An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

NEWS | July 7, 2010

Honoring soldiers who served in the war that changed the world

By Nick Holba 437th Operations Support Squadron commander's son

As the Fourth of July holiday weekend comes and goes, and we recover from the sensory overload of greasy grilled food, fireworks and too much Dave Matthews Band, we are left with what can be described as the afterglow of patriotism.

Growing up in an Air Force household, the word patriotism in my mind has invariably become associated with serving in the military. Either that or it might just be genetics. My dad, Col. Robert S. Holba, serves as the 437th Operations Group commander at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., my grandfather Tom Holba Sr., served in the Army during the run-up to the Vietnam War, my other grandfather Col. (Ret.) Edward Hauer, Air Force, who turned 80 recently, served in Korea during the Korean War and my great-grandfather, Robert R. Holba, who will be turning 90 this month, served in the Army during World War II.

For my great-grandpa's birthday, my family, along with most of the Holba family will converge on the South Side of Chicago, Ill., where my great-grandpa was born and raised, to celebrate. His life has spanned almost a third of my American History textbook, born the same year women were first allowed to vote.

My great-grandpa is special; he is among a rapidly shrinking cadre of World War II veterans. He served his tour of duty primarily in the Pacific theatre where he bounced around from various locations as part of a transportation company and eventually found himself assigned to an American prisoner of war camp, in Manila, Philippines with his pet monkey, Mike, in charge of more than 250 prisoners where he finished out the remainder of the war. His most famous quote on his experience with the Japanese prisoners, "I was always fair."
Both of my great-grandpa's brothers, John and Joseph Holba, served in the Army as well. The latter served as part of Gen. George S. Patton's famous drive against the Nazis. Joseph Holba was seriously injured during the campaign and the majority of his squad never returned home.

According to 2008 statistics from the Department of Veteran Affairs, we are losing World War II veterans at a rate of 1,000 per day. If you've ever been stopped at the commissary or Base Exchange and had a conversation with a veteran who shared his experiences, you know how interesting and unique each veteran's story is.

My great-grandpa recently had the opportunity to participate in the Honor Flight Network Program, a non-profit organization designed to transport veterans from their hometown to Washington D.C., and back, all in a day. This trip costs the veterans nothing but their time and is designed with the philosophy since "America felt it was important to build a memorial to honor her veterans, the Honor Flight Network believes it's equally important that they actually get to visit and experience their memorial."

The Honor Flight members receive individual attention from a personal attendant the entire journey and are greeted by honor guards and great fanfare at the airports. On my great-grandpa's flight, he along with the other veterans were delayed for two hours on their return flight back into Chicago's O'Hare airport because of bad weather, but an honor guard and mass of people still greeted them upon their late return after much of the airport had gone home.

If you know of any World War II veterans who are unaware of this great program, make an effort to share with them this information at