Jack Holder was born on December 13, 1921 on a farm in rural Gunter, Texas. A child of the Great Depression, he learned how to work hard at a young age. Even after the Depression, the Holder family farmed to survive. Their small, four-room house was built by Holder’s father, a WWI veteran. It had no electricity, heat, cooling or running water. There was no toilet paper in their outhouse either; only Sears & Roebuck catalogs with torn-out pages. However, Holder was determined to rise above his hardship and joined the Navy.
He was inspired by his uncle, a crop duster pilot, to learn to fly. He enlisted in April 1940 at 18 years old. Holder’s train ride from Dallas to San Diego for boot camp was his first time leaving Texas. Following Aviation Machinist School, he was assigned to PBY Squadron VP-26 at Pearl Harbor in December 1940. Almost a year to the day of his assignment to paradise, Holder’s life would be forever changed.
On the morning of December 7, 1941, Holder was on duty at Ford Island. The calm Hawaiian morning was shattered when 353 Japanese planes descended from the sky in a surprise attack. Unarmed, Holder and his shipmates ran for cover in a ditch as Japanese pilots strafed them from the air. He can still recall the face of one pilot who flew low and barely missed them. Holder survived the day of infamy. However, 2,403 Americans were not as lucky.
After Pearl Harbor, Holder flew over 100 missions as a flight engineer. He saw action in some of the most iconic events of WWII including the Battle of Midway, the campaign for Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands, the English Channel, and the Bay of Biscay. Holder survived the war and stayed in the Navy until his honorable discharge in 1948. Over his Navy career, Holder earned medals that include nine Air Medals, a Combat Action Medal and two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
In civilian life, Holder transitioned to flying corporate and commercial aircraft. However, the horrible things he saw and experienced during the war stayed with him. PTSD wasn’t recognized until 1980, so Holder and many other WWII vets simply “held on for dear life in total silence.” It wasn’t until he was in his 90s that Holder began to talk about being a Pearl Harbor survivor and WWII veteran. His book Fear, Adrenaline, and Excitement recounts the four years of war that changed his life forever.
Today, Holder lives in Chandler, Arizona. He enjoys golfing with friends (none of whom knew of his war experiences until recently), driving his car and telling stories over margaritas. Since he began speaking of his wartime experience, Holder has become an active member of the WWII veteran community. He has participated in Wreaths Across America, delivered presentations all across the country and even consulted on the 2019 film Midway.
Veterans of the Greatest Generation number fewer and fewer each day. Stuart Hedley, another Pearl Harbor survivor, estimates that fewer than 100 Pearl Harbor veterans are still alive. It’s quite a feat, then, that Holder is approaching 100 years old. For his 100th birthday, Holder hopes to receive birthday cards from around the globe. His milestone birthday is on December 13, 2021, and cards need to be sent out no later than November 30. Cards can be addressed to:
C/O Darlene Tryon
PO Box 11094
Chandler, Arizona 85248