The indelible mark of a champion
71 years after he gave his life, alumnus and WWII vet Bill Nosker’s legacy survives.
The sentiment expressed by Alan Davis toward William “Bill” Nosker ’41 can be summarized in two words: never forget.
Davis has spent the past several years compiling material from The Ohio State University Archives and other sources to preserve Nosker’s legacy. The Upper Arlington native was a campus leader, starting guard on the 1939 Big Ten champion Buckeyes and commanding officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
“I just believe memories of what people like Nosker did for our country should not be allowed to fade away,” said Davis, a retired health care administrator who lives in Chillicothe, Ohio.
His viewpoint is shared by Ohio State, which will carry over the Nosker name to one of its new residence halls on north campus, replacing a former dorm named in his honor.
The connection between Davis and Nosker runs through Davis’ father-in-law, John “Doc” Allen, 92, who served as a medic with Nosker in the 449th Bombardment Group.
A 1949 graduate of Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Allen hasn’t talked much about his military service until he opened up in recent years to tell the tragic story of the role he played in Nosker’s ultimate sacrifice for his country.
“If Doc had never told me that story, I wouldn’t have a clue who Nosker was,” Davis said. “Sometimes I think my family gets tired of hearing about him, and I’m not even a Buckeye.”
The story goes something like this:
Stationed in southern Italy for a nighttime bombing run prior to the invasion of France, Maj. Nosker volunteered as a wing observer and advisor aboard a B-24 bomber on Aug. 15, 1944. “The plane crashed on takeoff near our base,” Allen recalled. “It was terrible. The plane was loaded with fuel and bombs. We heard it explode. It was my job in the aftermath to sort through the remains.”
Then-Sgt. Allen recognized a telltale sign on a finger of one of the fallen: a 1939 Big Ten Championship ring. Allen, an Ohio State football fan who grew up in Ross County, knew there was only one Big Ten champion on the 11-man crew.
“I’m not sure we would have been able to identify Maj. Nosker without that ring,” Allen said.
The whereabouts of the ring remain a mystery. Nosker’s 97-year-old widow, Jean Sanborn Lombard ’40 of Upper Arlington, and other family members have tried to locate it, without success.
Despite the keepsake’s absence, the memory of Nosker perseveres. The new Nosker Hall — which will feature a lobby display honoring Nosker — is scheduled to open next fall.
Nobody could be happier than Davis, Nosker’s unofficial historian, who plans to submit copies of the pictures and other materials he has acquired to The National World War II Museum and The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
“He had an amazing track record for such a short life,” Davis said. “I feel like I have gotten to know him.” He hopes the same applies to future students residing in the new Nosker Hall.
‘The glory and strength of young America’
Bill Nosker stood out on campus and in service to our nation.
Who was Bill Nosker? Few students needed to ask that question in the late 1930s. The namesake for Nosker Hall was a student leader and football star.
“Bill put me on the map,” said Nosker’s widow, Jean Sanborn Lombard ’40, his high school and college sweetheart. “It seems like everybody knew him.”
The college accomplishments of William “Bill” Nosker ’41 — tall, blonde and popular — matched his striking good looks and foreshadowed a heroic military career as a bomber pilot in World War II.
The Ohio State University Monthly magazine reported Nosker was “as handsome and strapping a young Viking as you ever saw,” radiating “the glory and strength of young America.”
Nosker was president of the Class of 1941 his sophomore year and a member of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and two honor societies. He participated in numerous extracurricular activities and was a starting guard on the football team, which won the 1939 Big Ten championship.
He left school in 1940, one quarter short of graduation, to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps. “He just wanted to fly,” Lombard said of her future husband’s decision.” Nosker’s mother objected, she added, “but he took her in a plane once and that changed her mind.”
Nosker earned his bachelor of science in agriculture a year after he enlisted by submitting a thesis to Professor R.B. Stoltz.
Nosker was one of six Ohio State athletes — including his close friend, All-American quarterback Don Scott — who joined the Army Air Corps at the same time. The Varsity O Club celebrated the students’ service and sacrifice with a farewell party in Pomerene Hall.
Lombard left with Nosker for training. The couple was married Jan. 16, 1942, at Kelly Field in San Antonio. “I followed him wherever he went,” Lombard said. “When he was assigned to Lubbock, Texas, I thought that was the end of the world. Nothing was there.”
Maj. Nosker rose through the ranks to become part of the 449th Bombardment Group — one of WWII’s most distinguished and decorated combat units — and commander of the 718th squadron.
He flew dozens of missions, including raids over Austria and Germany, and was promoted to assistant operations officer of the 47th Wing in July 1944. A month later, on Aug. 15, his B-24 bomber — slated for a nighttime mission to France — crashed on takeoff from its base in southern Italy. There were no survivors.
“One of Bill’s officers called me with the news,” said Lombard, now 97, of Upper Arlington. “I was devastated.”
Nosker’s aerial duty earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. The university memorialized him in 1962 when it dedicated Nosker Hall, one of several residence halls named for alumni veterans. Although Nosker Hall recently was demolished as part of $370 million in improvements to the north campus residential area, a new Nosker Hall will open in fall 2016.
“I’m so happy to know that,” Lombard said.
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