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Interview with Byron A. Holderby Jr., November 16, 2003 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Byron A. Holderby Jr., November 16, 2003
Date:
November 16, 2003
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Holderby, Byron A. Jr. Interviewer:  Zarbock, Paul Date of Interview:  11/16/2003 Series:  Military Length  50 minutes

 

Zarbock: Well good afternoon. My name is Paul Zarbock. I’m a staff person of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington’s Randall Library. This is the military chaplains project that is being conducted out of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Zarbock: Good afternoon and how are you?

Holderby: Just fine thank you.

Zarbock: And you are who?

Holderby: My name is Byron Holderby and you are presently in our home here in Pine Ridge, North Carolina. We’ve been here for about two years since my retirement.

Zarbock: And you retired from what and at what rank?

Holderby: Well I retired as Rear Admiral Upper Half as Chief of Chaplains, served the last six years in the Navy in Washington in the Chief of Chaplains office and retired from that job in August of 2000. We built a home here and have fallen in love with North Carolina.

Zarbock: Sir, in the beginning what individual or series of individuals or what event or series of events led you into deciding to enter the ministry.

Holderby: Well I’m sure or at least it’s my opinion that we’re all influenced by our earlier upbringing and I was brought up pretty much in the church. It was the Methodist church. When I went away to college I sort of parted those ways for a while and then met a beautiful young lady in my junior year of college and we were married. For a while after graduate from college, I didn't really go to church, neither one of us did. I was working after graduation for three years.

Then at some point my wife Barbara, who had been raised as a Lutheran said to me that she’d like to start going back to church and she’d be willing to go to the Methodist church if I was with here, but my work at the time was six days a week and the only day I had off was Sunday and I played golf on Sundays and so I said I really didn't want to do that right now. So she said alright.

So she started going to church by herself and because I wasn’t attending she went to the Lutheran church. Because she’d been away for a while, she asked the pastor, a man by the name of Jack Martin, to come by the house and to help her understand a little bit her roots and that sort of thing and I sat in those talks and became more and more involved I guess. I began to do quite a bit of reading myself. Did a lot of scripture reading during those times and it came to me that I really needed to go to seminary.

Zarbock: What was the nature of your employment at that time?

Holderby: I worked for Sears Roebuck when I got out of college. I went into a training program of theirs. When I left, I can’t remember exactly what they were called but I was the manager of one of their departments, actually the women’s cosmetics and men’s toiletries, hospital supplies, a whole mishmash of things. I was the buy for that and responsible for keeping that department profitable.

Zarbock: And for the record, where did you do your undergraduate work?

Holderby: I did my undergraduate work two years at what was called the Norfolk Division of William and Mary I think it’s Old Dominion University now. Then I transferred up to Williamsburg and did my last two at William and Mary and graduated from there. Then after those three years of working and deciding that I wanted to go to seminary very much, even though I think I was fighting for it and against it all at the same time, I came heavily under the influence of this pastor, Jack Martin.

At one point, he had a former Navy chaplain by the name of Elmer Bosser. They were going to go to the seminary in Columbia, South Carolina and asked me if I’d like to go along. So I went down. I came home and told my wife that it was time for us to go to seminary. She was kind of taken back by that. She said you know when I married you, you were a business major and I met you at my church, but don’t you think you’re carrying this a little bit too far.

Well in any case she agreed. She’s wonderful that way. So we went and I did my first year there and struggled through the whole year wondering whether I was doing the right thing. Actually I quit seminary …

Zarbock: What seminary was this sir?

Holderby: This was a Lutheran seminary and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. At that time it was a three year academic, it’s four years now, but in those days it was three. That seminary at the end of my first year, I took a job at Proctor and Gamble and at one point, one of the people said to me, I think you’re going to end up going back to seminary. I said why would you think that. He said he didn't know, but he just thought that if you really wanted to go to seminary, then you’re going to back.

Well that fall I was back in seminary and finished my last two years, graduated in 1963. I received a call from a church in Roanoke, Virginia which was my home state. I was born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia. So I took that church. It was small mission congregation, had 19 families. When I took that church, I was hired at a grand salary of $4000 a year. Stayed with them for four years.

Zarbock: Was parsonage provided?

Holderby: Parsonage was provided and $4000 a year. Stayed with them for four years, but I think I was restless. I’ve always been a little bit that way. I’ve always wanted to do something and then having done it, I wanted to do something else. At that point I had done four years of congregational ministry and was looking to broaden a little bit. Didn't know exactly where that would lead me, but began to think in terms of the military.

The Navy came to my mind because I was raised in a Navy town. So I began to investigate a little bit. It seemed to me that I was going to have a variety of kinds of ministry. I was going to be perhaps in a hospital on one tour. I would be with the Marines on another tour. I might be on a ship for another tour, a naval air station. So the variety really did catch my interest and I ended up after the fourth year with this wonderful, wonderful congregation.

We now had about 85 families, but as the years have gone by, I think they now have 300 or 400 families in there. In any case, I left them and joined the Navy in May 1967. I raised my right hand. I can’t say that I went in strictly because Vietnam was going on. I was aware that Vietnam was going on. In the back of my mind was not expecting that I would probably see Vietnam, not at least in the very beginning of my chaplaincy.

