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Memorial Day reflections: A salute to one and a dedication to six

Columnist Loren Else says America is the land of the free thanks to brave souls such as Bill Hollander.

Boomer Grandpa — Loren Else column sig
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On September 11, 2001, Bill Hollander, a high school principal, was on the phone with the local Marine Corps recruiting office. Bill, who left active duty from the Marines in 1990, wanted back in. He needed to answer the call after America was attacked.

Hollander photo.jpg
Capt. Bill Hollander, left, and an Afghan army captain surveying ambush damage to Humvee in this undated photo.
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The Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fi,” means "Always faithful" – lifetime commitment to each other and country. The Corps told him he was too old. Bill was 40. He kept showing up at the recruiting center every few months, always being told, “You’re too old."

Bill grew up in Iowa in a “Beaver Cleaver” type family. His parents were engaged in their church and community. Their example of service to others had a profound effect on him.

The family call to military service was strong. His father served as a Nike Nuclear Missile base commander during the Cold War. One uncle served in WWII, and two served in Korea.

After high school, Bill attended college. While at Luther College in 1985, he met Sara during a college blood drive. Sara was soon heading to graduate school in Washington D.C. Bill was on his way to Quantico, Virginia, for Officer’s Candidate School training, so the relationship continued.

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One summer, Sara and Bill volunteered together at Holden Village, located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Holden Village is a center for renewal and is associated with Lutheran ministry. Surrounded by this beautiful setting, Bill and Sara became engaged and were married on April 25, 1987, in Milaca, Minn.

With his college degree, Bill was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Bill would serve in the U.S. Marines from August 1986 to March 1990. He left the Corps shortly before Operation Desert Storm. When he saw his former Marine brothers and sisters going to war, he carried much guilt that he wasn’t with them.

After 9/11, Bill had to find a way to serve again. The Iowa Army National Guard did not tell Bill he was too old. After 18 years of being out of uniform, he raised his right hand and took an oath again to defend the United States.

Capt. Hollander was away from his family throughout his training and deployment for 28 out of 32 months. His tour in Afghanistan was from August 2010 to August 2011.

On April 16, 2011, Bill’s base, Forward Operating Base Gamberi, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan, was attacked by a suicide bomber.

On that day, Bill assisted in loading the remains of five Americans from the 101st on a helicopter so they could begin their journey back home to rest among their loved ones. One soldier would die of his wounds two days later.

Families back home, including Bill’s, knew there had been an attack, but all had to wait for an official account. Communications were shut down until next-of-kin were notified. The Hollander family did not receive word that Bill was safe for five days. That wait, for Sara and the kids, was brutal.

Bill is proud of his service and its example to his family and the students at the school where he worked. He was honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with young soldiers during Operation Enduring Freedom. Bill relished his role as a mentor to Afghan soldiers.

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His service was an inspiration to his daughter, Ana. She obtained a master’s in social work and is specializing in serving veterans and their families, and oversees a program for homeless veterans through the Salvation Army.

Yesterday was Memorial Day. This is the day to honor those who have died in service to the United States of America.

I know Bill was thinking of his fellow soldiers and praying for their families. This column is dedicated to the memory of Army Capt. Charles E. Ridgley, Jr.; Army Sgt. Sonny J. Moses; Sgt. Linda L. Pierre; Spc. Joseph B. Cemper; Sgt. 1st Class Charles L. Adkins; and Army Staff Sgt. Cynthia R. Taylor.

Elmer Dave, reporter and author from the days of World War II, said, “This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”

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Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s “Day in History” column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at news@postbulletin.com .

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