Interview with Robert Holtz
In this interview, Robert L. Holtz discusses his lengthy career in the United States Marine Corps. He talks about growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, service in the Korean War, and his deployments to Vietnam. Mr. Holtz goes into a variety of topics including combat, camp life, civilian reactions, and casualties of war.
LAMBERSON: So, my name is Christine Lamberson, and, let’s see, today is April 5th 2018. We’re at Angelo State University doing a War Stories interview. So, let’s just start. Can you tell me your name?
HOLTZ: Robert Lewis Holtz, Sr.
LAMBERSON: Alright! And, uh, when and where were you born?
HOLTZ: I was born September the 5th, 1931 in Coleman, Texas.
LAMBERSON: And did you grow up in Coleman?
HOLTZ: I grad … Stayed in Coleman, graduated high school in Coleman. But I graduated at 17 ‘cause, while I was in school, they went from 11 years to 12 years. So, I skipped a year. So, I graduated at 17.
LAMBERSON: Alright. And, um, how do you think about West Texas? How do you think about West Texans? How do you define that region?
HOLTZ: Well, the people are friendly.
HOLTZ: If you’re in trouble on … on the highway, somebody’ll stop to help you out. And, uh, I retired in Arizona but I came back home because I was born and raised in Coleman and stayed there my whole life.
LAMBERSON: Mhm. Decided that was the place you wanted to be?
HOLTZ: Yes ma’am.
LAMBERSON: Uh, how would you characterize West Texas’s relationship to the military?
HOLTZ: Unless you are born on a ranch, which means that may be a job for you … And in the 30s, the government wanted big families. I didn’t know we were poor. I thought everybody was the same way. And, uh, with 11 kids and their dad died, there was still 10 of us at home.
LAMBERSON: Military was the way to go?
HOLTZ: A little difficult. Uh, mother got, I think, 8 cents … $8 a month per child and she had to show where the money went. But, back then, you could buy a pickup load of groceries for 20 bucks. Now, you can carry it in your one arm.
LAMBERSON: And what did your … Well, you told me a little bit before we started and you just mentioned that your father passed away. Tell me a little bit about your father.
HOLTZ: Well, uh, he was a concrete construction man. Poured concrete, uh, laid bricks. Uh, and later on he got to be … before he passed away … He could start from scratch and be able to build a brick home. But he only had 3 years of schooling, because he was in Norfolk.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. And … And when did he pass away?
HOLTZ: Uh, let’s see … I said ’41. It was ’42 because December 7 … Nineteen forty-two … He died in June of ’42.
LAMBERSON: OK. And he had been in the military?
HOLTZ: Yes, he was in the Navy for 2 or 3 years during WWI. And what is real nice, the American Legion in Coleman, Texas, buried my father, paid for the grave, paid for the casket, paid the mortuary expenses, paid the whole nine yards.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. And then what did your, uh, mother do with you guys after your father died?
HOLTZ: She beat the hell out of us when we needed it.
LAMBERSON: Oh, I see. OK. Alright.
HOLTZ: Uh, Actually, mother … She was single for 4 years. She walked 3 miles from the west side of Coleman to the east side of Coleman, down the railroad track, and stood on her feet all day … One of those big old mangled presses that does sheets and things. Worked that all day long and then walked back home. And the ones that needed paddling got a paddling, and the ones that needed hugging got hugged, and fixed supper for us. But in ’45 she remarried. She married a guy that worked on the railroad. The ones that keep the train-bed, replaced the cross ties, and things like that. And his name was, uh … We called him Scottie. His last name was Scott. And, uh, he committed suicide while I was at Parris Island. What year was that? In the early ’70s I think.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. And so, when did you enter the armed forces?
HOLTZ: I had … I went in at 17 because I graduated at 16. I graduated in May. There were no jobs in Coleman. The only business there that hired people was the brick plant. I weighed 130 pounds. I was 17 and you have to have these big, uh, wheelbarrows that … And they loaded tile and brick into boxcars and shipped them out and what have you. That was the only job in town. During school, I worked on Saturdays bagging groceries. Piggly Wiggly. Got $2 for 12 hours. Thought that was excellent wages. But about 3 weeks after I graduated high school, I came home one afternoon and my mother says, “RL, you got a job yet?” I said, “No ma’am.” She says, “Well, you don’t live here anymore. I packed your clothes and they’re out there on the porch in that cardboard box. Get on with your life.” I said, “Momma, it’s suppertime.” “Ok, you can spend the night but your clothes are staying out there. And tomorrow, you get on with your life.” So, the next morning, I went and found a friend of mine. He was a year older than I was, and we went to the post office. The only recruiter there was a marine recruiter. Well, they couldn’t enlist us until 1 July, because of the fiscal year. So, uh, we took the test and everything, and he told us how outstanding recruits we were, you know? So, we ended up in Dallas. One July got sworn in, on a train in 2 days going to San Diego. Went through boot camp in San Diego. The guy I joined with, W. Matterson, he put in for motor transport. I thought the marines had infantry, artillery, and tanks. So, I said, “I’d rather be infantry.” So, I became an O3, which is basic infantry. They put me on a train to San Francisco. I went to Treasure Island. Sat there for a week and they put me on a ship going to Hawaii. Got to Hawaii, stayed there 2 days, put me on a plane, and I flew to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.
HOLTZ: I was there- let’s see, got there in November, I was there 14 months. That was in ’49. The Korean War started in June of ’50. My older brother, 2 years older than I was, he went in the Marine Corps in December of ’48. I went in July of ’49. He was at Pendleton when the Korean War started, so he went over with the brigade. I was on Kwajalein, and basically what we did, we run the brig and guarded the single women at night. Single nurses, single civilian workers over there, you know?