I went down to Richmond and I was sworn in by a Navy lieutenant, a recruiter, raised my right hand, took my vows and when it was all over and he congratulated me, I said to him where would he being next and he said oh, I’m getting out. I said ok, to each his own. I went off to chaplain school. It was an interesting thing. I actually received orders from chaplain school before I ever raised my right hand. I accepted those orders and went to chaplain school.

Zarbock: And where was chaplain school?

Holderby: In Newport, Rhode Island in those days, six weeks or maybe it was eight weeks then.

Zarbock: Let me clarify, you had no military experience.

Holderby: None whatsoever.

Zarbock: So somebody had to show you your right foot, left foot, how to put on a uniform, etc.

Holderby: I was there with another Lutheran clergyman who had been a Marine and I had to get him to show me how to salute. I put off getting my uniform because I was afraid if I put it on and walked outside somebody would ask me to salute and I didn't know how to do that so he gave me, he took me through the drill and when I felt confident enough then I went and got my uniform.

It was a wonderful summer really. They were trying to take 80 some odd civilian clergy and in six weeks turn them into Navy chaplains. Tried to familiarize them with the Navy culture and that kind of thing. I guess I remember when a Navy lieutenant was assigned to us. It was his job to transform these 80 civilian clergy into military people. Part of that was he was going to teach us to march.

So we kind of heard about that in the classroom and he was going to take us out and we were going to do our first march. He took us out in a parking lot and he gave an order as it was a forward march. Well the chaplains went everywhere. I mean t hey went forwards, they went backwards, they went right and left and it was kind of an embarrassing moment because at the same time there was a school of nursing right above, the floor above us and they were literally hanging out the windows just absolutely breaking up laughing at this group of chaplains trying to learn how to march.

By the end of the six weeks we actually passed a review and we were able to march. I learned one thing I didn't know and that was the orders could be changed. My work as it turned out probably because I was being sent to Japan and my furniture had already gone so I don’t think they were going to change mine.

I saw many of the people going through with me with their orders being changed rapidly so we graduated six weeks later. So when we graduated six weeks later, a number of those chaplains went directly to Vietnam with the Marines. For young clergymen who had just come in and just learned what it was like to be in the military. They were in combat zones very quickly.

Zarbock: Let me ask for a time line here, how old are you at this time?

Holderby: I joined, I was 32. I had worked for three years, gone back to school for three years and then had the church of four years so I was 32 when I joined the Navy. That was probably an average age although I’d say that maybe many of them didn't. They went directly from undergraduate work right to seminary so maybe they were three to four years younger than I was.

So I was sent along with my family to Yokuska, Japan for my first tour. I was the squadron chaplain for a squadron of 12 ships which meant I was going to be busy. I was going to be jumping from ship to ship constantly. Four of them were a little what they called rocket ships. They were very small little ships. They looked almost like a little LST, but had tremendous fire power. They would go down off the coast of Vietnam and bombard whatever targets they were given.

Because they were so small, they didn't really have room for a chaplain so my work with them would be whichever ones were in port, I would work with them. Then I was jumping around from one LST to another. That was the other eight ships. A couple of memorable experiences there.

We had one of our LST’s who always went into the Mekong Delta and about 80 miles up one of the rivers there, I don’t remember which one, off of a little Army base called Dat Tan, that LST would go and sit for three months and serve as a mother ship for the little river rain forests that were there. It was a terrible way to fight. They had to go up and down waterways until they got hit and then they fought back, but that was the way it was conducted.

So I went up there several times. I actually went ashore once. Met the Army chaplain who was based there and he took me over to his little makeshift chapel that he had and he had only had half an altar, the water fire had knocked off the other half the night before or several nights before. Went back out to the ship grateful that I was on a ship and not necessarily in that circumstance. There were rats running around everywhere and you could kick them out of your way just about.

Anyway I got back on the ship, that was my first experience. The next time I went up that river, I went up with a ship called the Westchester County. There were typically about a two day turnaround time when all the ammunition from the one who had been there for three months was put on the incoming ship and everything was transferred over. Then the ship who had been there would leave and go back to Yokuska. I would normally ride one down and jump over the other and ride it wherever it was going.

On this occasion I rode the Westchester County and the transfer was made. I got on the other ship. Went back into Yokuska and no sooner had I gotten back that word came that mines had been set up under. The captain saved the ship by driving it right up on the shore to keep it from sinking. The tragic part was the mines went off under a berthing area and killed 19 first class sailors.

I along with some others in the squadron had to go out among the rice patties and find the families of these 19 men and tell them what had happened. So that was the worst side of the very early ministry that I had in that first tour.

Zarbock: But you had had experience with deaths in your congregation.

Holderby: Yes, but not many. We had a relatively young congregation. I maybe buried two or three people in those four years. And in reality, I didn't bury any of these men, they were sent back home. I had to make the calls to the wives basically to tell them that their husbands had been killed. Now some of those wives were back in the states so someone else made those calls. But the bulk were living in Yokuska.

Zarbock: How could you do it?

Holderby: Well it’s never an easy thing to do. I mean when you go into someone’s home and tell them that their loved one has been killed. The shock was even greater because their ships had been going up and down for several years and we had never had a fatality. So the wives had kind of gotten accustomed to okay, they’re going to be gone for three months, but we can weather that storm and they’ll be back. So when they were told they weren’t coming back, then the shock was terrible.

