OKEECHOBEE -- A 1944 film “The Fighting Sullivans” did an excellent job portraying the emotions felt by a mother whose five sons all went off to fight in a war and then in a horrifying turn of events, were all killed in the line of duty. Almost every one who goes off to serve his or her country leaves behind a mother who is proud of her child but afraid her baby will be hurt.
Nola Belle Carman, the mother of this week’s featured veteran, Francis Holcomb, watched seven of her eleven children go off to war, and thankfully, all seven came back home to her. Mrs. Holcomb, who will be 100 years old in November said she joined the Women’s Army Corps on a dare. She was working in a textile factory in Greer, S.C., where she grew up, and her brother-in-law, who was her supervisor kept picking on her stitches, telling her she was doing it wrong. She said she walked across to her friend and said, “Let’s go join the Army,” and they did! She said she had tried to join several months earlier, but her heart was beating so wildly that the doctor said, “I don’t know what to do.” She told him, “If you’ll just get out of here, I’ll be fine,” but he wouldn’t let her in.
After the two women were accepted, they were sent to Atlanta for basic training. Mrs. Holcomb said they lived in a barracks and marched and marched and marched for six weeks. They did most of the things the men do in basic training but did not handle weapons. She remembers it being so cold in Atlanta that one night she decided she would sleep in her pantyhose to help her stay warm, but that mean ol’ boss lady woke her up to take them off in the middle of the night. Soon after arriving in Atlanta, her rotten friend met a taxi driver, married him and got out of the service leaving her all alone, she laughed.
Following basic training, she moved out of the barracks and into housing where she shared a room with only one other person. They received their medical training in a hospital there for six months — everything from nursing to technician to surgery.
When they completed their training, they were sent by boat to Panama Canal. “It took four days and nights,” she groaned. “I was so sea sick and just wanted to be home.” When they arrived, she was put to work in the hospital, where they treated the wounded from the battlefield. It was their job to stabilize them for transport back to Atlanta. Sometimes they had to stay there for a long time before they could go back, she explained. Sometimes she was sent back on the ship with the patients to help with their medications or whatever else they needed. They saw a lot of patients with battle fatigue, shell shock, PTSD, along with things like wounds from gunshots and bombs.
While she was there, she met her husband. Henry LaGrand Holmes. His father was Henry Allen Holmes, whose mother was Elizabeth Brinkley Holmes Parker. They were one of the founding families of Fort Drum. She met him in a casino. He was a first sergeant and was serving drinks in the casino. His plan was to stay in the service for 25 years. Their two sons, Allen and Mike were both born over there. When they got married, she left the service because that was how it was done in those days. When a woman got married, she was booted out of the service. She was in for three years and three days, she said. Her husband later passed away from a kidney disease. Their son, Allen, served in the Navy, but their son Mike was unable to serve due to a heart murmur.
Ms. Holcomb’s oldest brother, Walter, served in the Army in WWI, and after he came home, he stayed on the family farm and helped his mother until she passed away.
Her brother George served in the Army during WWII and was shot in the ribs. “After that, he spent his time driving Eisenhower around in his limo,” she said. “When he came home, he worked in the textile mill making clothing for the soldier boys.”
“My brothers Blair and Olen were both in the Navy and had their ships sunk,” she said. Both of them were out there for three or four days before they were rescued, she explained. Her mother knew about both incidents when they occurred and did not know if her sons were dead or alive until they were finally located days later. Blair served for a few years before returning home to work in the textile plant, but Olen stayed in the Navy for 25 or 30 years. He and his wife opened a cafeteria after that.
Her brother Claude was a paratrooper and was taking a jump before heading overseas. When he came out of the plane, his chute didn’t open, and the boy behind him came out so fast they came down together, she said. His back was broken and lots of his bones were broken. He went into the chute below him and that saved his life, Ms. Holcomb’s son Allen explained. “God must have been watching over him,” he said. He was hurt pretty badly and walked with a cane all his life, but he did walk.
John was the youngest brother, and he served in the Army, but he didn’t like it, she said. He got out as soon as he could.
In 1945, Ms. Holcomb’s mother was sent a letter from Ransome J. Williams, who was governor of South Carolina at that time. In the letter, he said he was delighted to learn she had six children serving in the Armed Forces. Her oldest son had served in the previous war and was not counted for this purpose. Governor Williams said Mrs. Carman was entitled to receive the Six Star Emblem of Honor pin but due to a shortage of metal, they were unable to obtain the pin at that time. He said if they were able to obtain it at a later date, she would receive it. Instead, she was given a Certificate of Honor. Her grandchildren are attempting to obtain this pin posthumously for their grandmother.