HARLEY P. HOLDEN

Sergeant | Medical Corps

 

A lean, solitary figure with nothing but binoculars, compass, and a radio, peered across the North Carolina wilderness from his overlook above the Appalachian forests.  Paul Holden enjoyed his occupation as a fire lookout where he could be with his own thoughts away from people, many of whom had tormented him since his youth.  He kept people at as a great a distance as he could and the war in Korea fueled his need for isolation.  In a way, this part of his personality had helped him deal with the emotional toll as a company medic as he did not get attached to too many friends, and for once in his life he had felt like a capable adult who many men depended on daily.  They treated him like an equal, not a helpless baby.

 

His draft notice came in late summer 1951 and he was struck with a rush of mixed feelings.  Paul did not think he would ever last in the service – he feared that he would be picked on as he was as a child and adolescent or dominated by a sergeant with more ferocity than his elderly mother.  On the other hand, he considered it could be an escape from negative people in his life and that he could enter a new era with nobody from high school to tease and laugh at “snake face.”  He would certainly be away from his mother for some time.  Paul believed she was responsible for starting rumors about him during his school years and that was why he was picked on so much.  He could not even steadily date girls because his mother disapproved of each one.

 

He was pulled away from his thoughts when his radio crackled and a distant voice called for “Glass Tower.”  This was yet another name that was coming through recently – all directed at Paul, none of them vulgar, but extremely peculiar.  “Glass Tower,” the voice called again and once more through the fuzz of radio came the whisper: “Glass Tower.”  Mildly frustrated, Paul reached for the switch and realized the radio was already off.  It was a puzzling experience, but he was beginning to get used to the voices that called to him so often lately.   Once more, very faintly the voice called to him: “Glass Tower.”

 

*

 

Life in the service was much better than Paul expected.  He got along well with everyone despite being a bit shy and anxious.  As basic training went on, he felt eased by the mutual respect of his peers.  The first time he had experienced this kind of social environment was when he moved to Memphis to complete the eleventh grade.  His life at home had been so difficult that by the tenth grade he had about given up – his grades suffered and he failed out.  Army life offered an intimidating but welcome change where he found responsibility and purpose as well as freedom to be his own man.  While in Japan on a month long medical aidman course, he spent his free time finding debauchery and women who needed no approval from mother.

 

He joined the 14th Infantry Regiment in the Mundung-ni valley on the first day of May 1952 and was parted out from Medical Company to the regiment’s M Company.  Over the next several weeks, Holden assimilated to the grim conditions of combat.  The fighting at the front was limited to stagnant positions in bunkers and trenches with occasional skirmishes, regular artillery bombardments, and routine patrols.  He was in high demand as a medic, from treating trench foot to dashing across the ridge line at the sound of someone calling for aid.  By the end of July he made corporal and the turn of the new year, he received sergeant stripes after returning from an adventurous R&R in Japan.  At best he passed boring days in timber bunkers and at worst he faced the pandemonium of combat at the call for a medic.  Ironically, the volatile atmosphere of Korea provided the most stable environment and it was not until Paul returned home that he retreated behind his wall.

*

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“Paul, do you know why you’re here?”

 

He had been trying to avoid confronting his declining mentality, but the time had come.  Since returning home from Korea and subjected to the reign of his mother once again, Paul had gotten rather depressed.  He had been relieved of his duties as a fire lookout after his supervisor insisted he seek medical care for his auditory hallucinations, but Paul put that off for as long as he could in order to complete a correspondence course.  At least, that was his excuse.  After a year, his family pressured him to get help and his brother took him to the psychologist.

 

Shy and guarded, Paul explained his home life, his difficult mother who still spread rumors, and expressing the reality of the voices over the radio.  The psych report noted:
"The basic conflict seems to stem from feelings of being dominated not just by his parents but by all his siblings. He visualizes himself as a helpless, dead organism being torn apart. At present he has vague, unsystematized ideas of reference and persecution. The schizophrenic process still seems to be fulminating and unresolved.”

 

After insulin coma therapy, Paul appeared to be much improved though quite laconic and simply left the hospital on his own will.  He did not return until two years later when his brother brought him in once again.  Paul was convinced that his parents were conspiring against him.  After refusing to take a pill they offered him, he heard them say, “Well, we might as well smother him!”  He quickly grabbed a .22 rifle to defend himself, fled the house, and had to be coaxed down from his frenzy by the local sheriff who apprehended him.

 

It was clear that his initial hospitalization was only the beginning of a cycle that would last for years while his schizophrenia gradually worsened.  He lived in constant fear that he was going to be poisoned or someone would hurt or kill him.  He was suspicious of everything, made fantastic remarks, groundless accusations, and indirect threats against others.  This went on for years until he regained some independence when his parents passed away, but his erratic behavior and depression never fully faded.