I know in one case I called a a wife. The minute I told her, she grabbed her little boy who was just so big and she got a hold of him that I had to go over and break because the boy couldn’t breathe. She was just so shocked. But that’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re involved in a war and those are the pieces of it that sort of run the background. Those are the pieces that the chaplains I think are involved in a lot.

Zarbock: Where did you develop this sensitivity and appropriateness to handle a mission such as approaching a young woman or a young family and saying he won’t come back. Did you learn that in seminary? Did it come with you, chaplain?

Holderby: It came through doing it. There’s no way, I never rehearsed that in seminary or anywhere else. I don’t know that the first few times it was done with as much sensitivity as maybe it should have been, although I think anybody going into that situation is sensitive to the fact that the impact of those words is going to be tremendous in maybe you can’t think of the right words to say all the time, but you certainly can sit there and be with these people.

Some years later when I was at the Naval Air Station, I was getting ready to leave within two to three weeks. I was leaving on a year unaccompanied tour on Okinawa with the Marines and there was a certain dread that came with the thought of being away from your family for a year. You’re going to miss one of everything. I missed my daughter’s high school graduation and a few other things.

But just before I left, there were squadrons, new squadron being transferred in and many were deployed out at sea with carriers, but the wives had come on down to Jacksonville, Florida and bought homes and were getting everything ready so when their husbands came home, they would be in their new homes.

Word came one day that the Executive Officer of one of the squadron was deployed, but his time was up. He was coming home. He for some reason thought he was coming home and they were expecting him that night, but as he got off the carrier and got onto an Air Force C-131, it crashed going into Spain. Everybody was killed and here’s this wife who was expecting him home that evening and he’s been killed.

So we went out, I along with the Commanding Officer of the Wing and we made that call and she just absolutely couldn’t stay still. I don’t know that words were needed at that point. What happened was she wanted to walk and she asked me if I would hold her hand and we went walking and we must have walked for two hours while she grieved and talked.

Of course I was feeling a certain amount of that pain too. I understood she had lost her husband and I was going to be away from my family for a year, but I was empathizing a lot because of feeling some of that. So you never know. Every circumstance…

Zarbock: But you know that kind of duty, this is a battering ram on you too. Who pastors you as a pastor?

Holderby: Usually other chaplains. In my case, I had some wonderful senior chaplains. Men that I looked up and felt that I could turn to. My growth if you will in some many areas, personal as well as professional, came about because of the wisdom of some of those senior chaplains that I worked for. I guess I was very fortunate. I never had a bad senior chaplain. I’ve heard others complain, but I’ve never had a bad one.

Zarbock: But sir, I’ve taken you away from your own time line.

Holderby: I jumped ahead on you just talking a little bit about what it’s like to call a spouse.

Zarbock: But back in Yokuska.

Holderby: Back in Yokuska, the last six months or so I didn't do as much riding of ships. I began to be aware of the fact that the wives were often lost or scattered throughout the Japanese community and we needed to do something for them so I organized a wive’s club. I just covered that there were sailors who didn't want their wives to really associate with the main group, mainly for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes they’d be withholding part of the salary and she didn't know anything about it and he didn't want her to know anything about it. So he didn't want her talking to the wives. By anyway we overcame all of that. We began to get up with these wives once every couple of weeks at first.

Zarbock: But for the record, the wives are not living on the Base, is that right?

Holderby: No, they were not.

Zarbock: Scattered around.

Holderby: All throughout the area and we would if necessary send out cars for them or whatever we needed to do. The head of the senior office who was my boss of the flotilla there of the squadron was very interesting in making this happen. So we began to bring them in and really helped them to get to know each other and I think in the long run we did a lot of positive things for these ladies.

I could work the ships too. At Christmas I would get the chapel choirs to go down on the ships. The men who had duty and had to stay on the ships on Christmas Eve, we would go down and bring them choirs down and sing Christmas carols. So there were a lot of things you could do to try and help out both sides, the men and women. That was a good tour. That was a wonderful introduction into the chaplaincy. I didn't have a senior chaplain later. I was thus squadron chaplain, but there were some very strong senior chaplains at the Navy station there.

When I was not at sea, I would go over and help out there, sometimes preach on a Sunday. There was a Japanese prison there where some Americans were there. I said whenever I was on, I’d do that so they didn't have to. That was interesting. I don’t know how much they were resonating to what I was saying, but they wanted to get into a warm place and we could all gather in one room where I would hold a service anyway. You would occasionally get into some good conversations with some of these men and that’s what it was all about, being present for there them.

Zarbock: Again, date me, where are we in a time line?

Holderby: Between ’67 and ’69 in Yokuska. When that tour was over, I was sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina with the 2nd Marine Division. I was still a Lieutenant probably the most junior person in the whole 2nd Marine Division chaplaincy if you will. So I started out with the 2nd Engineers for a while and then they decided that they needed a chaplain to go to Guantanamo Bay Cuba so I was sent down there for six months. They kept a company of Marines down there and just rotated the personnel.

So it was always the same company, A Company. We would go down there, 2nd Regiment A Company, go down there and serve with the Marines and that was a great experience. The first time I had been really separated for any length of time, got to know the Marines, the little chapel. We had regular services and just had a good experience there.

