Basic School 2-65 Class Reunion 

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Larry Young's Story

About Tom Holden

by

Larry Young

(This article has been revised to correct a factual error that arose from a faulty memory or misunderstanding of information related in 1966.)

Tom Holden was an Honorable Mention All American Guard (football) at Navy, class of ’64. Toward the end of his second year at the Naval Academy, Tom was fed up and wanted out.  He talked to the Dean at Harvard about transferring there. But, after the government had invested two years and a goodly sum of money into him at Annapolis, the only way he could transfer was to flunk out.  Tom reiterated this point several times.  The Dean responded each time that he understood.  Harvard would accept him after he flunked out.

Tom then set about trying to exit the Naval Academy. He intentionally flunked every exam. But, the Naval Academy was onto his game. Apparently, this had been tried before.  And so, when Tom flunked an exam, the Academy would re-test him. And re-test him.   And re-test him again.  It is probably a safe bet that their interest in keeping him was whetted by the fact that he was an outstanding football player.

 Finally, Tom said to hell with it and took the exams for real. He stayed at the Naval Academy and chose Marine option, bringing him to The Basic School. He was in Alpha or Bravo Company, graduating some two months ahead of us.

 I was with Tom, afloat, during the Dominican Republic flap for three weeks on the U.S.S. Okinawa before I went ashore for about 10 days.  On board ship with nothing much to do, we gathered in the Ward Room and talked quite a bit. Tom and I became friends.  I found Tom to be one of the most genuine people I had ever known.  He was without pretense or concern about projecting “an image,” totally unafraid of letting you know who he really was.  The result was that the other officers could not help but like Tom, even a condescending Navy doctor, self- inflated by his Ivy League credentials, who did not want to be in the military or assigned to the Marines.

Flash forward from the Dominican flap by about a year.  I was in Vietnam and was sent from Da Nang to the island of Okinawa, not the ship, for a one week school. There I ran into Bill Strickland and Tom, who had been sent to a different school. The three of us became part of cadre of partiers, all lieutenants, who would make nightly rounds of the officer’s clubs.  These night operations had their highlights, such as one of our number of five or six lieutenants, stuffed into a single, small taxi cab, mooning the sentry at the gate upon our arrival at Kadena Air Force Base.  To our delight and cheers, the sentry immediately returned a super-sharp salute – he knew an officer when he saw one - and waved us in. It was the most respect I have ever seen Marine officers give an Air Force pogue.

On Tom’s last night in Okinawa before going back to Vietnam, we were at the MCAS Fatima Officers Club. Tom was on the dance floor.  A school teacher whom he knew fairly well was dancing right behind him. All of a sudden, Tom turned, dropped to his knees and bit her square on the ass. Hard. She jumped up in the air about three feet and was madder than hell but, later, was laughing.  

Tom knew how to make an impact.  That evening was his parting salute to Okinawa. It was also the last time I saw Tom.  

 A few months later, I was in Phu Bai. The Aide de Campe to the CG of the Third Marine Division, a Lieutenant named Egan, called me and asked if I could come to his office.  I did.  He then told me that Tom had bought the farm, the euphemism we used back then, killed in Operation Kern.  We reminisced about Tom for a few minutes as you do in that situation, without showing much emotion, and told stories about him. I then took my leave and walked back to my unit.  

I still think of Tom frequently and have for the last 46 years.  It may be that, in this way, I keep him alive.  He seemed too much of a presence to be dead.  His death and two others, that of our classmate, Fran Zavacki, also a great person and a dynamic personality, and one of my 18 year old kids in my provisional battery, killed by “friendly fire” on his night listening post by an attached, scared Army private who fired at a sound, are the ones I think about most often from our adventure in Vietnam.

 But it is Tom, more than anyone else, who perennially journeys back to me over the vast chasm of time since then. Sometimes, it seems like no time at all.  The journey continues to this day and, I think, always will.

Thomas James Holden

22 August 1941 – 22 October 1966

(Tom won two Silver Stars, the second for the battle in which he was killed. A complete write-up of Operation Kern by his friend, William F. Stoehs, Captain, USN, Retired is on the Virtual Wall, www.VIRTUALWALL.org, under Tom’s name. Tom was from Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.)


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