrate his admission to the centenarian club.

A long time ago, Nelson discovered that a positive attitude can carry a person through just about anything life has to offer.

"I think it's the most important thing we have," he reflected.

Nelson was just 9 years old when his father died in a flu outbreak. His mother auctioned off the farm and worked as a waitress to support her four children, but they were still so poor that they'd tear out pages from catalogues because they couldn't afford toilet paper.

"Count your blessings," Nelson recommended.

In high school photo of Nelson 's football team, he is the only one smiling. Yet, even early on, the "can do" attitude can be seen in his eyes. In fact, in the midst of the Great Depression, he scraped together enough money to earn a degree from Augsburg College -- and he was a star on the football, basketball and baseball teams too.

"I tried to do the best I could," he told Fox 9 News.

That attitude was still with him when World War II broke out and his draft number came up.

"It was very important to me to serve my country," Nelson explained.

During his time in the service, Nelson served under General George Patton, who became famous for the fiery speeches he delivered to rally his troops.

"After he'd talk, you're ready to go," Nelson remembered.

As a captain, Nelson was in charge of a unit that snuck around in search of the enemy's location. He arrived the immediately after D-Day, but he said sending men out on patrol was the toughest thing he's ever had to do because they were just young boys and he feared they wouldn't come back. In fact, he said he'll never forget the terrified look on their faces when he warned them to "kill or be killed."

"I dream about it once in a while," he admitted.

In the fall of 1944, Nelson and four other soldiers were on a mission in France and were tracking the Nazis when all hell broke loose. Nelson came under fire and was struck on both sides of his hip. Three of his men were killed, and the wounded Nelson and another officer were captured. He spent 6 months at a prison camp in Poland operated by the Nazis during their occupation of the country, where his one daily meal was either a bowl of soup or a potato. He lost 60 pounds during that time, but he never lost his optimism.

"Just had hope that everything was going to work out," Nelson summed up.

One day, that hope was realized. Nelson and two others saw their chance and escaped -- but it wasn't easy. For three months, they hopped box cars by night, hid out by day, traveling across Poland and Russia to the Black Sea.

"It was a rough journey," Nelson said.

Throughout it all, however, Nelson never thought he wouldn't make it. He came back from the war with his positivity intact, and left the Army to continue leading young men. He took a job at his alma mater and coached football, baseball, hockey and wrestling for four decades.

A few years ago, Nelson lost his wife, Dorothy. He had been married to the love of his life for 70 years, but despite her death, he says he is still a happy man. The couple's son, Bruce, admitted he is in awe of his father's humble spirit.

"When he was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Hall of Fame, he didn't even tell me about the dinner," Bruce Nelson reflected.

So, what's the secret to a glass-half-full attitude? Nelson urges people to start saving money and live a good, clean life. Nelson never used credit to buy anything. In fact, he saved up and paid cash for his house. When life knocked him down, he always got back up -- which is something he says he learned from his mother, who lived to be 104.

"It's a big deal if I get to 105," Nelson said with a laugh.

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