Then I was sent back to Camp Lejeune and was put in as the chaplain for the 2nd Service Regiment and I did that for the rest of my two years with the Marines there. That was my first tour with the Marines, impressive people. Also met a very impressive senior chaplain there, a man by the name of George Paulsen. He was Greek Orthodox. He became my mentor and I think if I would look back on all the people I ran into in the Chaplain Corps, this gentleman probably did more for me and my family than any others that I can think of.

Zarbock: For example.

Holderby: Well for example just helping two young people, my wife and myself, grow a little bit personally in relation to each other, in relation to our children. He was just a wise person and if he saw something that he thought maybe ought to be changed, he was not hesitant to sit down with us, not just tell us that it needed to be changed, but tell us a better way to do things. He was a friend too. We praised God together. If I had something coming up that I was a little unsure of, he would help me with that.

Zarbock: Chaplain, in my innocent view of the Chaplain Corps I think in terms of the Catholic, Protestant and Jewish, now Muslim. Where were the Greek Orthodox fit in my simple view?

Holderby: They didn't fit. I guess they would sort of fall under the big umbrella of being Protestant, but boy that is one big umbrella. It kind of takes in everybody that’s not Roman Catholic or Jewish or Muslim if you will. Some denominations have said you know, they don’t like that. If I’m Episcopalian, I should called Episcopalian, I shouldn’t be just Protestant. But of course that’s going to be hard to accomplish because…

It’s interesting at the end of the Second World War, I think there were six or seven denominations represented in the chaplaincy. They were all mainline denominations. When I retired in 2000, there were over 90 different denominations so it is hard to have those distinctions between every single one of those denominations. It just wouldn’t work from a practical standpoint. So Protestants still is the umbrella.

Zarbock: It’s kind of the residual category called “other”. If not this, if not this…

Holderby: We finally did sort of in our own office there, we would have Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and others. They probably wouldn’t care for it too much but it would cover Seventh Day Adventists, Mormon and those who were not traditionally in the Protestant camp. That was just a way of accounting for how people were going to be deployed and that sort of thing.

Zarbock: Have you ever met a Christian Science chaplain?

Holderby: Oh yes.

Zarbock: There are Christian Science chaplains?

Holderby: Oh absolutely. Now that causes a problem sometimes because if you put a Christian Science chaplain in a Protestant chapel, there will be people who won’t go because they say this person does not represent anything close to what we believe or they won’t go on the Sundays when that individual is preaching.

Zarbock: Theological…

Holderby: Theological questions and it’s just a problem that you have, but you know when you have a large group of chaplains and they come from all sorts of different backgrounds, there’s no official way to tell people how they have to function so it falls to that little group of chaplains that work out how best they can work together.

We have a little saying, a slogan, “Cooperation without compromise”. I don’t know to what extent…it tries to say we won’t compromise our basic beliefs, but we will try to cooperate with each other for the good of the people that we service. So that’s really what that is. It can get to be problematic and in some cases, it doesn’t work out too well. Chaplains don’t get along with each other over theological kinds of divisions and things like that, but for the most part, you know, they do a remarkable job of getting along and trying to remember that what they’re called to do as a chaplain is not to serve each other but over the Marines or the Coast Guard.

Zarbock: We’re really bumping up against the issue of prosthelitizing.

Holderby: Yeah, we make a very strong point in saying we’re not in here to try to make somebody our own denomination. We’re here to minister to them. There was a time when I had a little chapel in ____ Wales. This was the one and only time I had I guess what amounted to a little problem. We had a small group of Americans on the southwest corner of Wales. We didn't have a chapel. I was the first chaplain that had been sent there.

We didn't have a chapel. There was an old abandoned Church of England chapel right beside where we were and the Church of England agreed to let us use that. We made repairs to it so that we could be there. The interesting part was I was responsible for the Protestant community there. We had a Catholic priest in town where we lived. He was a beloved man and our Catholic population loved him so that part was taken care of.

He and I would sometimes hold a joint service, a Thanksgiving service or whatever and he was more than willing to do that because he realized that this poor little Navy community was one community.

Zarbock: Was he a Navy chaplain too?

Holderby: No, he was a civilian, a wonderful man. When I say wonderful man, he learned, before I left he learned that he had cancer and that he wouldn’t be living more than another couple of months. His comment was, “Well I’ve tried to live to the glory of God and now I’m dying to the glory of God”. That’s the kind of thing that really sticks in your memory, that kind of thing.

In my congregation, I had Episcopalians, but I would also have some Baptists or whatever. I remember they came to me and said, listen, we want a service where we can all enjoy and one of the things they liked to do was sing a little bit sort of barbershop quartet type of thing with some of the hymns that they liked. So we would do that and we would just kind of vary what we did, but it was wonderful because it kind of kept everybody together and I think that’s basically what chaplains have to do when they’re the only chaplain there.

If you can’t provide ministry personally to someone of another faith, then it’s up to you to find a clergyman somewhere who can do that. You’re responsible for all your people. Now you find out what it takes to minister to them and to do that and chaplains get pretty good at that.

Zarbock: Let me ask you to go back where again I derailed you. You were at Yokuska, you came back to Camp Lejeune and you were there how long?

Holderby: Two years.

Zarbock: And left there in what year?

Holderby: That would have been ’71.

Zarbock: What was your destination?

Holderby: Cecil Field, Florida, Navy Air Station. That‘s where I had this experience I was telling you about. I served for two years at Cecil Field. Then I was given the unaccompanied tour of Okinawa. Met that with a certain amount of dread, but it was kind of like waiting to die in some sense. You were counting the days until you were going to leave.