HOLTZ: And we were there from 6 o’clock at night until 6 o’clock in the morning.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. And this was at the end of ’49?
HOLTZ: This was … Yeah, this was … Well, I got there in November ’49 and … and left there in, uh, January of ’51.
LAMBERSON: Okay. Alright. So, this was all throughout 1950.
HOLTZ: But the guy that they sent back to Pearl Harbor that I replaced was a starting baseball pitcher on the baseball team.
LAMBERSON: Oh, yeah?
HOLTZ: So, I tried out and I became a pitcher. Lost my first 4 games and won 8 in a row.
LAMBERSON: Okay, not bad.
HOLTZ: All I threw was a fastball. Like I’d been throwing rocks all my life. And, uh … We were playing the Navy fire department and this one guy had played a little semi-pro ball. He lost 3 balls down the left field line. “Foul!” The catcher comes out “Throw him a changeup.” “What’s a changeup?” He says, “A lot of motion and don’t throw it as hard.” I struck him out. So … But, anyway ,uh, the Korean War started. The Marine Corps had 60,000 active duty personnel. They couldn’t get a full division. Because the 1st Division was, uh, yeah, in the Pacific, in California. Second Division was in North Carolina. So, they had to call all the reserves to active duty.
My oldest brother, John, he was drafted in ’45. And, of course, on your 18th birthday during the Second World War, you reported for duty. He ended up in the Marine Corps at San Diego. But on graduation, he locked his knees. You know what happens? You pass out. And he clobbered into the blacktop. He was in the hospital for 6 months and the war was over by the time he got out of the hospital. He tells people that, as soon as the Japanese found out he was in the military, they surrendered. So, all three of us were in the Marine Corps.
Well, when the Korean War started, 60,000 active duty, the Marine Corps recalled all reserves to active duty. My oldest brother got called in but they sent him home. There’s only 3 boys in the family. You can’t have all three of them in combat. My brother Olan was already in Korea. I was overseas in the Marshall Islands fixing to go to … go to Korea. In fact, Olan was in brigade … MacArthur was using the marines as the stop gaps. What happened, an army unit would be forced off of a mountain, and the marines would come back and retake it and then turn it back over to the Army. And they would just fill in gaps around Busan perimeter. My brother’s unit went up, took this mountain from the … They were North Koreans then … Turned it back over to the Army that afternoon and went back in reserve. Next day had to go back and retake the same hill all over again.
My brother was in machine guns. Now, you have the gunner, the assistant gunner, then ammo carriers 1 through 4 depending on how many people you have. My brother was the third ammo carrier. The second day, they were in such a firefight, he was gunner and was behind the gun less than five minutes, got one round with 4 holes. Four bullet holes. He was laying down, went in the top of the shoulder, out here, went through one of his cheeks. Evacuated back to Japan, went back to the unit … same unit … in time for “Frozen Chosin.” Got wounded again. But he was lucky, he was on the last med evac helicopter that left from Yudam-ni. All the rest of the wounded and KIAs came out by truck. And it was cold. But I … And he was … He was wounded and was in Japan when I came through going from Kwajalein to, uh, Korea. But because we’d been in the South Pacific, the guys I was with —there were 8 of us—they left us in Japan for a month to let our bodies adjust, because it gets cold in Japan in January.
HOLTZ: In February, I went as a replacement. Well, in the meantime, the Marine Corps had absorbed all these reserves. I joined Baker Company, First Battalion, Fifth Marines in February. I was the only regular marine in the company. All the rest of them were reserves called to active duty.
LAMBERSON: So, they were people you hadn’t been working with this … before in this … in the South Pacific?
HOLTZ: Oh, no, no. They had been in the Marine Corps and out in civilian life and called back in.
LAMBERSON: Right, right but these are … They weren’t the people you were in the South Pacific with? They were new people?
HOLTZ: No, no, no, no. We … We went to all different units, because we weren’t … We didn’t have a parent organization.
LAMBERSON: I see. Okay.
HOLTZ: So, they just put us where they needed us. I was ordered to Baker Company. I was the only regular enlisted marine in the company.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. Wow.
HOLTZ: All the rest of them were reserves. And the new man always gets the BAR, because it weighs 22 pounds. And with the tripods on, it weighs 24 pounds. And then you got a belt here with your magazines that weighs about another 20 pounds. Well, I’d been in pretty good shape but the first time we moved out and we started up one of these mountains, about halfway up I was sucking wind. And the fire team leader—what was his name?—Sarber, says, “Let me carry that for you for a minute.” “OK, thanks.” Ten minutes later, we got in a firefight. You know what I did? Lay there and throw magazines to him and he did all the firing with my BAR. And I figured, well, that’s the last time that’s gonna happen. So, that’s the last time anybody got that BAR away from me. Well, we were on line … Uh … What they do is … The Marine Corps works on a system of three. You have three platoons in a company. You have three companies in a battalion, three battalions in a regiment, three regiments in a division. You have two up and one back. In a company, you’d have two platoons up and one platoon back in reserve. In battalion it was two companies and a company. So, that’s the way it worked. Uh … Our first good firefight, it was the first firefight that group of men had been in. Well, they sent the third platoon. We were on a ridge line and there was a little nose up there and we started taking fire. They sent the third platoon out. They got up there and it was a pretty good firefight. Young lieutenants think the only way to win a war is to charge. They got the crap shot out of them, one platoon. Now, it was a reserve and only people in charge were reserves. If you run into opposition and you don’t know how strong they are, you call in mortars or artillery or an airstrike. You don’t up there make contact with them then “Alright, let’s overrun them,” and charge. How much mortars is worth one guy’s life?
LAMBERSON: And so, were you part of the platoon that was trying to overrun them?
