Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 14, 2011

Loraine Anderson: Story comes full circle

By LORAINE ANDERSON
landerson@record-eagle.com

— The story of local World War I heroes Harry and George Holliday, published in a two-part series Sunday and today, focused on the past. It is incomplete without bringing it to the present.

It has so many elements: father-son heroes, Harry's fatal wounds in a battle that changed the tide of the war, George's 350 letters, his visit to Harry's grave in France, and descriptions sent home to his grieving wife and daughters.

This column is about the impact today on succeeding generations who preserved the letters, the news clippings and pictures, and continue to pass the story on to their children and grandchildren.

Two images emerge from interview notes as I write.

In the first, Larry Bensley, a grandson of Dr. Holliday, sits at a table surrounded by old letters and photos. He holds a red book of Robert Service poems, a 1917 Christmas present Harry gave his father just before shipping out. Bensley shows me "Young Fellow Young Lad," a poem marked almost a century ago by his grandfather. It is a poem about a conversation between a father and his son who has decided to go off to the World War and is killed.

"I put myself in my grandfather's place and wonder how people cope with that sort of thing," he said.

Bensley was 7 years old when his grandfather died in 1942. He remembers him and the stories his grandmother Jennifer told about him and Harry. He recalls the tears in her eyes as he showed him Harry's medals and the tears that came to her eyes. He was in his teens when he and older brother Jack discovered the letters in the mid-1950s in the Holliday attic after Jennifer died.

The second image is of Bensley's son, Bob. I can see him standing on the French battlefield and looking for the place where Harry manned his machine gun in the brutal Second Battle of the Marne. It is July 15, 2001 — exactly 83 years to the day that Harry received the wounds that would kill him weeks later. He finds it.

Once home, Bob, a Western Michigan University professor and father of four, was moved to write a letter in his great-grandfather's voice to give to his father. Here are excerpts:

Dear Harry,

"I am writing this letter to you through the eyes of my great grandson — your grandnephew — as I am no longer here to do it myself "¦ I have been to the Marne "¦ I can still feel you there, Harry, as if you are a part of the earth ... I bent over and touched the earth and I felt your blood spill, and that of your brave comrades. How I do weep that your life ended so early "¦ Yet, I do know that what was never meant to be in the flesh has been magnified 100 times in the spirit. I miss you, my dear boy, and honor you for what you have instilled into the soul of your family."