The morning that I had to leave to get on the plane to go to Okinawa I took my two daughters who were young and were going to different schools, I took each one to the bus stop and I sat with them and I kissed them goodbye and told them it would be alright. So they went off to school, came home, got my things together, got in the car and as we’re backing out of the driveway, one of the popular songs of the day was “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane”. Well I was.

It was rather interesting. My wife and I went to the airport. We walked part of the way to the gate and I said, “Barbara, let’s just say goodbye here. This is hard enough”. She said ok so I put the suitcases down and we hugged and she went one way and I went the other. Got down to the gate and realized I left the suitcase back where we were. That turned out to be an extremely positive experience.

I really appreciate the Marines. Many of these Marines that served in Vietnam two and maybe three times, they’d be sent home. During that time before they were sent back, they maybe were in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on another deployment and then they’d come home for a little while and then they’d be sent back to Vietnam.

So many of these Marines had had those kinds of experiences. They were pretty substantial people. We were all there unaccompanied. I got to know, by that time I had made Lieutenant Commander which is a Major in the Marine Corps. So I got to know three or four Majors there who I really enjoyed their company and we would get together in the evenings for dinner.

On the weekends, we’d work half a day on Saturdays and then we’d go off to the other end of the island and hunt for shells, lay on the beach, whatever, and go out to dinner somewhere. So I got to know them, a little bit about their families and that sort of thing and formed some real friendships.

Zarbock: My perception is that in garrison as Okinawa was, the Marines are still in training. Did they spend a lot of time in the field and if so, were you sleeping under canvas too?

Holderby: I never did because I really never served with combat Marines in the field. Interestingly when I was with the 2nd Marine Division I was assigned to 2nd Service Regiment which were the supply people. Now when I was sent to Okinawa I was sent to what was called the 3rd Service Regiment which again was all supply people. So we weren’t out in the field a lot. Once in a while yes, and if we’d go in the field, I’d go, but basically very little of that.

So I didn't do that nor did I see combat with the Marines. Many of my friends who were chaplains did. One of the young priests who I went to chaplain school with was killed in Vietnam on his first tour, first tour in the Chaplain Corps. Anyway so I had that year on Okinawa. That was a good year. I wouldn’t have, in the end, traded it.

I came home and was sent to Mayport, Florida which was just right up the road from Cecil Field, Florida so we actually lived in Jacksonville for six years. Well my family did, I missed one of those years. I was in Mayport, Florida for almost four years, about three and a half years. We had a naval air station there and we also had service ships, two carriers and numerous destroyers. I was assigned as the chaplain so I worked in that chapel community. It’s more like being in a parish, a congregational setting there.

Left there and that’s when I went to Brawdy, Wales. That probably is one of the most memorable tours I ever had. We really…

Zarbock: How do you spell it?

Holderby: Well Brawdy is really almost not a place. It’s a tiny little dot which is nothing more than a crossroads in southwest Wales. The town close by there too, what is St. David’s which is Saint David is the patron saint of Wales. They have a huge, huge cathedral there. You can’t be a city in Great Britain unless you have a cathedral. Here’s a tiny little town, but it has this huge cathedral and the other city was Haverton West which was where we all lived. That’s where our housing was. There wasn’t any housing on the Base itself.

So we had a great experience there in the chaplain community. The question there was in addition to our church services and our chaplain services and ministering that way, a piece of that was that our young people and there were many, many single people there, were living out in the outlying areas. They were not living in government housing because it was limited.

So they would take rooms or places all out in the community. Well it gets bitterly cold there in the wintertime. Here they were out there and they were really isolated. We were having a little problem with drinking to the extent that it was getting them in trouble. So we wondered…and also young couples living off to themselves, not getting involved, being very lonesome and unhappy.

So we enticed Marriage Encounter of the Episcopalian or the Church of England expression of it to come down to Brawdy. That took some doing. I had to argue with them for two months before they finally agreed and okay they would try it.

Zarbock: What was the focus of the argument?

Holderby: Well they said it would be better if I came to them because they had all the facilities. I said we didn't really have good facilities out there, but we’ll find something, but the point is that these young couples can’t do that. So they came. We filled, I think they put a limit on it of 12 or 15 couples, we filled that. Had a wonderful experience and we filled it every three months after that.

It was still going when I left and it bonded our chapel members together too because now not only were they coming to worship together, but they had had this other experience together.

Then we were trying to think about how we could help many of these young people grow in self confidence so they could do whatever they needed to do, but to help them feel a little more self-confident. So we wrote away to Toastmasters and found out what it took to organize a Toastmasters section. They gave us all the information. We got one started there and once a week we had a big Toastmasters meeting, luncheon, and we would usually draw 20 to 50 people at these things.

Zarbock: All military?

Holderby: All military, yes, young people mostly.

Zarbock: By the way, was it exclusively Navy?

Holderby: It was exclusively Navy. We were being supported by an RAF training base. So we got that started and that was a success. I think it encouraged a lot. We were so small, but many of them wanted to keep working on their college credits so got in touch with the University of Maryland and also with another one, I can’t remember now. The question now was who was going to teach.

I said I would teach a Sociology course because I majored in Sociology actually. I had gotten a Master’s degree in counseling so it was heavily into Sociology and Psychology. So I qualified to teach that and a public speaking course. So I would do that too and that gave me an entrée to meeting some of the young people. So it was just a real positive experience.

