JAMES R. HOLLAND JR.
Second Lieutenant | Infantry
"And you and I climb over the sea to the valley
And you and I reached out for reasons to call"
- Anderson, Squire, Buford, Howe
In such a remote and strange land, it was easy to bond with a fleeting acquaintance. Randy had known Don McMillan from ROTC at Fort Hood and later Fort Benning, but they never spent much time together until they met again on the way to 7th Division rear headquarters at Chunchon. It was near sundown when they arrived and rushed over to the officers’ club before curfew at eight. It was a non-descript Quonset hut that incredibly had a telephone which seemed to have a connection to anywhere. The bartender explained to Randy that was indeed the case, so he tried to call an acquaintance in the 17th Infantry. To his disappointment, the regiment was unavailable as they had just moved off the line and not yet set up their board, but he and Don looked forward to joining a unit while in reserve.
With eight other replacement officers, they took the sixty-mile trip forward the next morning. It was a dusty, bumpy truck ride while they clutched newly issued carbines to fend off any bandit attackers. When they arrived after noon and passed through the rousing speech from the major general, they met with the personnel officer who detailed the three regiments of the division and asked if anyone had a preference. Randy and Don quickly requested assignment to the 17th and were granted their choice immediately. They went by jeep through a few miles of wooded hills to the regimental headquarters, then to 2d Battalion where the commanding officer would determine their fate. The day passed without much interaction with anyone. Muffled artillery indicated they were much closer to the war.
The next morning, the commanding officer, a major, called Randy first who was nearly giddy to get to a rifle platoon. After a review of his troop experience and education, the brief interview concluded with Randy going to a platoon in F Company. He left the tent grinning. The major subsequently assigned Don to H Company and the two departed for their assignments.
On the night he arrived to F Company, Randy was determined to go on a patrol and eager to learn. It had been nearly a year since he was commissioned. He then spent three months at Fort Benning and at the beginning of the year was finally in the Far East at Camp Haugen, Japan with the 19th Infantry. During his many months there, he received a .45 revolver from a beloved captain who was departing for Korea. He was never without the handgun from that point on and spent considerable time fashioning a shoulder holster in the craft shop.
Corporal Carlos Coleman was worried that Randy was just another lieutenant who would quickly get himself or his men killed. The young lieutenant was replacing a platoon leader who the men considered to be a smart aleck and gave a hard time during detail. He had emulated Patton with two pearl handled pistols, yearning for combat, but cracked within minutes. Another, “Whispering Smith,” lost his voice to nerves on jumping into the first trench before receding to an abandoned gold mine to hide. He spent the rest of the war sorting mail. Randy, however, turned out to be a fine, dependable officer.
“I’d like to come on this one,” Holland proposed with nervous excitement. “I want you to teach me everything I need to know to survive in this war. I want to leave here alive.”
“Well, sir, you’re going to want to leave that behind,” Carlos suggested gesturing to Randy’s steel helmet. “It’ll make too much noise out there if you move through any brush. Get your soft cap on!”
“I’d really like to keep my head,” he countered hesitantly. There were also constant reminders to wear helmets at all times. “What do you do with the chinstraps?”
“You don’t want to buckle them, sir,” the seasoned corporal advised. “A shell or mortar or something comes in, it’ll take your head right off.” He then added, “You really want to wear a soft cap out there. It’s rough terrain…really rough terrain and if that thing goes tumbling, you’ll hear it knocking for ten miles.”
“Well, I think I’ll wear my helmet.” The young lieutenant still was not convinced, but as the party was preparing to fall out as darkness closed, the lieutenant returned from his bunker with only his cap.
Holland immediately took to spending a great deal of time in a bunker with the Captain using a tripod mounted .50 caliber with 20x power scope. The unique set up was used to snipe Chinese on the hill 1000 yards across the valley below. They occasionally took scattered fire to this position, but not enough to stop Randy from posing for photos with Don when he visited to check on his weapons company troops.
For six weeks, the lines were quiet and the most action to occur was an occasional mortar shell, scant sniping, and the boom of the scoped .50 caliber. The men were restless, especially Randy who was beyond eager to lead his platoon. The beginning of October brought a sudden change from across the valley when the Chinese began an active offense. On the afternoon of October 6th, the brewing activity erupted after an Army liaison plane took serious fire from the Chinese lines. Both sides pummeled each other with artillery. The next morning, they learned that some of the forward outposts had fallen to a coordinated Chinese attack and others kept their ground, but it was clear that the enemy were up to something. Soon they had orders for 2d Battalion to reclaim a hill known as Charlie Outpost, the former outpost held by C Company that the enemy overtook.
At that point in the war, the Army was strict about only committing platoon sized units or smaller to an attack. Only after one was ‘neutralized’ could another move up. Randy’s 1st Platoon was scheduled to lead F Company. After Randy gathered the squad leaders and detailed their objective and attack in the dirt using a stick, they departed before dawn across a brushy area with few trees. They moved under heavy mortar and artillery fire and by five were jumping into the outer communication trenches of the objective.
Mortars and grenades blasted apart rocky earthworks and bullets snapped in a swarm above and around them. In the first ten minutes, Jack Reynolds was hit and he immediately hollered for a medic. Randy was laying nearby and after no medic seemed to be tending to Jack, he leapt up to run to his side. Carlos knew he should have crawled. Randy screamed to Jack to hold on, but the young lieutenant was quickly silenced by a shard of mortar that struck his torso.
Years later, Jack Reynolds wrote some of his memories of that day: “It was just a short time into the attack that all hell broke loose. I mean it literally rained mortar rounds, grenades, and other small arms fire. Shortly into the attack, I was seriously wounded. I don’t remember if I yelled out or if Randy saw me go down. The last thing I remember was this dear man screaming to me and encouraging me to hold on as he was coming to help me. He barely got the words out of his mouth when an incoming round silenced his voice. Thanks, Randy—if for no more than your attempt. You were my hero."
Mackowiak, Robert C, and Carlos Coleman. “F Co. 17th Inf - Randy Holland.” Feb. 2017.
MacMillan, Donald G. Central Arkansas Library System, https://arstudies.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15728coll3/id/16767/rec/32.