HOLTZ: No, no, I was back. And the thing of it is, the ridgeline was basically straight. We could not give them supporting fire from our position because we couldn’t. There was trees and vegetation, and we could not see them. So, we couldn’t support them. But the platoon leader of that platoon retired as a 3-star general.
LAMBERSON: When was that? How much later?
HOLTZ: Oh, this was, uh, about the time I retired back in the 70s.
LAMBERSON: Okay, it took him a while then.
LAMBERSON: Wow. And where was this?
LAMBERSON: Ah, the… The firefight that you’re talking about. Where … Where were you?
HOLTZ: Oh, we were below the 38th parallel. Uh, they were reorganizing after bringing a division out of Frozen Chosin. And they lost a lot of people, so they’re building the division back up. We were in … The division was in reserve.
HOLTZ: Until they got back up, built the strength and what have you, and then they moved us back up. And, uh, they all … The year I was there, we were one division from the east coast of Korea. You get up on a tall mountain and you can look over and see the ocean. There was one ROK division—Republic of Korea Division—between us and the … So, there were a lot of mountains there. Three months after I rotated back to the States, the marines went over [unclear]. They were over there going out and they’d send a battalion out between the lines on the mountain and the battalion would come back with 50% casualties, because they were just … You know, they were negotiating … But they had static lines. But we would send people out between the lines to hold something.
LAMBERSON: And so, when were you … So, you were sent to Korea in … in ’51 you said?
LAMBERSON: Okay, so, you were there for most of that year or for that year a little bit …
HOLTZ: I was wounded in … in June of ’51.
HOLTZ: We were going up a ridgeline and we hit a little outpost. Well, we pull back a little bit and set up our machine guns for field of fire and it was a platoon. So, the platoon leader sent the second squad around to envelope from the side. And my squad, the one I was in, was moved over, and we were acting like we were fixing to charge to keep their attention while this one enveloped them from the side. How far can you throw a grenade on flat ground?
LAMBERSON: I have no idea!
HOLTZ: Okay, uh, suppose that was a grenade and it weighs a pound.
LAMBERSON: Okay, not very far is the answer.
HOLTZ: Okay. Uh, the average person can throw it like 40 or 50 yards.
LAMBERSON: Okay, okay.
HOLTZ: They threw grenades downhill. We had gotten too close and a grenade went off about that window from where I was. But when … It was concussion. There was no shrapnel, very little shrapnel. It was just a big explosion. Now, if it had been a fragmentation grenade, I wouldn’t be here talking to you now. Because that close, you get blown … You know, all kinds of stuff.
LAMBERSON: And so …
HOLTZ: So, you see that finger?
HOLTZ: That’s my trigger finger.
HOLTZ: I got two pieces of shrapnel in it. And I was … I was in this position. I got one right there, and one right there.
LAMBERSON: From that grenade?
HOLTZ: And I went all the way back to Busan aboard a hospital ship. You know what a round eye is?
LAMBERSON: I don’t, no.
HOLTZ: It’s an American woman. She has round eyes.
LAMBERSON: Oh, I gotcha. Okay.
HOLTZ: Good looking American women, showers, hot chow, not standing watch, not eating C-rations. I was back there for 10 days.
HOLTZ: And they sent me to the, uh … to have surgery aboard ship. Put me out and all this other crap for two little pieces of shrapnel. They weren’t that big. But one was right in that joint there, and they other one went right in then off the …
LAMBERSON: And what did you uh think of that? Were you, uh, glad to … to leave for a little while? Do you …
HOLTZ: Uh-huh, uh-huh. And the Marine Corps was just starting evacuating people by helicopter. They had, uh, stretchers on either side, wire stretchers. And they’d strap them in, and helicopters could take two people back. Well, in that little deal where I got wounded, one of our guys got shot in the shoulder. We had what we call chiggybears. They were old Korean guys, too old for service. But they carried ammunition to the front and food and supplies and what have you and carried casualties back to where a helicopter could get to them. They would not let you put a dead person on a helicopter. If somebody got killed, you couldn’t send them out on a helicopter. It was strictly reserved for wounded, and it was … had to be serious wounded. They wouldn’t let me … We had one guy shot in the shoulder. A helicopter came in, two stretchers, one on each side. I said, “Hey, how about me?” He says, “Where’s your wound?” I said, “There.” He says, “Nope. Can’t take you.” So, I had to walk three miles back to where engineers were building a bridge across the river. And they were nice enough to put me in a vehicle so I didn’t get … have … didn’t have to wade in the river. Then they’d take me back to the medical battalion that was handling the casualties. You know what they first thing they’ll make a guy do? Shower.
HOLTZ: Can you imagine how dirty you get in 10 days living in a hole in the ground and digging holes and in the summer time you’re sweating. In wintertime you’re freezing. They make you take showers first thing. And they put so much penicillin in you that by the end of 3 days, they can’t use your shoulders. They start using the cheeks of your butt, because they’d slap you with that penicillin to fight infections. So, I ended up going all the way back to Busan hospital ship. Round-eyed women, hot food, hot showers.
LAMBERSON: So, it was a nice little, uh, trip out for a bit, huh?
HOLTZ: Yeah. And, uh, then we wondered why they wouldn’t let us have liberty off the ship. Well, we found out that they had … had been giving patients liberty but a bunch of them didn’t come back. They went out and went … and went back to their unit. Well, anyway, when it got time for me to rotate off the ship, they took us out to the airport. It was during the monsoon season. We sat there all day waiting for …
HOLTZ: … the rain to quit, so they could … and … So, we stayed there and went back to casual company, spent the night, next day we went back and did the same thing. But they let us go to the USO.