We left there and came home from Great Britain. I’m trying to think, I guess that’s when I did the nine month training that the Chaplain Corps gave us. We called it a gentlemen’s reading course, it was kind of an update. They brought in speakers from major seminaries and universities.

Zarbock: Are you back in Rhode Island?

Holderby: We’re in Rhode Island again, lived there for nine months. That’s where I met Jim Apple, one of our rabbis. We were all Commanders by this time. When that was over, I was sent to Naval District Washington which takes care of the metropolitan Washington area. I had a little chapel in the Washington Navy Yard where we held services every Sunday.

I actually had offices over in the Naval Air Station in Acosnia. Did that for two years or three years, three years I guess. It came time for my next duty station and I began to think I needed Seabee again. I hadn’t had it, it’s not as fulfilling sometimes as other situations. When you get on a ship, people aboard are so busy that it’s really sometimes hard to interrupt their schedules, but it’s kind of a ministry and we try to do programs.

So I asked the detailer if I could have a carrier. He gave me one, the U.S.S. America and that was out of Norfolk, Virginia. I had a friend that I had met way back in Cecil Field. He was a young Lieutenant Commander. His name was Leyton Smith, everybody called him Snubby Smith. When I went there, he was taking over as commanding officer of that ship so we had been friends all throughout our careers.

Here I came as the Senior Chaplain and he was the Commanding Officer. So I was aboard for 17 months. I was supposed to be aboard for longer, but they transferred me off the ship and sent me to the Naval Academy and that was four years in the United States Naval Academy as the senior chaplain there.

Zarbock: From what year to what year?

Holderby: Well let’s see, I guess I was on the America from ’83 and ’84 it was 17 months so I went to the Academy in ’85 and stayed there until ’89.

Zarbock: Now these are hard-driving, bright, aggressive and probably competitive young men and women. That must have been some duty.

Holderby: Wonderful duty. That would be a highlight too.

Zarbock: You better be fleet of foot and quick of mind.

Holderby: Well I was still young enough fortunately that I could actually jog with them and do some things with them. Plebes would come in there and they’d have to be up at 5:00 every morning or a quarter to 5 doing their workouts and I’d be out there with them. Not doing quite as well as they were, but out there anyway. That was a good experience.

Zarbock: Let me underscore that. You mean you as the chaplain at the Naval Academy would actually be out in the field, the drill field, doing calisthenics?

Holderby: Yes, we didn't have to I guess. Nobody would have said anything if we didn't, but it was a good way to let these plebes now right off that chaplains are around.

Zarbock: I assume you did not have an exposure to this in seminary.

Holderby: No, we didn't (laughter). Let me digress just a minute. While I was still at the Naval District in Washington though it was not my assignment, it fell under it to do all the funerals at Arlington. We had chaplains assigned there, but when one of them would want to go on leave, the Protestant chaplain who was assigned to Arlington wanted to go on leave. Then I would fill in and I would do the funerals.

It could be one service a day or it could be as many as five or six funerals a day. You never knew. Just to kind of underscore in some ways the nobleness of human beings, I was one day called to a funeral over there. Normally we don’t meet the people ahead of time because they’re coming from everywhere. We meet them at the Administration Building there. We have maybe 30 minutes to chat or whatever and then we go and do the service.

So you try to garner as much information as you can in those 30 minutes to try to weave that in and make it a little bit personal. On this particular occasion, I got to the Administration Building, they said they’re not here, they’re at the grave and would like you to come on out. They just want a graveside service. So I said alright. So went out to the graveside and here was an elderly man and a young couple who I judged to be probably his grandchildren.

We did the service, a graveside service. When it was over, he came up to me and said that was a wonderful woman you just buried. I said I was sure she was. He said, “You know three months ago we did not even know she was ill and all of a sudden out of the blue she was diagnosed and told that she had perhaps three or four months to live.” He said the time went by quickly, but asked if I knew what she had spent those last three months doing.

I told him no and he said, “She spent the last three months of her life teaching me how to live alone”. And I thought people are wonderful. You hear that kind of thing. I said I was sorry I never met his wife.

Zarbock: I understand why you use the word “noble”.

Holderby: Yeah. Well I digressed just a little bit there. I was telling you a little about the Naval Academy. We spent four years there so that meant we were able to see a class come in as plebes and graduate four years later. It was a very, well I thought maybe one of the highlights of my time.

There’s a beautiful, beautiful chapel there. Chapel is really not a good word for it. It’s a cathedral is what it is. It seats 2600 people and I guess the privilege of speaking in that cathedral is something that you know you feel that you were singularly blessed to be able to be assigned there and have the opportunity to speak in those surroundings.

Our job as chaplains there was to try to add some sort of appreciation and familiarity and hopefully involvement with the spiritual side of life. They certainly were bright, bright young people. They were learning what they needed to know to go out and become successful military officers.

Our job was to also keep working with them in terms of a balance. Not only were there to be highly professional people, but we wanted them to also be human people. We wanted them to stand where God was in the middle of this and how their lives and futures would certainly benefit far beyond their expectations as long as they kept that focus.

I think we were able to do that. There were six regiments in a brigade and we assigned a chaplain to each one to specifically work with that regiment. These young people would come out and become Marines and Navy officers and it was just a privilege to be there and have that time with them.

