In November 1955, Colonel Earl “Red” Blaik, the head football coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point, told his team he did not relish the prospect of crossing the field the next day in front of one hundred thousand fans to congratulate the arch rival Navy coach on a victory. Then a player announced, “Colonel, you’re not going to take that walk tomorrow.” His quarterback, Don Holleder, had served notice that he was about to lead his team to the greatest win in Army football history.
In the first authoritative biography of Don Holleder, former sportscaster Terry Tibbetts shares the inspirational story of how Don overcame limited academic skills to attend West Point; grew to be an All-American football end; volunteered to become quarterback when the coach needed leadership; and sacrificed his football career to serve his country in Vietnam. Along with remembrances from Don’s daughters, his West Point roommates, fellow players, and Army colleagues, Tibbetts presents a candid glimpse into the journey of a man whose life was not just about winning, but also about finding the courage and perseverance to overcome great obstacles.
The inspiring story of Don Holleder is a model for anyone willing to work hard to achieve, win, and most of all, place the team above self.
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A Spartan GameThe Life and Loss of Don Holleder
By TERRY TIBBETTS
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Terry Tibbetts
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBuffalo, New York
"The youngest Eagle Scout in Buffalo history."
Beginning in the early nineteenth century and continuing for nearly 150 years, Buffalo, New York, achieved dramatic success in commerce, transportation, industry, and technology.
The grain industry was the most notable. Located at the eastern end of Lake Erie and the western end of the Erie Canal, Buffalo was a natural location for unloading grain from the Midwest via freighter ship. From there it was shipped to the eastern United States and beyond to Europe.
As the century progressed, two additional major technologies, railroads and electricity, emerged. The railroad became the loading point for grain shipments east, and electricity, produced by generators on the nearby Niagara River, created an economical method of powering the grain elevators. In 1881 Buffalo had the first electric street lights in the United States, prompting the nickname "City of Light."
During the same time, beer brewing materialized as another noteworthy Buffalo industry. Since grain was the biggest industry in town, an abundant supply was available for the process. Soon twenty-five local breweries were making 31 million gallons annually. To put this into perspective, one can stand on the observation platform at Niagara Falls and gaze at the water thundering over the falls at the rate of about 750,000 gallons a second. Imagining the flow to be beer instead of water, the observer would have to count slowly to eighty before all the beer brewed annually in Buffalo had gone over the falls.
European immigrants were the driving force in this labor-intensive city, and those from Germany were the biggest contributors, both in production and consumption. For German immigrants a glass of beer with their meal gave them a sense of the old country. And in the process German beer brewers introduced their techniques to a grateful new clientele of American beer drinkers.
In 1881 twenty-four-year-old German beer brewer Christopher Rasp joined the throng of European immigrants settling in Buffalo. In Germany he had fallen in love with and proposed to Antonia Behringer, but he was Lutheran, and she was Catholic. In those days the German Catholic Church prohibited interfaith marriages. In the United States however, such marriages were allowed, as long as the non-Catholic agreed to a Catholic ceremony and promised to raise all children in the Catholic faith. That was good enough for Rasp. He was aware of the prominence of Buffalo's beer industry, and this was an opportunity to get in on the action. He sailed the Atlantic, set up shop in Buffalo, and sent for Antonia. In June of 1882 they were married in Buffalo's St. Ann's Catholic Church.
Christopher and Antonia both came from large families, and five of their siblings immigrated to the Buffalo neighborhood adjacent to St. Ann's Church at about the same time. The area was a perfect spot for the Rasps to build a new life in a new country, to share old-world customs and create new American ones.
The couple had nine children. One was a son John, born in 1889. At age eighteen in 1907, John married Rose Shied. Within weeks, the couple learned their family would soon expand, so John began a search for a profession that would provide a steady means of support. He decided on the coal-and-ice business. Customers soon learned that service was John Rasp's middle name. He saw to it that the commodities were delivered on schedule and put into the proper places. In later years, his grandsons Don Holleder and Jack Schultz learned all about providing first-rate service by lugging blocks of ice to upper-floor apartments and shoveling coal into cellar bins.
John became a first-rate entrepreneur, purchasing six homes and renting them. On top of that, drawing upon his father's brewing skills he set up a basement facility and provided premium beer to happy consumers.
As time passed, he became successful enough to buy a cottage on Lake Erie. The cottage was the scene of festive summer gatherings of family and friends every Sunday and holiday. "Those were the days," grandson Jack recalled wistfully.
