Albany man played significant supporting role in war in Europe

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY -- Like most war veterans, Marion Holliday doesn't consider himself a hero.

Even though the 84-year-old earned five battle stars and the military truck supply division he was in was cut off during the Battle of the Bulge, Holliday doesn't seek attention for his war efforts.

Instead, he lets his war stories -- which include tales of colorful Gen. George Patton -- speak for themselves.

"I thought he was one of the best generals we ever had," said Holliday, who was drafted by the Army in 1943 when he was 18 years old went into active duty that June. "Patton caught a guy on guard duty without a helmet and he cussed him out. He wasn't the biggest man, but he was tough. But I liked him."

After landing in Liverpool, England, about 14 days after D-Day in 1944, Holliday was part of an all-African-American division -- with the exception of the officers -- who drove "six-by-six" military supply trucks for the 1st and 9th Armies. His division was later switched to Patton's Third Army.

"The mechanics started painting our trucks 3A," Holliday said. "I was like, 'Man, we're with the Third Army.' Patton showed as we were waiting to move out. He came out of a command car. He got in a tank and said, 'Let's go.' We were cut off during the Battle of the Bulge. We didn't have anything to eat for three days. Then, we moved to the Rhine River."

Holliday's unit drove the military supply trucks -- using either a GMC or Studebaker -- in convoys of 35-36 trucks. They switched sleepy drivers about every 30 minutes as they moved toward Germany.

"(The roads) hadn't been cleaned up," Holliday said. "There were (dead) animals and people. There were times when we'd take supplies forward close to the front and times we'd take dead (American) soldiers to a cemetery."

Although they were frequently in combat conditions, Holliday's unit avoided heavy casualties.

"We lost two men out of our outfit of about 100 or so men," he said. "The Germans would come and strafe the other divisions and somehow missed us. They were trying to get everything. We were moving fast. Half of the trucks would go to the ocean at Cherbourg (France) and take up (supplies) to the front lines. We'd just sleep on the ground. But they had places for us to eat. We'd have Spam and dried eggs. The only way I can describe it was war was hell."

Because he was with the supply trucks, Holliday "never had to pick up a gun and shoot." Besides picking up or dropping off supplies, Holliday said his unit also gathered German prisoners of war.

"They didn't want to fight and were glad to come back," he said. "We had some that were mechanics and they would work on our trucks. I tell you, they were smart."

One of Holliday's worst memories came when he drove into Austria.

"We left 30 ordinance men there to work for a base camp and when we went back there those men were dead," he said. "The Austrian women said, 'The SS, the SS.' We found those men, the SS. They were killed in Austria because I know we didn't take them out. The (Waffen) SS (soldiers) were mean. They were tough because Hitler indoctrinated them."

Although the Army was segregated, Holliday said race was never an issue until he returned home to Albany following his two years, seven months and two days in the service. An incident with a white police officer occurred as he was walking downtown.

"I was wearing my uniform trying to get my service record recorded and (he) tells me to 'Go buy some clothes and get out of your uniform!'" said Holliday, who served 19 months overseas. "I don't know what was up with him. I felt bad. I had five battle stars from World War II. I had to fight for food in the Battle of the Bulge and he's here. Not a lot in life is fair. You do all you can and someone doesn't approve of it...."

Roderick Holliday has heard about the unfortunate incident a couple times from his father.

"It tells how prejudiced this country was," said Roderick, one of four children Holliday and his late wife, Freddie, had together during their 52 years of marriage. "Here he gave his life for this country and he comes back and a man wants to hassle him about something he should be wearing proudly. And when the man tells him to take it off, he doesn't retaliate against the man.

"I'm proud that he was able to serve his country and make this country better," he added. "The fact that he wasn't able to do any shooting, but was where all the shooting was done, that says a lot."

After the war ended, Holliday married and later became a pastor after giving his "life over to the Lord in 1957." He preached for 50 years at Church of Christ churches, including stints at Albany's River Road, Columbus' Cusseta Road, Vienna and Albany's and U.S. 19.

"I wanted out (of the military)," said Holliday, who has nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. "I didn't see the fairness of it. I didn't want to make a career out of the Army. I'm glad I didn't because I ended up in God's army."

In addition to his pastor positions, Holliday worked as a mason for 40 years. Holliday and his two sons, Roderick and Milton, build the brick house he lives in today near Mount Zion Baptist Church. It took two summers and autumns to build the home, which utilized beams from Holliday's father-in-law's house and discarded dark bricks for the den area from the Americus post office. The house was finished in 1972.

"If there's something on his mind, he's not going to beat around the bush ... he'll just tell you," Roderick said. "Around the time of the flood of '94, he got flooded, but because he was a preacher, he had connections with churches in Tennessee and was able to get stuff for people who couldn't get it and got it for them."