When I left there I was sent to the Chief of Chaplains office to be what we call a detailer. It’s a detailer’s job to assign chaplains to their various postings throughout the Navy and Marine Corps.

Zarbock: Irrespective of denomination?

Holderby: Well irrespective, but we tried to keep a balance. That is to say if we were going to send say an Episcopalian or a Lutheran who tend to be a more liturgical approach to things, we would also try to send someone, a Baptist, a Methodist, a Presbyterian to touch the other side as well. We wanted to be sure that the Catholic population had a priest there.

When I was detailing, we had only 11 rabbis so a lot of thought would go into where each one would go. Now there’s a question. Do you just send them to the highest population centers. If you do that, you may be hurting them professionally in that their records won’t stand up against other people’s records who have had sea duty and have had all of these other duties. So when it came time for promotion, they may get hurt if they haven’t been assigned to all those things.

So even though we may not have a big Jewish population on ships, we would assign them to ships to keep track of that side of the thing too, their careers as well as their ministries. That seemed to work okay. That worked fine. I did that for two years. Desert Storm was going on during that period of time. I assigned a lot of people who went to Desert Storm.

At the end of that two years as a detailer, I worked for a very fine Chief of Chaplains, Al Cayman. I left there and became the Pacific fleet chaplain in Hawaii. Now you would know that a detailer would certainly be smart enough to send himself to a nice place, but I didn't make that choice actually. The Chief of Chaplains did. So I was the Pacific Fleet Chaplain. We lived in Hawaii and my duties there became really though I would try to preach at the chapel when I could, basically I was more concerned with the welfare of the chaplains throughout the Pacific fleet, what they were doing, how I could help and that sort of thing.

It was in that job that I learned that I had been selected for Rear Admiral. It was very interesting. I was told on a Thursday that I had been selected for Admiral and I needed to be in school on Sunday. That meant Barbara and I really did some jumping to be able to get on a plane and get everything ready and be in Washington for the introduction phase. I was the last of all the admirals selected to be notified. Because there was only one chaplain for some reason.

So we got there and went through the basic part of that. I served three years as the Deputy Chief of Chaplains and then served three years as Chief of Chaplains. It was a wonderful experience. I had a lot more interplay with the Air Force and the Army chaplains at that level than I ever had coming along. I began to appreciate who they were and what they did.

I tell you today you just got to love your Army for what they’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. The burden has fallen to the Army and I know their chaplains are quite busy and many of them are there with them, but they are doing a magnificent job, but came to really appreciate each other, the Army and the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Zarbock: I’m going to ask question number one on the obvious list. What was the biggest challenge when you took command?

Holderby: Well there were a couple of challenges that were going on right at that time. Just about the time that I came in for whatever reason the Commandant of the Marine Corps as one piece of his agenda at least appeared to be making a much clearer distinction between the Marine Corps and the Navy. He did this at many different levels, but it appeared to me that he was also trying to do this with the Chaplain Corps.

He wanted complete control over the Navy Chaplain Corps, wanted it to be called Naval Chaplain Corps which I had no problem with as long as we understood that we served with Marines, but we were commissioned as naval officers, Navy officers. That doesn’t change when we go with the Marines. He wanted to blur that so that all chaplains who were serving with Marines were very much under his control and he didn't really want any interference from the Chief of Chaplains.

So there was a little bit of a play going on there in which I felt that I needed to at least make an effort to be sure that no split occurred in the Chaplain Corps, that we remained the Navy Chaplain Corps.

Zarbock: Was he also interested in assuming the positions, dentists, corpsmen, etc.?

Holderby: Well I don’t know. I don’t know how that piece of it was going. I was so busy working with the Chaplain Corps that I didn't see that. I think maybe, no, I don’t think anything. I didn't really know.

Zarbock: In the absence of proof. Now what year was this?

Holderby: Well this would have been…I guess I was Chief from ’94 through ’97 I was Deputy, ’97 through 2000 I was Chief. So this would have been from about the time I took over in August of ’97.

Zarbock: Does that situation continue to this day?

Holderby: No, it’s been resolved. Once that Commandant retired, there were a few left over who had served him and kind of wanted to push that agenda a little bit, but it died a natural death. Today we’re right back where we always have been which is where we need to be. We serve the Marines, we admire the Marines, we had chaplains who wanted to do nothing but serve with the Marines.

But at this point we’re still commissioned by the Navy. We’re Navy officers. You can’t change that unless you want to change the law and have a totally separate chaplaincy of the Marine Corps which I’m sure he didn't want to do. He certainly did not want to put the money into having to do all of that. So in any case that was a challenge for me.

The second challenge that was coming along, one hit me personally and probably was the beginning of a larger issue. I had served as the President of a Selection Board in which a young Missouri Synod Lutheran chaplain was passed over for selection. He accused me as the President of the board of prejudice against him because I was an ELCH chaplain, he was a Missouri Synod Lutheran chaplain was passed over for selection and he accused me of prejudice and rigging the board somehow to keep him from being promoted because he had an excellent record.

Then that doesn’t tell you much these days because almost everybody has an excellent record. Records are inflated so you know Boards begin to say which one are we going to select and that was our situation. This went on for quite a while. He started sending information to newspapers and to every source that he could find. It hit the newspapers than Chaplain Holderby was under investigation for possible prejudice against a young chaplain.

