Bill Holt

USS Phoenix

Excerpts From
the Book

Brothers of War



Lewis (Lew) Holt, born April 11, 1929 in Vernonia, Oregon. I was 12 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. I have had to go back many years to tell the early part of this story. I have taken the liberty to just "visit with you informally " to tell the story of my brother, Bill, and the others who have become a part of his story. The story about Bill opened many doors that I could not have imagined.

In the summer of 1939 we lived in White Salmon, Washington where my father worked in a gypo logging camp. That fall he moved his wife and three sons across the Columbia River to Colton, Oregon. The fourth son, Charles, stayed with him at White Salmon to help finish a logging job. Just a couple of weeks before they were to join us in Oregon, my father, 48-year-old Charles Valentine Holt, was killed in a logging accident on November 1, 1939. My brother, Charles, was there and held his father's hand as his father died under a log.
Charles returned home to Colton where we were living. In the spring of 1940 my Uncle Lewis found a little farm near Dallas, Oregon that he thought we would like. We bought the 5.5 acres for $1000 with payments of $15 a month. That fall, Charles started attending Oregon College of Education in Monmouth, 9 miles from where we lived. My younger brother Arlie and I went to the one room Bridgeport School just across the Little Luckiamute River from the house. I was in the sixth grade and Arlie in the fifth. Bill rode the school bus to the high school in Dallas for his senior year. It was his fourth high school, a different one each year.

In the spring of 1941, Bill joined the navy and left home on June 16th --- just a few weeks before his 18th birthday. He died of tuberculosis in 1945. In the mid eighties I became curious about Bill's short life. The many years since his death made it difficult to find answers. Many of the veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor were getting older. Many had died. Some had forgotten the specifics of the attack. Some did not wish to remember the attack. But some shared their memories of the attack with me. I will be forever grateful to them for sharing their letters and stories with me. Now I can share them with you.

My own memory of Bill has dimmed over the years. I was 12 years old when he left home and the years that followed were busy ones for me - high school, college, marriage, family, work, hobbies, and now retirement. For many years Bill was a sad memory and a picture on the shelf. It wasn't until I started collecting and putting all of his letters together in a book that I again thought of Bill and the part that he played in the lives of our family many years ago. And the life he lived after he left home.

I think of Bill as having "come from behind." When he was a toddler a burning piece of paper fell from the wood burning stove. He attempted to stomp out the fire. His clothes caught on fire and he was burned badly which left scars on his side. He was not as tall as most of his cousins, The Navy offered him independence, the opportunity to get away to "see the world" and to get off the farm. When he became ill with tuberculosis, he no longer had that independence and no matter how hard he fought, he could not conquer the disease that eventually led to his death. Bill's letters to us at home were always very positive. They showed his pride and most of all, his desire to not cause his mother to worry. He did not want his mother to know how seriously ill he was. Now I would like to share with you letters and information about Bill, his friends and "his ship." It was difficult leaving out many letters to shorten this book. This project involved literally hundreds of hours of interviewing people, collecting material, reading, writing hundreds of letters, editing twice as many letters and untold hours at the computer. Many excellent letters from Bill, friends and others had been "tucked away" over the years by my mother. If she had not saved Bill's letters, I would not have been able to write this book. They were the key to creating my curiosity about Bill, the time he was in service and until he died. My desire to find out about these few short years between high school and his death, I never realized that my curiosity would take me so far. It was a thought that eventually became more than a dream. When I started I never realize that it would become a book. I was just collecting a few stories.

I sent out more than 350 letters to Phoenix veterans, made phone calls, acquired the 1938 --1945 microfilm of the crew of the Phoenix, visited with many people and read many books to get information and a background for this book. My only regret is that I did not start my research 10 or 20 years earlier - before time took its toll -- either by death or memory of those who served on the Phoenix. I was lucky to be able to have received many letters from veterans who were on the Phoenix at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. These veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor had ringside seats to this historical event. I was touched and moved by their concern and their willingness to share. Originally this was to have been "Bill's story;" just his letters that he had written to us and letters that he had saved that were written to him. I could not have imagined that when I started that it would lead me to people in Australia, Argentina, England, Japan and many places in the United States. "Bill's story" became the story of people from five nations and five continents that were involved with Bill, or the Phoenix. Or they were involved with the story's beginning at Pearl Harbor on that December day in 1941.

My research has brought many interesting and exciting moments. Locating four men on the Phoenix who remembered Bill, finding Bill's girlfriend in Australia after 54 years, locating a sailor from Argentina who was on the Belgrano/Phoenix when it was sunk during the Falkland Island War in 1982 by a British submarine, locating a sailor from England who was on the submarine that sank the Belgrano/Phoenix and then the experience of bringing these two former enemies together as "brothers of war." Also, being able to visit Pearl Harbor when Alice and I were celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, and later a dream coming true when I received letters from two Japanese airmen who participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor. I could never have imagined that later I would go to Japan to shake hands with two Japanese aviators who participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor - young men who tried to kill my brother. Mr. Harada flew escort in a Zero over the Japanese fleet while others attacked Pearl Harbor. I sat in his home in Japan visiting and having lunch. Mr. Maruyama released a torpedo that struck the U.S.S. Oklahoma during the attack. We had lunch together, sharing pictures and stories.

As with Coco and N in Argentina, Mr. Harada, Mr. Maruyama and I were no longer enemies but rather "brothers of war." The trip to Japan would not have possible if it were not for Chris in Japan. We are "brothers of fiddling." I owe him as much as any one person.

Finally at the end is the story of two young Argentine sailors who died during the sinking of the Belgrano/Phoenix. They represent the 323 young men who died that day when their ship was struck and sunk by torpedoes from a British submarine, HMS Conqueror.

A British veteran who was on the H.M.S. Conqueror that sank the Belgrano/Phoenix on May 2, 1982 wrote the following. Later you will meet N and come to know the part he played in this book about Bill.

N writes:

Lew Your hard work and research were worth every minute. I am not exaggerating when I say that it is probably the most touching biographical work that I have ever read. It reminded me that, regardless of our geographical origins or our place in time, we laugh for the same reasons, we cry for the same reasons, we are happy for the same reasons and we endure the same struggles in life. There was Bill, more than half a century away, and here I am, reading his letters all these years later and looking at his photograph. Yet, there is no void, no gulf, just that singularity of human spirit, which transcends time and makes us human. Thanks for sharing Bill's story with me. N

The story is not complete, even yet, but it has reached the point where it is time to share it. I have enjoyed this project. I hope you will enjoy reading what I have written.

Lew Holt