By CLINT FOSTER
It was a freezing morning in Belgium on December 16, 1944. Thick snow blanketed the area around Bastogne as the darkness of night had yet to give way to the sun of a new morning. American soldiers found little relief from the elements in the thickly wooded Ardennes Forest. Among them was Second Lieutenant L.O. “Larry” Holloway, the leader of a mortar platoon, who could not have been farther from his home in Mineral Wells, Texas.
Suddenly, at 5:30 a.m., Nazi artillery opened fire and the 6th Panzer Army launched its attack on the advancing Allied troops, thus beginning the 40-day struggle known as the Battle of the Bulge.
At some point in the chaos of that first assault, Holloway was killed and declared as “missing in action.” It was not until 45 years later, in November of 1990, that his remains were found and he could be given a proper burial.
Few people know this story better than Bob Bellamy.
Bellamy, a resident historian and friend of Holloway’s family, will be the speaker at the Mineral Wells Heritage Association this Thursday for a program about Holloway and the concerted effort that was made to find and bury his body.
“I was very close with that family,” Bellamy said. “John Winters (Holloway’s uncle) was my best friend and his sister was a very good friend of mine. I attended [Holloway’s] funeral and met some 20 to 25 members of his company. It was quite an emotional experience.”
Holloway, who is now buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, was the first of 59 soldiers declared M.I.A. in his company, to be found because of a concerted effort by his brothers in arms.
According to Bellamy, the story begins with two Belgian boys who got a metal detector for Christmas. Eager to use their new gift, the boys went out to the site of the battle to search for relics. During their treasure hunt, they discovered the corpse of an American soldier. They turned it over to the U.S. Embassy, who then sent it to a forensics lab in Hawaii, where it was positively identified as one of the M.I.A. from Holloway’s company.
The living members of the company, who met for annual reunions, took notice.
“Somebody said, ‘Well, if we could find one man by accident, what could we do if we all put our minds together and told everything we know about where the missing in action were,’” Bellamy said. “So, that year, they made a newsletter listing all the missing in action and asked for all remaining soldiers to tell everything they remembered about those men when they went missing.”
Two men recognized Holloway’s name and contacted an expert on World War II troop movements, who lived in Pennsylvania. The boys in Belgium were then given an approximate location to look for Holloway’s remains.
“They went back looking again and they found a trench that the Germans had thrown spent artillery shells into,” Bellamy said. “They got the indication of metal in there, so they dug down and sure enough there was a body. Larry still had his wallet in his pocket and his driver’s license was visible, signature and everything.”
The wet climate meant the ink on Holloway’s license faded quickly after it was disturbed. But, Bellamy added, the same forensics lab in Hawaii was able to recreate his face based on muscle scars on his skull. Using a picture of Holloway in uniform that his sister had, the lab was able to confirm that it was, indeed, his body.
Holloway’s status was changed to “killed in action” and his remains could be prepped for an official burial. His sister, Sarah, was invited to attend all of his company’s annual reunions, which she did until her death.
Of the 59 M.I.A. soldiers from Holloway’s company, Bellamy said all but one have been found today. He added that the family’s connection to the Mineral Wells community makes the story all the more special.
"His mother [Ita Holloway] was president of the garden club and [Winters] was tax assesor and collector here for over 40 years,” he said. “[Holloway’s father] was in the oil bussiness and they moved here after he retired. Ita lived in Palo Pinto as a kid before she married. John lived in Palo Pinto County nearly all his life.”
Heritage Association Vice President Jim Stephens said he looks forward to Bellamy’s presentation and hopes others will attend.
“We still have a number of people that were alive and actually participated in World War II,” he said. “I think it will be a very interesting and informative talk.”
Join Bellamy and the Mineral Wells Heritage Association at the Little Rock Schoolhouse Thursday at 7 p.m. The schoolhouse, which was the first school in Mineral Wells, is located just north of the old high school on West Hubbard. Parking will be available in the back and the meeting will have refreshments. Admission is free.
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55