I had Naval Investigative Service, Inspector General, ran an investigation. I was completely cleared. He was not satisfied with that and he had a friend who was on the staff of a senator. I don’t think the senator really knew much of what was going on, but the staffer managed to keep this alive and finally they wanted not just a Navy IG, but they wanted a Department of Defense IG.

So I went through a Department of Defense IG inspection, again was cleared. At that point, the senator was told about this and he didn't block my promotion and I was promoted to Chief of Chaplains. That unleashed a series of lawsuits which are still going on today. Now my successor has served three years and now he’s gone and there’s yet another Chief in there, but these lawsuits are still going on.

A great number of chaplains who were passed over have brought lawsuits saying that they received prejudicial treatment. They’ve done it along the lines of saying that the liturgical side of the house has discriminated against the non-liturgical side. That remains to be seen whether the courts will agree that that’s true or not. I don’t believe at this point that a final decision has come down in the courts to say.

Zarbock: Let me be absolutely sure, you’re telling me that these lawsuits are still in progress?

Holderby: Still in progress. They’re working their way along and I don’t know the exact number, I think there are probably five, six, seven of them working. I’m not sure just how many.

Zarbock: These are individuals who are accusing…

Holderby: Individuals and groups.

Zarbock: And groups?

Holderby: And groups of chaplains under what we call an endorser, someone who is endorsing…in many of the little denominations where there aren’t many chaplains, maybe one, two, three. A person will come in and say that they would endorse all of them and we’ll come under one umbrella. So one of those if I’m not mistaken has also brought a lawsuit on behalf of all of his chaplains who were passed over.

There’s not much I can comment on as to the validity of it because that will remain to be decided in the courts now. I’m sorry that matters of ministry have to be resolved in the courts, but apparently we have reached that point. So that’s where we are. That was the second challenge.

Some of the things that I thought were positive things that took place, we tried to improve and expand the educational opportunities and the training opportunities for our chaplains because we come out of such a variety of backgrounds. We tried to have as many different kinds of training opportunities as we could. We would get experts from various fields to come in and talk to us maybe about combat stress, whatever it was.

To give chaplains at least some sort of a level playing field in terms of training to help them minister to Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard men and women. As I look back now over my career, I think two things might have helped a lot to have avoided some of this kind of problem particularly with the lawsuit side. I think one, and it’s the perpetual problem of money. The Navy probably if they would give the Chief of Chaplains the financial ability to run a very thorough screening of anyone who wants to come into the Chaplain Corps, I think we could provide a Chaplain Corps less divided than it seems to have become.

The other thing I felt as Chief of Chaplains was that the Navy gave me the responsibility for 800 and some odd chaplains, but they did not give me the authority to do very much about what was going on with those 800 and some chaplains. Now understand each chaplain serves under a commanding officer and I don’t think the Chief of Chaplains need have the authority to usurp that commanding officer’s ability to mark his performance and so forth.

But I think the Chief of Chaplains did need the authority to be able to step in if he saw something that was blatantly wrong and do something about it. He doesn’t have that authority. The only authority he has is if he can convince his boss who’s the Vice CNO that that problem exists. I think that’s a roundabout way of getting at something that ties the Chief of Chaplains’ hands behind his back a little bit.

Be that as it may, I’m not going to criticize the Navy because I know that money is always tight, but I kind of wished that that happened.

Zarbock: Is the absence of this authority the function of legislating or administrative rule or…

Holderby: It’s administrative. It’s financial and command authority. That’s one side of the house. The other side of the house is the reason I would like to make sure that we had some ability to…if a clergyman comes into the Navy Chaplain Corps for any other reason than to serve Navy, Marines, Coast Guard men and women, that is to care for their spiritual lives, then he ought or she ought not to be there.

We lose track sometimes of the fact that if we are called as we think we are, we’re called by God to reach out to all these people in uniform that God loves. That’s where the focus has to stay, that’s where we have to be thoroughly grounded in terms of who we are and what we’re supposed to be. To the extent that we can do that, we’re always going to be successful.

Zarbock: Last question chaplain, before we went on camera I mentioned as I’ve told other people, one of the advantages of this videotape is that it will be entombed in the archives of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington as long as the planet Earth makes electricity. The tape will be in this controlled environment. One of the byproducts of that is you’ll never be a day older than you are today on this tape. So you said you have two daughters. Would you take a moment and look right into the camera, talk to your daughters and tell them what’s it all meant? What have you learned? What are the significant lessons that you’ve learned in life that you’d like them to know?

Holderby: If I were talking to my two daughters, both of whom I’m extremely proud and love dearly…these two girls have traveled around the world with me and with Barbara and I hope that it has been a growing experience for them. I did note that neither of my daughters married military men, but are both happily married and I’m so proud of them.

I would say I think to my girls and I hope they perhaps feel the same way, that each of us has to choose a path from among so many paths out there that are offered to us, to choose a path that we feel makes a difference in life and at the end of our lives I would hope we could look back over and say maybe we didn't do everything that we could have done, but we tried to go in the right direction. We tried to make our lives count for something.

When I say our lives count for something, I think that means impacting those around us in a positive way. I think everything flows out of God’s love for us and as long as that’s where our direction is coming from, then I think we’ll always find the path we should be on.

Zarbock: Well done sir, may the Lord be with you.

Holderby: And with you.

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