Seventy-three years after he was killed in action, Marine Raider Sergeant John C. Holladay was returned home and buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina.
Members of the new 1st Marine Raider Battalion rendered a final salute to Sergeant Holladay in recognition of his sacrifice for the United States of America while a member of Company B, 1st Marine Raider Battalion in 1943.
On July 20, 1943, the 1st Raider Battalion, 1st Raider Regiment was tasked with assaulting through enemy positions at Bairoko Harbor on New Georgia Island as part of Operation Cartwheel, which was part of a Marine Corps-Army offensive to shut down Japanese operations in the South Pacific. After fighting two successful defensive lines, then-31 year old Holladay was serving as a platoon sergeant and was in the process of rallying his Marines for a third attack when he was hit by a sniper. According to his platoon leader, Holladay had been shot directly through the heart and died soon after.
Thirty three other Marines and soldiers lost their lives during this operation; in the days that followed, patrols returned to recover and bury the dead … but Holladay’s remains were unaccounted for.
In 1947, a graves registration company returned to conduct an intensive yet unsuccessful search for Holladay’s remains. In 1949, the American Graves Registration Service declared Holladay’s remains “un-recoverable.” Then in 2012, local workers on New Georgia unearthed foxholes, military gear, and human remains while clearing land for logging. When finally notified of this discovery, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency dispatched a task force to Bairoko to investigate the find. After extensive interviews and extensive scientific methodologies, DPAA conclusively identified these remains as those of belonging to Sergeant Holladay. He was brought home, finally, to his beloved country.
Sergeant Holladay graduated from high school in 1930 … he was 18 years of age; he worked as a florist, but had a passion for forestry. In 1941, Holladay and a friend set off in a rowboat for a month of fishing, hunting, and living off the land. They did not know that the United States has been attacked by the Empire of Japan. When they came out of the wild some 30 days later, they realized that the America was at war with Japan. Holladay went directly to a Marine Corps recruiter and enlisted in the Marines.
On 9 January 1942, Holladay stepped on the yellow footprints at Parris Island, South Carolina; a few weeks after that, Holladay became a United States Marine. He was 29 years old. He learned that Major General Merritt Edson was looking for volunteers for duty as raiders. Holladay stepped forward; he quietly disappeared into the forests of Quantico, Virginia to begin specialized training. He became part of Edson’s Raiders.
In August 1942, Edson’s Raiders opened the Guadalcanal Campaign with a landing on the small island of Tulagi. Once captured, they were dispatched to defend Henderson Field on Guadalcanal Island from an Imperial Japanese Army offensive. Over the next year, Holladay fought across the Solomon Islands until he met the sniper’s bullet on New Georgia Island. He died on that spot, but he was never forgotten by the American people.
Sgt. John Holladay returned home on April 4, his birthday. He would have been 104 years of age.