On Saturdays, while the men of the family were putting in at least a half-day's work, the ladies and children went to the lake. The ladies hauled out the big pans and prepared the food, while the kids lugged items and arranged chairs and the like. When their work was done, the youngsters gathered in the yard for a game of kick-the-can. As the sun set over the lake, it was time for the kids to clean up for church the next day. Everyone would jump into the water, sharing a bar of Ivory soap. After dark they'd sit on the beach and exchange ghost stories.
After church on Sundays, John would climb into the company truck and head out to fetch family and friends. A number of these people did not own cars, and John, the accomplished host, wanted to be sure they'd be there. Rose would direct the final preparation of the steaks, salads, potatoes, desserts, and, yes, beer.
In the early 1960s Americans enjoyed reading and hearing about the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts: the enormous gathering of family, friends, fun, football games, and food. The Rasp cottage on a summer Sunday in the 1930s and '40s was nothing less. The men and boys would play football, basketball, baseball, or whatever sport was the order of the day. Later, everyone would gather around the player piano, where Papa, as John was familiarly known, would lead the singing. He had a marvelous voice and an ear for music, in spite of having had no musical training.
Prohibition became law in the early 1920s, requiring Papa to cease his beer business. But when the Great Depression struck in 1929, he restarted it and used the proceeds to keep many families and the church afloat. The police were aware of his activities but essentially looked the other way. He became known as "Robin Hood" and was respectfully called "the best bootlegger in Buffalo." He donated coal and ice to his down-on-their-luck neighbors. He never evicted or even dunned tenants who had trouble paying their rent and sometimes made payments for them. His granddaughter Grace Neureuther said, "If he had collected everything he was owed, he'd have been a millionaire."
There was another reason he didn't become a millionaire. Papa was an excellent businessman except for one flaw: he trusted everyone. This resulted in his getting swindled once or twice.
Papa's grandchildren say a legend exists today—they like to believe it's true, but they're not at all sure—that one day years later he felt a little guilty about his Prohibition earnings and decided to go to the IRS and confess. The agent listened intently and then walked to the door and opened it. "Go home, Mr. Rasp," the agent said softly. "Don't worry about it."
John and Rose had three daughters: Rosetta, Bernice, and Arlene. They also raised their niece Dolores Shied from the age of eighteen months. Dolores was the daughter of Rose's brother George Shied and his wife Margaret. Nine months after Dolores's birth, Margaret became pregnant with a second child. Tragically, both mother and child died in childbirth. George was so overwhelmed with grief that the responsibility of caring for Dolores was a task he could not handle.
Fortunately, John and Rose volunteered to take Dolores in, at least temporarily. Ten-year-old Arlene was thrilled with the arrangement. Dolores says today that Arlene considered her "a little doll" and cared for her like a mother bear would nurture her cub.
Weeks turned into months, months turned into years; Dolores remained in the Rasp home, where she would, as it turned out, reside permanently. Her father George took less interest in Dolores and over time shunned her totally. Her sole remaining tie to the Shied family was her grandmother, George's mother Barbara, who lived just down the street from the Rasps. But Grannie, as Barbara was called by her grandchildren, was not physically able to provide Dolores a home. So in due course, Dolores became a Rasp in spirit, if not in name.
John and Rose attempted on many occasions to formally adopt Dolores, but George never consented. Dolores says her father didn't care about her one way or the other. However, Grannie had a significant influence on her son and felt strongly that Dolores should maintain her family name, so her will prevailed.
As Arlene and Dolores grew older, their relationship became that of the closest of sisters, and it would remain that way until Arlene's dying day.
Arlene became the mother of Don Holleder, and Dolores became his closest aunt.
Arlene was a stunning girl. She combined her beauty with the natural talent to accent it with the perfect combination of cosmetics and clothing. Because of this ability she was allowed to wear lipstick as a teenager, while her sisters were not. The result was that she was wooed by would-be beaus from all over the city. Depending on one's point of view, she was regarded by males as everything from "the hottest thing in Buffalo" to "the girl you want to take home to meet your parents." Nephew Jack Schultz categorized Arlene as "tall, slim, and elegant."
She was also ambitious. After graduating from high school, she set out to make sure she could support herself. She earned a degree at a business school and took an office position at an insurance company. She was quickly on her way and would go far.
Walter Holleder, called Wally, was an unlikely winner in the sweepstakes for Arlene's hand, the race horse that emerged from the back of the pack to win by three lengths. When they married, Wally was twenty-four and Arlene was nineteen.
