World War II veteran Alva Hollingsworth and his wife, Phyllis, live on Highway 181 in Gainesville. This time of year, their house is about to be set aglow by thousands of Christmas lights and displays that Phyllis sets up in their front yard each year as a gift for passersby, a treat for their family members (especially their great-grandchildren), and a loving tribute to Phyllis’ son Layne Evans, who died in December 1985.
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Posted: Sunday, November 20, 2011 4:00 am | Updated: 4:53 pm, Sun Nov 20, 2011.
by Sue Ann Luna Jones firstname.lastname@example.org | 0 comments
Alva Hollingsworth, 93, of Gainesville got a hero's welcome last month when he rolled out of the airplane carrying him and his daughter, Anita Shikany, back to Springfield from an Ozark Honor Flight trip to see the World War II Memorial in Washington, D. C.
"He was the last one off the plane," said his wife, Phyllis, who met the plane with her daughters, Rhonda Suter and Glenda Douglas. "I was beginning to think someone had kidnapped him."
Despite the late hour, Springfield-Branson National Airport was full of well-wishers, and Hollingsworth was amazed. "I wasn't expecting that, not at all," he said.
The reception was an extreme opposite from the one he got that day in Normandy, when he rolled off a different kind of landing craft directly into enemy fire as part of the D-Day invasion.
One of the stories Anita's dad told her about that day was what his captain told the men of Battery A, 447th Anti-aircraft Battalion as they bounded over the waves on their wave to the beach. "Dad said the captain told them, ‘Boys, it's going to be rough. Out of 100 of you, 99 won't come back,'" Anita recalled.
It was rough. At one point during the next few months, his division was shot up so badly it was merged with another one. "They said we were divided into three divisions: one in the grave, one in the hospital and one on the line," he said.
But the Ozarks farmboy persevered as the 447th anti-aircraft unit rolled with Patton's Third Armored Division across France. Along the way Hollingsworth fought in other major battles including Huertgen Forest, the Rhineland and the Battle of the Bulge.
As the Allies fought their way into Germany, Hollingsworth saw images of war that are still visit 70 years later. "There were some dead horses, I remember, and a man came out with a pan and a knife and asked if he could cut the hams out of the horses to eat. When we went through the chowline, we rinsed our tin plates at the end, and there would be kids there to collect the rinse water. They would take it home and strain it to get out the pieces of food," he said.
Hollingsworth was in Waldfeschbach, Germany, on May 8, 1945, when the war ended. The officers got a whiskey ration somewhere, and soon "there wasn't a sober guy there to pull guard duty," he said.
He came back to the U.S. in November 1945 on a troop ship that came into Boston Harbor. "I remember they had a boat out there with a band on it, playing as we came in," he said.
The soldiers were advised to call or send a telegram to their families letting them know they were coming home.
His family, which had been living in Oakland, Ark., before the war, had moved to Tulsa and didn't have a phone. So he telegraphed that he was on his way. They were asleep when he slipped through the door about midnight. "Mama heard me come in, and she went to squealin'," he said.
After the war the worked on the construction of Bull Shoals Dam and then moved to Wichita, Kan., to work at Boeing. Next came several years at Baxter Lab in Mountain Home, Ark. His first marriage ended in divorce, and on July 2, 1977, he married Phyllis Fox Evans. A year later, they went to Hawaii on their honeymoon.
They traveled to other far-off placesAlaska, a cruise to Mexicountil advancing age slowed them down. Now they've settled down to enjoy church, eating out and being with their family members. Besides Phyllis's two daughters and their families, who live nearby, Anita lives in Ozark. Alva's son, David Hollingsworth lives in Loveland, Ohio. Altogether, they have seven grandkids and eight great-grandkids.
Hollingsworth was a little reluctant to go on Honor Flight, but now he's glad he went. He and Anita were surprised that when their flight landed at Dulles Airport, another "hometown boy," Jeff Huse of Hardenville, was there to greet them. Jeff lives in the area, Anita said, and he came to meet our plane.
The WWII memorial itself "was wonderful," he said, "but it brought back too many hard memories."
"Everywhere we went," Anita said, "every time the veterans got off the bus, Boy Scouts, military people in fatigues, all these people were saluting Dad and the others and telling them thank you. It was so touching."
One of the most memorable parts of the trip for Hollingsworth was watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery. "He took 21 steps past that tomb, and that gun was never next to the unknown soldier," he said, remembering the specifics as easily as a tour guide. "Since 1922, they've been guarding that tomb in all kinds of weather. That cemetery holds 300,000-plus graves, he said. They average 12 funerals a day."
As they waited to board their flight home, the veterans had "mail call," and each one was handed one or more envelope full of thank you letters from family, friends and schoolchildren, including students at Richards School in West Plains, where Phyllis' niece is a teacher. "I think ever student in the school must have written him a letter. There were 129 of them from that school alone," Phyllis said. Great-grandkids Cooper High and Lauren Suter recruited letter-writers from their schoolmates in Gainesville.
"I think Dad got more mail than anyone else," Anita said. "It took him two days to read them all."
This story was supplemented by information from a story about Hollingsworth written by Mary Ruth Luna Sparks and published in the Times on March 12, 2008.