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Reflections: A casualty of war finally remembered and honored

Elwyn Holdiman is standing, third from right, in the back row of this class photo taken in 1935 at the Squires School, which stood at Route 34 and Douglas Road in what is now Oswego.
Elwyn Holdiman is standing, third from right, in the back row of this class photo taken in 1935 at the Squires School, which stood at Route 34 and Douglas Road in what is now Oswego.

After we got last November’s “Remembering Our Veterans” exhibit mounted at Oswego’s Little White School Museum, assistant museum director Bob Stekl was giving a tour to a group of Cub Scouts when he realized something was missing.

In each year’s exhibit, we have a special section on those Oswegoans who were killed in action, from the Civil War through Vietnam. There were posters in the exhibit for five local residents killed in action during World War II: Frank Clauser, Kay Fugate, Donald Johnson, Stuart Parkhurst and Paul Ellsworth Zwoyer Jr. But when he moved on to a second part of the exhibit and started explaining about the community’s World War II service flag, he noticed something didn’t add up. The service flag had a blue star on it for every community resident, male or female, serving in the war. When one of them was killed in action, their blue star was replaced with a gold star. And there were six, not five, gold stars on that flag.

After the tour was over, Bob headed back down into the museum archives to figure out what was going on. It didn’t take long before he found Oswego’s missing gold star serviceman, Cpl. Elwyn Holdiman.

When Bob told me about it, we decided a poster in Holdiman’s honor was needed immediately, and so I started gathering information about him, all the while thinking that last name sounded familiar.

It turned out the Holdiman family had been in America for a long, long time. Elwyn’s sixth-times great-grandparents, Christian and Christina Haldeman, immigrated to Pennsylvania from the canton of Bern in Switzerland sometime prior to 1716, when Elwyn’s fifth-times great-grandfather, Johannes, was born in Pennsylvania’s Chester County. Johannes and his wife, Anna Marie, ventured into the Virginia frontier of the 1750s, where Anna Marie was killed by Indians in 1758. Their descendants eventually settled in and around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for several decades before heading west with many of their Pennsylvania German-speaking neighbors to the rich prairies of Wheatland Township in Will County.

Elwyn’s great-grandfather, Joseph Holdiman, made the trip and in 1850 married Catherine Lantz. The couple had eight children before they decided to seek their fortunes farther west in Blackhawk County, Iowa. Their son, also named Joseph, born in Wheatland Township, stayed in the Wheatland area where he and his wife raised their family, including a son named Albert, Elwyn’s father.

Albert and his wife, Emma Lombard Holdiman, farmed in the area around Yorkville and Oswego, where they raised their 10 children. Elwyn, their third child, was born on Jan. 20, 1920, in Oswego Township. He attended the one-room Squires School at modern U.S. Route 34 and Old Douglas Road near Oswego and worked as a farmhand. And that’s what he was doing when he was drafted.

On the day after his 22nd birthday, the Jan. 21, 1942, Kendall County Record’s “Oswego” news column reported that: “Oswego men selected for induction from the local draft included Cecil E. Carlson, Paul T. Krug, John Lewis, Elwyn Holdiman, and Charles Sleezer.”

After basic training, Pvt. Holdiman was moved to the tank corps and was trained as a gunner on the M-4 Sherman Tank, the standard U.S. tank of World War II.

After training, he was assigned to Company C, in the 17th Tank Battalion, part of the brand new 7th Armored Division, activated at Camp Polk, Louisiana, under command of Gen. Lindsay Silvester on March 1, 1942. The division trained in Louisiana and Texas through early November 1942 and then underwent desert training in California. Then it was back east for more training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Along the way, Pvt. Holdiman was promoted to corporal.

On June 6, 1944, the day the Allies waded ashore on the beaches at Normandy, Holdiman and the rest of the men of the 7th Armored Division embarked aboard the SS Queen Mary in New York harbor for a fast trip across the Atlantic to England. After final training in England, they boarded landing craft bound for Normandy, the division going ashore Aug. 13-14 on Omaha and Utah Beaches. Once ashore, they were assigned to Gen. George S. Patton’s newly activated U.S. Third Army.

As part of Patton’s breakout from the Normandy beachhead, the division drove through Nogent-le-Rotrou to take Chartres on Aug. 18, then on Verdun, and finally across the Moselle River.

In late September, the 7th Armored Division was tasked with supporting Operation Market Garden, the combined arms invasion of the Netherlands recounted in the movie, “A Bridge Too Far.” From Sept. 29 to Oct. 6, they fought in the Battle for Overloon and from Oct. 7-26 were in action around Griendtsveen and patrolling around Ell-Weert-Meijel-Deurne, before they were engaged in the Battle of the Canals starting Oct. 27.

In a tank battle on Oct. 29 against German armored forces a couple miles from Heusden west of the Asten/Meijel Road, Cpl. Holdiman’s Sherman tank was destroyed by enemy fire, killing him in action.

His parents, Albert and Hazel Holdiman, were first notified that he was missing in action before they finally learned he had been killed.

The family erected a marker in the memory of his sacrifice in Lincoln Memorial Park.

And the fact that the Holdiman name sounded familiar? It turned out that Elwyn and I are third cousins – I remembered the name from my family history. My great-great-grandfather’s sister, Catherine Lantz, married Joseph Holdiman. They were Elwyn’s great-grandparents.

Strangely enough, Holdiman’s sacrifice was not commemorated, as so many others were, in the pages of the Kendall County Record during World War II. During the Memorial Day observance this coming Monday, we will honor all of the nation’s war dead. And I for one am going to remember Elwyn Holdiman’s contribution during this year’s observances as a way of recognizing his sacrifice – even if it does come 74 years late. In this case, late is far better than never.

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