Early on, Wally was a plumber, sufficiently schooled in writing to publish a book on the subject. But he had always harbored a desire to become a firefighter, so he studied the required academic material, fine-tuned his physical condition, took the tests, passed, and became a member of the force.
He was a quiet man, but one who demanded and received respect. His nieces and nephews recall visiting the Holleder home and learning that Uncle Wally ruled the radio in the evening. When the news or The Shadow or The Inner Sanctum was on, everyone was quiet and listened or left the room.
Donald Walter Holleder was born on August 3, 1934. His family and friends say that he had his mother's chin, but all other physical resemblances were to his father.
Family members also say that as Don grew he idolized his father and loved his mother. With his parents providing the basic anchor of support, the extended family, church, and neighborhood provided the means for establishing positive relationships and activities.
Everything a boy could want or need was within easy reach. The homes of his relatives and friends were almost literally a stone's throw away. Don was a regular visitor at Papa's, and he and his cousins were forever in and out of one another's homes and playing together in the adjacent fields. This and the summer parties at the lakefront cottage were, in the recollections of his cousins, a child's dream of swimming, playing, and eating with dear relatives and friends.
Don and Cousin Jack Schultz, who was a year older, were as close as any boys could be. "We not only played together, we competed," said Jack. "Being older, I was bigger and stronger. I was sort of a bully, because I needed to protect my brothers and sisters. Don was an only child, so he didn't have that responsibility. I guess I also bullied him a bit. He was always trying to catch up, and over time he did develop quite a muscular body."
Jack says their competitiveness really came to a head at about age ten. Don had gotten a new Roadmaster bicycle, which was the envy of Jack and the other boys in the neighborhood. Don loved that bike and refused to let anyone else, including Jack, ride it.
One day, Jack and Don were outside playing, and the pair got into a scuffle. Jack got the better of the scrap, and Don took off into his house with Jack in pursuit. Don dashed into the bathroom and locked the door. Both of Don's parents happened to be away. Jack stood in the hallway for a few moments, and then it dawned on him. Ha ha, I've got him now, he said to himself. Now I can get a ride on that bike. He casually strolled downstairs, outside, and into the garage, where the bike was locked with a chain. But, no problem. The key was hanging right there on the wall. He unlocked the bike, climbed onto it, and toured around the neighborhood. After soaking in the admiration of his friends, he returned the bike to its proper spot in the garage and relocked it. Don was still nowhere to be seen, so Jack went back to the bathroom door. Don was still locked inside. "Don, I've brought the bike back," Jack said. "I took good care of it. It runs great. Thanks."
Jack knew that eventually Don would try to get even but didn't realize how intense the retaliation would be. Months later, they were arguing about some trivial matter, and without warning Don gave him a wicked kick in the shin.
"He really let me have it," said Jack. "There's still a bit of a mark there, and it still hurts every once in a while. Even now, whenever I feel that pain, I think to myself, 'Damn you, Don.'"
Another childhood story with Don and Jack involved their cousin Paul. He was a couple of years older than Jack and had the onerous habit of inflicting physical punishment on Don or Jack, whenever he could find one of them alone. One day, Don decided he'd had enough.
"I'm going to take care of him," Don said to Jack, "and you're going to help me."
Don explained the plan. It involved utilizing one of Papa Rasp's wooden baskets used for small-quantity coal sales to walk-in customers. They would both hide behind a corner and wait for Paul, and then Jack would spring from behind, slap the basket over his head and grab his arms. Don would administer a body pummeling.
"We can't kill the guy," said Jack skeptically.
"His head's going to be protected by the basket," Don replied. "We just want to make sure we teach him a lesson he'll feel for a while."
A few days later they administered the instruction. Paul got the message that he could no longer attack Don or Jack individually. He had to deal with them both. He never bothered them again.
Jack summarized his youth with Don:
Don was always so aggressive. Not an ego trip, just determined to be the best. Whether it was a basketball or baseball game in the backyard, he always played to win (but didn't we all?). Sometimes he was downright mean, but we all had our moments.
We fought, we cried, we laughed, we loved, we matured. I really miss those times.
Don and his cousins attended St. Joseph's Elementary School adjacent to St. Ann's Church. During his years there, Don formed a strong bond with two priests. One was Father Joseph Wolf, a teacher, coach, and administrator at the school. Father Wolf recognized early on that Don had exceptional athletic skills and a strong work ethic. On the other hand, he recognized that Don needed some tutorial assistance with his studies and ensured that it was provided. The other priest, Father Joseph Schieder, was a family friend who also took a keen interest in Don's activities, encouraged him whenever possible, and, in fact, became a lifelong spiritual adviser.