HOLTZ: And the word was passed. There was an American USO lady there that you could sleep with her for 100 bucks. She probably came back a millionaire. Anyway, I … I went back and … I was a PFC when I got there. I made corporal in June. I’d been there four months, made corporal and, uh, the way it works out where you have three units. Okay, I was in 5th Marines. There was, uh, 5th, 7th, and 1st. 1st and 7th will be on line. The whole 5th regiment would be in reserve. Now, each one of those regiments, two battalions would be on line, and one battalion would be in reserves right there with them.
HOLTZ: So, what they would do is, they would rotate a whole regiment, and then this regiment would stay back two weeks, and need to go up and relieve this regiment. So, you didn’t have more than like 30 days on the frontline at a time.
HOLTZ: You’d go back and shower and shave and take a bath in the river, really live it up. But cigarettes came in your C-rations. I didn’t smoke. Those Ameri … uh, old Korean guys for a little pack of cigarettes with four cigarettes in it, they’d dig a foxhole, work on it all day long. Boy, I had the deepest foxhole in the company. And I’d just … tell them what I wanted done, and they’d dig it for me, and cut trees down, put limbs over ’em, and put cardboard on top, and put dirt on top of that. ’Cause what you were really worried about was either artillery rounds coming in on top of you or mortars.
LAMBERSON: And so was this backup kind of close to the … to the parallel again?
HOLTZ: We … We were always fighting right around the 38th parallel.
LAMBERSON: Okay, so you were around there.
HOLTZ: What would happen is they had a complete line all the way across Korea.
LAMBERSON: Uh-huh, yeah.
HOLTZ: Okay, we had Korean military units.
HOLTZ: We’d be pushing up. We’d get up near the 38th parallel. They would attack one of the Korean units and they’d break through and go back like 15 miles. Everybody else had to drop back 15 miles, and you’d start over, taking the same ground over again.
LAMBERSON: Okay. I see. Uh- huh. And so the older, uh, Korean guys that … that you were talking about …
HOLTZ: We’d call them chiggybears.
LAMBERSON: Why did you call them that?
HOLTZ: Well, you …
LAMBERSON: Are you saying chigger bears?
HOLTZ: Chigger … chiggy …
HOLTZ: Uh, we had all kinds of, uh, nicknames for them. But they had an A-frame.
LAMBERSON: Yeah. Okay.
HOLTZ: They could put a 5-gallon can of water on that, and this guy’s 70-years-old.
HOLTZ: And he would go up that mountain and never take a break. ’Cause they’d done that all their lives. That’s the way they carried things.
LAMBERSON: Yeah. Yeah. So … So why the nicknames? Why these particular nicknames? Where’d they come from? Do you know?
HOLTZ: I don’t know. [Laughs]
LAMBERSON: You don’t know. You just went with them, yeah. So, were they, uh … Like, I mean, you said that they would do stuff, like you … You would pay with cigarettes or trade with cigarettes but were they civilians or were they actually part of the military or … ?
HOLTZ: No, no, they … They were …
LAMBERSON: They were just civilians who kind of …
HOLTZ: Well, they … They were an organized unit.
LAMBERSON: They were an organized unit? Okay, that’s what I was asking.
HOLTZ: But they weren’t military.
LAMBERSON: Right, okay.
HOLTZ: ’Cause they were too old for military service.
LAMBERSON: Right, yes, okay.
HOLTZ: They might have had a, you know, civilian type name for them.
LAMBERSON: But like, they were like … But they were getting, you know, paid or officially working or whatever?
HOLTZ: Oh, yeah, they were getting paid. They were getting … I don’t know what they were getting paid but they … but they were getting food.
HOLTZ: And rest …
LAMBERSON: And all those things.
HOLTZ: And all those things. And when we were up on line we had to have ammunition brought up. We had to have rations brought up. So, there’d be one marine and he’d have, uh, maybe 30 old Korean guys. And he’d take them back and they’d spend the night and they’d … Whatever needed to be brought up, they’d bring it up the next day.
HOLTZ: Now, after I became squad leader—this was in like November, December of ’51—I was … I was starting … I got there as a PFC. In June, I made corporal. In December, I made sergeant because I was a regular marine. I enlisted. Most of the company was reserves ’cause they’d got called back to active duty.
HOLTZ: So, I got promoted, and my brother ended up … He got promoted four times while he was over there ’cause he was a regular. And, uh … Oh, what was I gonna say … Oh! Uh, on a clear day, we could look this way and see the ocean out there.
LAMBERSON: That’s nice.
HOLTZ: It was nice, but when you went back in reserve. They would have a- a big tent like hmm… 40 feet long. Half of it would be showers. Hot water.
LAMBERSON: Mhm. That’s nice.
HOLTZ: The other half would be a changing area. You could … You’d strip down at this end and went through the shower and they had clothes that had been washed in there, and you just picked up a pair that was … pretty close to fit you, you know. And put clean clothes on.
LAMBERSON: Uh … And so as you got promoted up … Like how did you communicate with, uh, these Korean guys or with the locals? Did you interact with them that much? Did you … ?
HOLTZ: Oh, yeah, yeah.
LAMBERSON: Um, who … Who was kinda giving directions? I assume there was something of a language barrier. Did you have translators or interpreters?
HOLTZ: Oh, yeah. Well, uh … We gave them the C-rations. Now, I was there a year.
HOLTZ: I did not eat one can of corned beef hash.
HOLTZ: I tried it once. It made me sick. And if I got corned beef hash in my ration, I just skipped the main course ’cause I didn’t eat it. But they’d eat it.
LAMBERSON: So you’d trade.
HOLTZ: So, any cigarettes that we had left over, we gave it to them.
LAMBERSON: Uh- huh.
