It Could Be One of the Biggest Stories Never Told

By Bob Terrell

   

  The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville said it "may be the greatest story  never told."

     It's a war story, straight out of the jungles of Burma, and the man who lived to tell it could be another Audie Murphy.           

     His name is George Holland.  Billy Edd Wheeler and I found him the day after Christmas in the piney woods of South Georgia, living in a comfortable double-wide mobile home, 11 miles from the crossroads town of Alma.

     He's tall and lean and appears to be about as trim as he was 32 years ago when he fought through the jungles of Burma with Merrill's Marauders. He works now as a pipe fitter in Macon, Ga.

   George Holland got into the war about as fast as anyone ever entered a Conflict. He volunteered for jungle fighting soon after finishing basic training and was 19 years old when he crawled aboard a C-46 in India with 26 other men. The plane flew them deep into the jungle, dipped low over the trees and put down in a clearing, never completely stopping and the 27 men went out of the plane into the teeth of intense Japanese fire directed at the aircraft, which gunned its engines and swept back into the air, pock-marked with bullet ho1es.

          The 27 men were trained in jungle warfare and moved quickly against the Japanese forces, blasting them out of the area. Four days later, Holland was given a battlefield promotion to staff sergeant and placed in charge of a squad of perimeter fighters whose primary duty was to patrol, sometimes behind enemy lines, and to establish outposts around the 475th Infantry Brigade, a unit of Merrill's Marauders.

        Holland, who had proved himself to be a crack shot with every light weapon the infantry had to use, engaged a Japanese patrol not long after that and found himself pinned down with eight wounded men around him. With a Browning automatic rifle and a dozen hand grenades, he carried the fight to the enemy and beat off the force, dragging the wounded men to safety.

        He became accustomed to jungle living under battlefield conditions - not content, just accustomed. "You never get content," he said. "I've had my hair really rise up on my head. I've been too scared to breathe."

        Scared men often fight better. He was returning to his unit one day after guiding a squad through the jungle to a newly-established outpost, when he came across a fire fight in the jungle. From a high point, he discovered a British patrol of a dozen men pinned down and encircled by a superior Japanese force.

        He gauged the strength of the Japanese and single-handedly attacked the weakest point of the circle. Catching the Japanese by surprise, he slashed into the line, opening up with a tommy gun and hand grenades. "I had to throw some of those grenades such a short distance,” he said, “that I was afraid I’d be hit by my own shrapnel.”  But he opened a hole in the Japanese line and the British patrol escaped. The British captain, Holland said, yelled and asked his name, but he was already moving. "Get out of here,” Holland yelled. “There's more Japs about.”

        Near the end of the war, when the Burma campaign was over, Holland and his unit were sent on to China. "A brigadier general, he said, called us together and asked about several incidents that had occurred in the jungle. One thing he asked was, who was the sergeant who had dragged those wounded men to safety. I told a buddy, "He's talking about me," and my buddy, Sgt. Donald Lee Mays said, " ‘Tell him,’ but I kept my mouth shut. The man didn't have anything I wanted. I was so eaten up with rot that the only thing I could think of was getting home. I didn't want anything interfering with that."

        Looking back, George Holland figures that was the day he might have qualified for a medal, perhaps even the Congressional Medal of Honor. He is sorry now that he didn’t speak up. 

 

The Bitter End

        After the war, Holland went through a series of experiences that were terrifying to him.  He couldn’t hold a job because of the jungle rot that ate the flesh off his hands.  He walked in his sleep, roaming the Trout River near his home in Jacksonville in the wee hours of the night with a knife in his hands.  He almost went out of his mind, thinking that corn in the field, which he could see from his bedroom window, was a Japanese patrol slipping up on his house. 

        He did the only thing he knew to do; he rejoined the Army.

        He was on his way to Korea when he got into a barroom fight in Kyushu, Japan, and later, back in the barracks, he was trimming a corn on his toe with a pocket knife when the soldier he had fought charged him. 

        “I didn’t go after him with the knife,” Holland said, “but when I reached to lock my arms around him the knife blade folded and slashed his side."

        Holland was court marshaled, sentenced to a year of hard labor and given a dishonorable discharge.  “I got a raw deal.” He said. "If I did anything more than cut the man with the knife, I don't remember it – and they didn’t try me for anything else.  But I was shackled, hand and feet, and imprisoned.”

        He said he spent "several months" in solitary confinement, living on bread and water. Eventually he was transferred to Camp Cooke, Calif.; and later to Fort Leavenworth, Kans. Altogether, he served a year in military prisons.

        "They called me in one day," he said, "and gave me a train ticket to Jacksonville and a suit of clothes and told me to go to Jacksonville for my brother’s funeral.  He had been killed in Okinawa.  When I returned to Leavenworth, I stayed a few days and was called in again and told that I had been pardoned and was being put back on active duty as a private.  Somebody had intervened in my behalf with President Truman, but I never found out who.  I didn’t try hard to find out – I was too glad to be out of prison and back on active duty. 

        Another action, which I remember, was the time we were pulled back to the air-strip and had dug in and the Japs had attacked the air-strip with planes around noon that day.  I remember the plane that was flying about 20 feet above the ground and was coming straight over the fox hole that I was in with “Stud” Lawson.  I opened fire on the plane and hit the cockpit where the pilot was.  Seconds later Eugene Crady sailed from his hole with a brent gun and opened fire on the plane.  An American plane was on the scene and got hit and had to land.  A few minutes later I heard an explosion behind us in the jungle and saw a ball of smoke and I believe our bullets caused the Jap fighter to crash. 

        Around the 16th of June we moved into another area and dug in.  While we were dug in there four men were wounded there.  I went out and got these men.  One had lost his left eye, fragment had cut the bone in two on one’s right arm, and the other two were wounded in the legs.  I carried them back behind the lines to an aid station.  I held the arm of the one that was wounded in the arm and the Dr. said it would have to be amputated.  These men were in my company but with another platoon.  It was the same evening Col. Hunter pitched a hammock on the front lines and was almost blown out of it.  We were set up about 50 yards right straight down the line from Col. Hunter. 

        Holland served another year in the Army and was given a general discharge. 

        He settled down in Georgia and he and his wife, Myrtle, reared six children.  Over the years he hid much of his military record from his children, but now they have grown up, all but one, and know their father’s story, and his foremost thought is to clear his name. 

        That’s where Billy Edd and I stand now; with a potentially great story in our hands, but with a lot of digging to do.  Many of George Holland’s records were destroyed in a fire at the federal records center in St. Louis.  The task now is to find some of the men who served with George Holland in Burma and in prison.  If we can document his story, we’ll write it.

        Otherwise, it may continue to be the greatest story never told.

From Alma Times, Alma, Ga., Thursday, April 15, 1976  
a similar article also appeared Thursday, January 1, 1976
 

Note:  George Edwin Holland is son of George Ellis Holland and Pearl Carter,
grandson of Eli C. Holland and Mollisa Johnson,
great-grandson of Woodard D. Holland, C. S. A., and Rhoda Brown,
2nd-great-grandson of Woodard D. Holland and Celia,
3rd-great-grandson of Elisha Holland and Patience Watkins, and
4th-great-grandson of Jimmie Holland and Jerutha White.

Newspaper articles were donated by Nancy Holland Slagle in May 2002. 

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This Holland site Published 10 July 1996 - This page added 8 July 2002   Last updated 21 Jan 2011 

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