Don's mother Arlene became the office manager at National Wine and Spirits, a Buffalo liquor store owned by attorney-business magnate Phil Weintraub. In addition to overseeing the office operation she handled the inventory, payroll, and accounting. It didn't take Weintraub long to see that Arlene was a pro. She would be a success in business, he told her.
St. Ann's Church sponsored Boy Scout Troop 118, which Don joined at age twelve. He quickly earned the second- and first-class awards, which taught him the basic skills of outdoor living, service to others, and safety. They were followed by the star and life badges, which in turn led to merit badges and life skills.
The purposes of a merit badge were fourfold:
learning skills in general;
learning about adult-to-adult common ground;
preparing for specific life skills, vocations, avocations, setting goals;
The next achievement was becoming an Eagle Scout. To attain that, Don had to have earned at least twenty-one merit badges, demonstrating knowledge of subjects such as life saving, camping, personal health, citizenship, first aid, swimming, public safety, carpentry, and plumbing, and attend leadership camp each summer.
Most adults would find it difficult to complete the tasks required to earn even one badge. The swimming badge requirements, for example, include swimming 150 yards using several different strokes and then demonstrate a rescue. One available method would be entering the water carrying a shirt in hand or teeth, swim thirty feet, swing the shirt to the victim, and tow him ashore. Is it any wonder that only 2 percent of all Boy Scouts become an Eagle Scout each year?
Cousin Jack put it succinctly: "Don was a winner. Second place wasn't acceptable. We were both Boy Scouts, but I never made Eagle Scout. He just wanted it more, and he was willing to bust his butt to accomplish that goal."
On the average, those who achieve this rank take six years to do it. Don did it in two years, officially becoming an Eagle Scout on October 28, 1948. At the age of fourteen years and two months, he was the youngest Eagle Scout in Buffalo history. He was required to earn twenty-one merit badges; Jack says he earned at least one hundred.
The Eagle Scout badge is a symbol of character, of what a boy has accomplished, but more importantly it represents what the boy will become as he grows to manhood. The mission statement of the Boy Scouts is this: "Scouting teaches boys to make ethical decisions, builds character, promotes citizenship, and provides a venue for personal growth. Learn and become a leader through scouting."
Excerpted from A Spartan Game by TERRY TIBBETTS Copyright © 2011 by Terry Tibbetts. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Rich Ellerson....................xiii
Prologue—A Defining Moment....................xvii
Chapter 1—Buffalo, New York....................1
Chapter 2—Rochester, New York....................11
Chapter 3—West Point, New York....................30
Chapter 4—West Point, New York....................47
Chapter 5—West Point, New York....................78
Chapter 6—West Point, New York....................99
Chapter 7—Military Career....................167
Chapter 8—Vietnam, Setting the Stage....................188
Chapter 9—Vietnam, Nineteen-Hour Days....................194
Chapter 10—Vietnam, the Battle of Ong Thanh....................222
Chapter 11—Vietnam, the Aftermath of the Battle....................243
Chapter 12—A Greek Tragedy....................260
Author's Discourse—Controversies That Remain....................287
Afterword—The Holleder Center....................293
Epilogue—To Everything Don Stood For....................297
Postscript—Just Beyond Our Touch....................301
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I'm a little bit prejudiced because I went tp grammar school with Don for one year in Buffalo, although that part of his life was detailed.
A timeless story which needs to be told. Don Holleder epitomized the Army Values of selfless service and sacrifice long before the Army put them on a plastic card for all soldiers to carry. He was both a standout on the athletic field as well as a soldier and gave his all on both counts.
Our family has always known what a special person Don was- now we are happy to share memories of him so that all Americans can feel proud of him and the many other patriots who have put country and honor above all else. Thank you, Terry, for your remarkable telling of a life ended too soon. I know how much time, love, and research you put into this book.
A SPARTAN Game, is a biography of an American hero. A story that is rapid, enjoyable, and enlightening to read by an author who compliments the craft of writing by welding details with facts, by the union of military records with oral history, and culminating with a researcher,s greatest asset.....a profound search for the truth. No further example of Mr.Tibbetts professionalism is necessary, other than his definitive exposure of the ambush at Org Thanh. For a parent with a teenager, I shout, " Read it first. Then pass it on to a young mind ".