HOLTZ: And what they did with them … I don’t know if they ate it themselves or … They could give to other people back in the rear or what, but …
LAMBERSON: Uh, huh. And did you, um, interact with, um, the Korean military much? You said there were some units kind of around you.
HOLTZ: We were tied … now … Now, they had United Nations.
HOLTZ: We tied in with the Turks one night.
LAMBERSON: Okay, okay. Uh-huh.
HOLTZ: They were on our flank. And the word passed, “Don’t go to sleep.”
LAMBERSON: Why not?
HOLTZ: Because they would go around and, if they found somebody, they would feel and see what … How their eyes were. If they were slanted or … Or what have you … If they were slanted, they’d cut your throat. The … The Turks could’ve had three divisions over there. You know why? The United Nations was paying them. They were making five times as much money as they made back in Turkey. We could have had all kinds of Turks over there. We had Australians there. You know, ’cause the United Nations.
LAMBERSON: Yeah. And so, did you … Were … Were the Turks the only other units that you personally were around or … ?
HOLTZ: Well, uh, the division between us and the… and the ocean was a Korean division.
LAMBERSON: Right, and did you interact with them.
LAMBERSON: No, okay.
HOLTZ: Because unless you were … They were here and you … You were the company tied in with them. You had no contact with them.
LAMBERSON: Okay. Um, and would your … So, was your brother back in Korea at the same time that you were?
HOLTZ: No, he … He was …
LAMBERSON: He was in Japan?
HOLTZ: Went with brigade in … in July, was wounded in July, went to Japan and recovered, went back to join his unit in December, up at Frozen Chosin, was wounded again, went back to … all … all the seriously wounded went back to Japan.
HOLTZ: The minor wounded were on hospital ships. They had a, uh, like a Dutch hospital ship. Beautiful women but, uh, no one was lucky enough that I knew …
LAMBERSON: To be on that one?
HOLTZ: To be put … been on that ship.
LAMBERSON: Yes, okay. And so did you know he was wounded? Like, did you communicate with him at all in … ?
HOLTZ: Uh … Olan did not write his mother. When he was wounded, she might not get a letter for two weeks. But, back then, they were sending telegrams. Mother got three telegrams: two for Olan, one for me. And you … You actually got … Actually, you got two telegrams. The first one was a wounded in action. The second one may come three or four days later—the extent of your wounds.
LAMBERSON: I see.
HOLTZ: You know, slightly wounded or, you know, in serious condition or what have you, you know.
LAMBERSON: Uh-huh. And so did sh … Did you write to your mother?
HOLTZ: I wrote to my mother.
LAMBERSON: Did she write to you?
HOLTZ: Yeah. Actually, my baby sister wrote to me.
LAMBERSON: Okay. Uh-huh.
HOLTZ: Because she was in high school.
HOLTZ: I’d been overseas for over a year. I was only getting paid $80 a month but I had no place to spend it. That gal, “RL, I need a watch.” She was a cheerleader. “I … I need money for cheerleader clothes.” I ended up buying her a damn horse to ride. I did … I had no use for my money. You know, there’s no place to spend it in combat. It just … They write it on the books. And I used to draw like ten dollars and a lot of guys liked to gamble. I liked to play blackjack. But I’d get twenty dollars, and when I lost my twenty dollars, I quit.
HOLTZ: They used to keep me in the game because I was playing a dollar a hand. They were playing 5, 10, 20 dollars a hand, some of the gamblers, you know.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. So, you were playing with other, uh, marines mostly?
HOLTZ: Yeah, yeah. And they were in our unit because, uh, you didn’t have time to go someplace, you know.
HOLTZ: This was all …
LAMBERSON: Wasn’t at the, you know, USO or anything like that?
HOLTZ: No, no. No.
LAMBERSON: Okay. Mhmmm. So, you wrote … So, you stayed in touch with your baby sister, and did she tell you then that your brother was wounded? Is that how you found out?
HOLTZ: Yeah, she … She wrote me, but when I left Kwajalein, we spent the night in Guam, flew into Japan, landed in Tokyo, went down to Yokosuka. Olan was in Yokosuka.
LAMBERSON: So, could you see him? Did you talk …
HOLTZ: I talked to him for about 10 minutes before they turned the lights out, and then we had to go to our bunks, and what have you.
LAMBERSON: Uh-huh. What was that like?
HOLTZ: Well, you know, we just … Good to see you and what have you, and we weren’t real close because I was … He was two years older and I was tagging as a younger brother the whole time. So, you know how that is.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. Sure.
HOLTZ: But, anyway, uh … From then … I got … I rotated back to the States. Got sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
HOLTZ: Was there three months. Went into the Mediterranean on a Med cruise.
LAMBERSON: Okay, so when was this? This was in ’50?
LAMBERSON: Fifty-three, okay.
HOLTZ: Six months. A battalion of people on one ship.
HOLTZ: You spent most of your time standing in the chow line. And there was no space to get exercise, you know, uh, what have you. You could do a few pull-ups or what have you but there’s no place … So, they decided that the battalion was gonna land and make a march to get us in shape.
HOLTZ: There was an English island in the Mediterranean. I don’t remember the name of it right now. But there weren’t English people on it. There was a few there. We went ashore and did a ten-mile hike. Coming back to the ship, everybody had their canteen full of wine.
HOLTZ: And guys started climbing up the nets, getting back over to the APA, and they were noticing that they were—and some of them were intoxicated. Well, it … Well, it had to be wine. So, when you started up the net, first thing you did was just turn your canteen, and you had to empty it before you got aboard the ship.
LAMBERSON: Uh-huh. Did they get in trouble?
HOLTZ: No. No. Everybody did it, so they couldn’t punish the whole division.
