Willie T. and William “Tee” Holmes
They were both veterans. They were both cut from the same cloth of one of Laurens County’s oldest families. One was called “Willie T.,” the other simply, “Tee.” They were both lieutenants. One fought on the islands of the Pacific. The other hovered over the jungles of Vietnam. One survived the war. One didn’t. They were Willie T. Holmes and his son, William T. “Tee” Holmes, father and son veterans.
Willie T. Holmes was born on Christmas Eve in 1919. He joined Co. K of the 121st Infantry, Georgia National Guard before his 20th birthday. Willie Holmes was transferred to the regular army, where he served in Co. K., 3rd Battalion, 307 Infantry Regiment of the 77th Division. The division was heavily engaged in combat in the South Pacific taking part in the siege of Guam and the deadly Battle of Leyte Gulf, where 1st Sergeant Holmes received a battlefield commission to 1st Lieutenant for his heroic actions and transferred to Co. G., 2nd Battalion.
The 77th Division was sent into Ie Shima on Okinawa Island to root out entrenched Japanese fortifications around Government House. Two days earlier, the famous journalist, Ernie Pyle, was killed nearby. About four thirty in the morning of April 21, 1945 Japanese soldiers counter attacked in mass. Company G, holding the left wing of the battalion’s position in Ie Town, was overrun. The entire company was nearly wiped out. Among the dead was Willie T. Holmes. Several years later in the late 1940s, Willie’s body was brought home for burial in Northview Cemetery. Willie’s brother took Willie’s son down to the depot to meet the train. “It never knew my father,” said the boy. “It knew it was a sad day.”
That young boy, born in the middle year of World War II, 1943, was William T. Holmes, known to all that know him, as “Tee.” “Tee” grew up in the in the Fabulous Fifties, the last decade of American innocence. He lived on the edge of downtown Dublin and knew every spot in town and the places to have fun. “One of my friends through a firecracker into what he thought was an empty drum at Laney’s Service Station,” “Tee” remembered.” “All of a sudden it went ‘ka-boom!” The empty drum was filled with something that exploded. “We spent most of our Saturdays at the Martin Theater,” “Tee” fondly remembered. “There was always something to do downtown,” said “Tee” who graduated from Dublin High School in 1961.
On the morning of December 8, 1965, the copter, with Capt. Jim Givan in command, took off for Da Nang. It was raining. Fog cut the visibility way down. Givan and Holmes piloted the helicopter at a low altitude, just far off the coast to avoid ground fire. The weather took a turn for the worse. While winds were gusting up to thirty-five knots, the flight to Da Nang was completed without any incident. The crew unloaded their cargo, helicopter parts and equipment, and the necessary liquids, eighty cases of beer, before returning to their base. The weather went from bad to worse. Clouds had dropped down to two hundred feet above sea level. While flying just above the wave tops with automatic controls, something went wrong, terribly wrong.
With no warning of any kind, the engine died. Enemy fire from the beach riddled the air craft. Being less than two hundred above the water level, there was no time to get out. Within seconds, the UH-34 hit the water. “Tee was the last one of the crew to safely exit the aircraft. “I struggled for some time before I realized I had not released my seat belt and shoulder harness. It was going to the bottom. When I finally got out, it was a long way to the surface and it seemed an eternity to get there,” remembered Holmes. The waves were eight feet high. The salty ocean spray was pommeled the four crew members. The men were scattered and not able to see each other unless they were on the crest of wave at the same time. The other ships in the flight returned to pick up their comrades. The men in the water were in a dilemma. If they waved their arms, they would alert the gunners on the beach. If they didn’t, they might be not bee seen. “It was an easy choice, It waved and splashed like a maniac!” “Tee”, the captain, and the crew chief, Sgt. Glenn, were hoisted to safety. Cpl. Corle, the gunner, didn’t make it.
“Tee” had earned the unenviable distinction of being shot down in his very first mission. But he was lucky, he survived. Not every mission was as dangerous and eventful as “Tee’s” first one. Two months later, “Tee” was flying a mosquito spraying mission over the coastal plain south of Ky Ha. “Tee” and his fellow pilot were flying two hundred feet in a grid pattern over the rice paddies, the insecticide billowing smoke from underneath their aircraft. A marine pilot flying near eight thousand feet above them spotted the smoke. He called in a distressed signal, “Mayday! Chopper on fire!” “Tee” and his buddy, “Easy Ed” had their radio on and heard the call for help. They began looking around the skies to spot the troubled helicopter. They circled around and looked again, but to no avail. “Tee” conversed with the marine pilot as to where the smoking aircraft was. Finally, a light went off in “Tee” and Ed’s head. They were flying the smoking helicopter that the Marine pilot had mistakenly diagnosed as being on fire. The copter crew were laughing when they went on the air to explain what had happened to the embarrassed pilot, who promptly and disgustedly took off for his home base.
“Tee” and the other helicopter pilots were heroes to the men on the ground. One of the helicopter pilots primary missions were medivac flights to extract wounded men from intense battle field conditions. Many times the helicopter crews would fire their guns into enemy positions to relieve tenuous situations.
“Tee” survived his tour of duty in Vietnam. Today, he is a successful sales representative of the Cram Map Company. On this upcoming Veteran’s Day, let us take time to pause and thank all of the veterans of our country, who had served America with pride, distinction, and courage. Thanks, “Willie T.” and “Tee.”