I met Francis, or ‘Link’ as he preferred to be called, Holmes in his nursing home around 2012. This was early in my interviews with 260 World War II veterans so I don’t recall who told me about him.
He was happy to tell about his years as a sailor in World War II. I have known several of his family members who live near me. I know they are proud of his service.
Francis’ story is in my first book, We Fought to Win: American WWII Veterans Share Their Stories.
Do you have a veteran story in your family? Tell me about it in the Comments.
Thanks to all veterans for their service.
As a gunner at the Battle of Okinawa in spring 1945, Francis Holmes shot 20-millimeter, 40-millimeter and six-inch artillery shells. “I lost the hearing in my right ear because of firing them,” he said.
Thousands of civilians were killed, wounded or committed suicide during that bloody conflict in the Pacific. “The Japanese believed in teaching soldiers to give up their lives for their country,” he said.
The result was the highest number of casualties in the Pacific Theater during the war. The Allies suffered more than 65,000, while the Japanese lost more than 100,000 soldiers.
Francis Holmes was 17 years old and not yet a graduate of Bluffton High School in Bluffton, Indiana, when he enlisted in the United States Navy in 1942. He had to talk his mother into helping him to enlist. “Since I was not 18 years old, she had to give her written permission,” he said.
His brother ‘Peat’ Holmes was fighting for the Army during the war. “We found out after the war that we were sometimes near each other but we never knew it,” said Francis. After completing basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Chicago, Francis received training at Puget Sound Naval Yard in Bremerton, Washington.
He was assigned the rank of active seaman to the aircraft carrier USS Liscome Bay. Later, he transferred to the USS Casablanca, a Navy escort aircraft carrier. He sailed on this ship for 14 months before transferring to a destroyer squadron.
Holmes was given orders to report to Brooklyn Naval Yard and later, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. During the next three years, he sailed across the Pacific several times, encountering kamikaze fighters but amazingly surviving the war without injury.
Gunfire was not the only challenge for sailors. During Holmes’ time in the Navy, he experienced several typhoons, one of which had waves 75 feet high. Was he scared of drowning during the storms? “We were too busy trying to stay alive to be scared,” he said.
Making friends with other sailors was not a common military practice, according to Holmes. “We didn’t associate much with each other because being at war had taught us we might not be around for long,” he said. That changed one day when Holmes spotted a sailor wearing a jacket with a familiar name on the back.
It was Bill Bate, a former classmate at Bluffton High School. “He was the first person I had seen from home in three years,” said Holmes. “We sat and talked about Bluffton all night.”
The atomic bombings on cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally convinced the Emperor of Japan to surrender in August 1945. As part of the Pacific Fleet, Holmes’ crew participated in the invasion of South Korea and the liberation of a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
“When we lowered the Japanese flag and freed thousands of people, it was an amazing thing to witness,” said Holmes. “We knew there would be many happy reunions as former POWs returned to their families who thought their loved ones were dead.”
While traveling the world as a sailor, Holmes achieved a rare distinction. Each American sailor who crossed the equator for the first time earned the unofficial nickname of Shellback. Sailors who crossed the International Date Line were given the nickname of Golden Dragon.
A sailor who crossed the equator at the 180th meridian or International Date Line became a Golden Shellback. Holmes owns a cap with the Golden Shellback Cross stamped on the front.
By the time he was discharged on November 23, 1945, Holmes had served 34 months. Sailing was in his blood so Holmes re-enlisted in the Navy in December 1945. He was stationed as a gunner on a carrier at Tacoma, Washington until 1952 when he was honorably discharged for the second time.
In 1948 Holmes had married Wilda Brickley of Bluffton. They became parents to seven children. Three of their sons joined the American military. Holmes completed engineering classes at Indiana University in Fort Wayne.
Later, he worked at Sterling Casting as an engineer, a career that lasted 35 years.