LAMBERSON: Yeah, gotcha. And what were you guys doing in the Mediterranean? What was your mission there?
HOLTZ: The Marine Corps kept a battalion afloat … Well, you remember the big deal in Lebanon when they … They were ashore and they blew up that, uh, big building and killed so many marines and what have you?
HOLTZ: Well, they were trying that … Lebanon was … They were having a lot of fights between different people in the same …
LAMBERSON: In the ’50s.
HOLTZ: And, uh, they put the marines ashore, and the guy with the vehicle loaded it with ammunition and what have you and ran right by the … All they had was some concertina wire to pull across, you know. He just ran right over it, right into the building and blew it up. Well, that was the only time they had the division ashore permanently.
LAMBERSON: Okay, and you were there then? When that happened, or no?
HOLTZ: No, no, no, no. I … I was, uh, I stayed at uh Lejeune about 15 months.
HOLTZ: They wanted some people for seagoing, so me and a friend of mine, James Quinn, we volunteered. We were both buck sergeants. We went aboard the same ship, U.S.S. Albany, 124, heavy cruiser. Forty-man marine detachment. We were on a Med cruise. Hey, and it’s wonderful. I wish I’d have had been smart enough to have a camera back then and record all of this stuff. We had Marseilles, France, Naples, uh, Portugal, Spain, uh, Turkey, Greece, uh, Algeria—we only had that once.
HOLTZ: And our staff sergeant, our platoon sergeant, “I’m gonna get me one of them gals with the … all you can see is their eyes.”
HOLTZ: He made eye contact with one, and followed her down an alley. He got her up against a wall and, all of a sudden, there was knife about that long right here. They stripped him down to his underwear and let him go. He came back to the ship and you couldn’t get him off that ship. But they found his uniform in … in the bazaar where they sell all the junk and stuff like that, you know.
LAMBERSON: That was in Algeria?
HOLTZ: Yeah, but, uh, that was the only time we were in Africa. Rest of the time we were … France, Italy. Did you ever see a woman put on her bathing suit on the … on the beach?
LAMBERSON: In France?
HOLTZ: In France. They’d come down there … regular clothes. In five minutes they’d have their … barely have their, you know, on, and out there. But you gotta watch when you’re talking because some people’ll understand English. Three of us were standing there watching a couple gals and we were talking amongst ourselves, and a couple walked by and the man says, “Hey, ya’ll watch your language. Some of us speak English.” Okay, two years seagoing.
HOLTZ: Then I got the best orders I ever had. I went to Force Troops Camp Lejeune.
HOLTZ: I was infantry. I was a grunt. The only unit in Force Troops that has infantry was Force Recon. I reported in. Ten days later I was on my way to Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. And Ranger School is three months long.
HOLTZ: You do a month of … of swamp, and a month of regular ground, then a month in the mountains. And they taught us to climb a rope using … You’d put additional ropes on here for your feet, and you’d slide this one up, and put your foot in it. Slide this one up and put your foot in it and then pull yourself up. Then slide this one up. You can climb … That’s … That’s how they … during World War II how they got up those cliffs of … of Dover when those big guns they had to knock out. That’s how they climbed those. We were doing that. And then we did, uh, rappelling across a river. They got a little deal you hold on to and you go down about… oh, about fifty yards.
HOLTZ: But you don’t go to the bank. You drop into the river. Well, some guys dropped too early, and they had a long way to swim ’cause you had all your clothes and equipment and things on, you know.
HOLTZ: So you … As close to the bank as you can without going into the bank because, if you didn’t turn loose, you hit earth. And, uh, then I went back to Force Recon and, six months later, I got orders to scuba school. Key West, Florida. Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. That’s scuba. And, uh, that was … uniform of the day was swim trunks and flip-flops but we did a lot of things in the ocean. Well, Jaws hadn’t come out yet then, and we were out there diving down a hundred feet. And what you do is, you’d dive down and at fifty foot they’d have a barrel there. And they’d have it rigged out where they had air pressure that you could duck in, and there would be an instructor in there, and he would make sure you weren’t having any problems or anything like that, and he’d say, “Okay, now go down another fifty feet to the next barrel.” Go down, and another guy’d check you out, “Okay, okay, now when you go out of here all you gotta do is just let your hands guide that rope up to the surface because your air in your body will take you up.” But it’s compressed here and, as you go up, it expands. You can exhale all the way up, and when you get there you still got air to exit. But there was about a ten foot shark swimming around, but Jaws hadn’t come out yet, so it didn’t bother us.
LAMBERSON: You weren’t as worried? What did you think of scuba school? How did you like it?
HOLTZ: Oh, I loved it. I loved it. Key West, Florida, I mean, shoot. And then I got back …
LAMBERSON: How long were you there?
LAMBERSON: How long were you there again?
HOLTZ: Uh, about a month.
LAMBERSON: Okay, uh-huh, and then you went back where?
HOLTZ: Then I went back to Camp Lejeune to Force Troops. And the following spring I made … I made staff sergeant, and we went … There was how many of us? Oh, there were six or eight of us NCOs went to jump school.
HOLTZ: And I was a senior enlisted man, staff sergeant. They sent twenty recruits right out of boot camp to jump school at Fort Benning. Well, they were marines, so I was their, the head guy there. While we were in school, a … A paratrooper got killed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When he went out of the plane, somehow or another his deal that activated his shoot was tangled up in something, and he was back there flapping against the tail of the plane. They didn’t have enough people in there to pull him in against all that wind pressure. Well, they put foam on the … on the runway, and the plane landed. Well, he was dead by then ’cause he was banging up against the side of the plane. Well, one of the recruits didn’t wanna go to jump school. I said, “Look, they sent you here. You volunteered. Go through the school. Then if you do not want to be a paratrooper in the Marine Corps, a jumper, they can’t make you jump. If you that dead set against it.” So, he decided to stay, so. Anyway, we jumped, and because I was staff sergeant, I went to jump master school. Got to pack my own parachute. Now you’re very, very careful when you’re packing your own parachute ’cause you don’t want anything get tangled up, and you stream her down, you know. Well, anyway I stayed in Force Recon four years.
HOLTZ: And then the Marine Corps. Started a jump school in California.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm, and so when was this about? Like what … ?
LAMBERSON: In the late ’50s, mid- to late-’50s?
HOLTZ: Mmhmm. Fifties.
LAMBERSON: Okay, uh-huh.
HOLTZ: And, uh, they had graduation. Well, they had high winds three days in a row and you don’t jump in high winds. Well, they settled down a little bit the third day, so they decided to jump anyway. They had a bunch of guys killed, they had a bunch of guys drug, and, you know, for acres …
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. And you were out there?
HOLTZ: No, I wasn’t out there.
LAMBERSON: You weren’t out there. You were … You …
HOLTZ: This was … This was a new school, brand new people.
LAMBERSON: Okay, I see. Okay, uh-huh, uh-huh.
HOLTZ: It was … They were just learning.
LAMBERSON: Yes, okay. Uh-huh. Right.
HOLTZ: Instead of going … The Marine Corps were doing their own instead of sending people to the Army school at Fort Benning.
LAMBERSON: I see. I see. Okay.
HOLTZ: So, they … They closed the jump school down and everybody there was transferred to Camp Lejeune. We got a major, we got a captain, we got a bunch of staff NCOs, got a bunch of buck sergeants. When they arrived, there were eight staff NCOs. I was one of them that were already there. Within two months, I was the only staff NCO left.
LAMBERSON: Why was that?
HOLTZ: They were kicking them out!
LAMBERSON: Why were they kicking them out?
HOLTZ: Because the major had his people.
HOLTZ: His people.
LAMBERSON: I see. Uh-huh.
HOLTZ: And, uh … I ended up … They were … They thought they had me ’cause I was duty NCO one night. Well, they had taken an old navy unit’s orders, made a few changes—and that’s what the duty orders that you did. Well, I read back about twenty pages and made that comment to what my job was and all this other stuff. About on page twenty-four, it said that you would check … check every offices … every office for any classified material left out on somebody’s desk. Well, I went in and flicked on the light in the executive officer’s, looked at his desk, there’s nothing on there, flicked it off. Went over to the major’s office, flicked on the light, looked, flicked it off. They had charges against me the next morning.
HOLTZ: And the sergeant major, he says, “Sergeant Holtz, we got charges against you for going into the executive officer’s office and the Captain’s office.” I said, “Give me the orders that I’m … that you gave me last night.” He handed it to me. Page 24, it says “you will check all offices for any classified material.” So, the charges against me were ripped up. Well, about, uh, a week late. Uh, what … What was his name? Might’ve been Captain Sowa—came down from Little Creek, Virginia—needed a staff NCO to be an instructor at … up there at Little Creek. So, sergeant major says—he and I were pretty good friends—he says, “You better get the hell out of here while you can because you’re not gonna be a staff NCO if you stay around long ’cause they’ll get you one way or another,” and I said, “Okay.” So, I went up there as an instructor. And then …
LAMBERSON: So, what were you an instructor for or of?
HOLTZ: Uh, reconnaissance.
HOLTZ: Landing in rubber boats at night and checking the gradient of the beach and the currents, and, you know, where … If … If you could make a landing, you know. And how… uh … The consistency of the sand because … Can you bring a six by ashore, and drop the ramp and it can get across the sand without, you know, that type thing. We were doing, uh, beach and … information in case we had to make a landing somewhere. That’s what UDT people did way back. They started it. Then the Army came in with their, uh, special forces. And then the Marine Corps came in with Force Troops.
HOLTZ: So, I was there for about two years and we had a marine detachment off one of the ships there at Norfolk. It went into Portsmouth for … They brought up the … problems and what have you with the ship. So, they came over there and we put them through our training.
HOLTZ: Well, the first thing in the morning we do is, we do PT where we’d do about a two-mile run. We start sing-songing. Some of them can be a little raunchy.
HOLTZ: Well, the general’s wife was driving by when we were running down along the long parallel road singing, and she heard some stuff that she didn’t like to hear. So, I was on … Number one on the general’s list to get rid of.
HOLTZ: They got a quota for drill instructor school at Parris Island. I found out I’d been nominated, so I went over to request a mast—an enlisted man can request mast with a commanding officer. I requested mast. “Uh … General, I do not want to go to DI school.” “Why?” “I know this guy real well. I’m a gunnery sergeant now. If I go down there, I’ll get court martialed.” He says, “Why?” I said, “Because I don’t take crap. If we’re singing a Marine Corps hymn, and a recruit’s over there laughing, he’s gonna get punished.” “Well,” he says, “okay I’ll see if I can find somebody else.” He didn’t even look. Two weeks later I went to drill instructor school at Parris Island. I was a senior cadet at this … the class. So, I was in charge of the class. I did not know that you couldn’t flunk it. They didn’t flunk anybody. I didn’t know that.
HOLTZ: Well, I was a squad leader and I knew half of the guys. Three or four of them were from Force Recon and this new gunnery sergeant came over. I was a gunnery sergeant. He came over and he inspected my squad. He was checking personal appearance: shave, haircut, fingernails, all … you know, this stuff. Well, we had our weapons with him. If he couldn’t find anything wrong with their appearance, he would give them demerits for the order arms. He can’t argue this, you know. You have to see it at the same time, you know. And everybody that he couldn’t find anything wrong with their personal appearance, he gave them demerits for their manual arms.
HOLTZ: Well, I was getting pissed by the time we finished eight or nine of them. And we got around behind, was coming back up, and I said, “Well, you might as well give me some merits … demerits too!” “Okay, you got five.” He and I were the same rank. I don’t have to take that crap even if I’m a student, so there was a big stink about it. I went in front of the captain that ran the drill instructor school, and let him know what I thought about it, and I didn’t hold my language either. Ha, they got even with me. The captain running DI school was good friends with the captain over in 1st Battalion, drill field. They sent me over there. They were watching me like a hawk and I lasted six platoons before I got in trouble.
HOLTZ: Uh, there’s usually three drill instructors, a senior drill instructor and two assistants.
HOLTZ: Well, they were short a DI, so when you took … picked up a new platoon the guys assigned to you were with another platoon that was fixing to graduate. So, you would have your platoon by yourself for a week. You lived with them, took them to chow, put them to bed, woke them up. ’Cause the first week was a lot of … sick bay, you know, and eye exams and all this other crap, you know.
HOLTZ: And, uh … You teach them the Marine Corps Hymn. Well, they had a bugler. When “Taps” blows the lights better go out right then. So I’m standing in the doorway listening for the bugle to blow. They were singing the Marine Corps Hymn. Three bunks down over here the squad bay run this way. I looked over there, there’s a guy laughing!
HOLTZ: A recruit behind me was making fun of me or doing something and made this guy laugh. Well, I took two steps and hit him like that. Two teeth. So, well, the “Taps” bugle blow, so I put them to bed and what have you and I sent him and the … mouth was bleeding and what have you. I says, “I need to know how you’re gonna react.” He says, “Why?” I said, “Because if I go down there right now and tell them I hit you, I can take my hat off, put it on the table, and there’ll be nothing done ’cause I gave myself up. If you don’t make a big deal about it.” He says, “Well, I’m worried about getting my teeth-” “Ah, the Navy will take care of that. No … No big deal.” So, the next morning he said, “Okay, I’ll … I’ll keep my mouth shut.” “Okay.” But I had 70 recruits, 42 of them wrote home to their mamas. And one mama wrote the commanding general. I was relieved and sent home, and I think they had 37 specifications of maltreatment against me. Well, one of them I kicked a guy on the heel ’cause he was out of step. That’s not maltreatment. And when you’re helping him on his position of attention that’s not maltreatment unless you’re choking him, you know. But anyway, I got a lieutenant colonel from the air station there at Buford as my defense lawyer. He says, “We’re gonna plead guilty of three specifications, put your career against the three specs.” So, they had to court martial, and I had to talk to the four officers on it for about twenty minutes. I told them about my life and what have you and … and that I was gonna make a career out of the military and what have you. And they said, “Were you guilty of these things?” I said, “I’ve … right there. I’ve plead guilty. I said I’m guilty of it.” Well, the general wanted me kicked out of the … busted to private and kicked out of the service, the base commander. The colonel, the head of the court martial board, heard my side of the story and everything. They find … They took one stripe away from me, fined me three hundred dollars, and let me stay in the Marine Corps.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. And when was this?
HOLTZ: This was like ’62.
LAMBERSON: Okay, and what were the, uh … So … So, what did you plead guilty to?
HOLTZ: Uh, I don’t remember. I … I … I …
LAMBERSON: Same, like … Same sort of things.
HOLTZ: There wasn’t any argument. I plead guilty of the … these three specs, yeah.
LAMBERSON: I see. Okay.
HOLTZ: Wasn’t anything serious. Of course, see, if you’re a smoker and you wanna quit smoking, you can do it in boot camp. ’Cause I, as a drill instructor, am only, uh, required to give you three cigarettes a day, one after each meal.
HOLTZ: So, a lot of them quit smoking. But then there’s pressure on you. You’re competing with other platoons.
HOLTZ: They test the kids on, uh, history of the Marine Corps. Uh, you compete at the rifle range with other platoons. You compete in drill with other platoons. And usually the best drill instructor that can call cadence is the best one to be the one to handle them at … on the drill competition.
HOLTZ: On the rifle range, I says, “Anytime you shoot over forty, with ten rounds … You fire ten rounds at, uh, offhand at, uh, hundred yards, go back two hundred yards, you fire rapid fire and slow fire ten rounds and … And I said anytime you shoot over forty—possible is fifty—you can have as many cigarettes as you want before you get back to the [indistinct]. So, it looked like a smoke screen down there. [Laughs] So, we won rifle competition.
LAMBERSON: Mmhmm. This is before you got … you were court martialed?
LAMBERSON: Okay. Uh-huh.
HOLTZ: Uh, this was … I … I lasted I think six platoons.
LAMBERSON: Okay, okay, uh-huh.
HOLTZ: I was on my sixth platoon before I got [indistinct], and this was about- about a year. ’Cause they’re there three months.
HOLTZ: And, uh, see … Okay, yeah, yeah, yeah I got court martialed. They sent me to guard company. Company gunny of guard company. I was there for about uh let’s see … about a year.
LAMBERSON: And what were you doing there?
HOLTZ: I was company gunny of guard company. I ran guard company. I taught them … taught all the subjects, drill and what have you and all that stuff.
HOLTZ: And then I got orders to the West Coast to go to Vietnam. The Vietnam War was on. This is the mid ’60s.
HOLTZ: Stayed at Camp Pendleton for a month. It’s called “lock on training.” You … You train the people. You get used to working with people, you know. And then you go aboard ship. We landed in Okinawa. We were there a month. The last three weeks the whole division … There was a marine division in Okinawa, 3rd Marine Division—was on standby to go Vietnam because, uh, they were having problems at &l