As part of Les Femmes du Monde‘s Soup and Salad Series, World War II vet and POW Jim Holzem was the guest speaker at the Tuesday, July 29 event. The series has really grown in popularity with Garland Cohlmia‘s home filled to the max including Tincy Miller, Regina Bruce and Les Femmes du Monde President Alyce Heinrich. Here’s a report from the field on Jim’s talk:
“The speaker, Jim Holzem, was a 92-year-old retired architect who graduated from Rice University and served with the 11th Airborne Division in World War II. He was fascinating and everyone just loved him.
“He was in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He wanted to enlist in the Marines, but wasn’t 18. When he graduated from high school, he was drafted into the Army. When he was given an opportunity to join a paratroop group, he took advantage of it and joined the 11th Airborne, the only paratroop group to operate at that point.
“After basic, he was sent to the Pacific. The Japanese were brutal with prisoners. They had a huge prison in Manila area and they rounded up all of the families that were there, not only American, but families that were working there, missionaries, etc., all sorts of different people. There were so many, the prison didn’t hold them all. Japanese built another prison and transferred 3,000 of them to the new prison. As time went on the rations got less and less, people were sick and dying. Finally, the Japanese realized they were going to lose the war. They dug a huge long trench by the second prison which then held 2,147 prisoners. They were going to line them all up and kill them the next day. US Intelligence found out. The 11th Airborne parachuted in behind enemy lines and all of the prisoners were rescued. The rescue was never really publicized because at the same time, the four Marines were putting the flag up on Iwo Jima and media was focused on that.
“As the former prisoners were boarding the evacuation train, Jim had gone back into the prison and found a toy box. When he opened it up, there were two mini giraffes, which were obviously handmade. He put one in each pocket and brought them home.
“Since this story had not been publicized, The History Channel heard of it and started contacting the 11th Airborne. Half of them are now deceased. He and others collaborated with them and The History Channel published the story of the prisoners rescue.
“As Jim was being interviewed, he talked about the two giraffes that he had taken out of the toy box and put in his pockets. A lady who was one of the prisoners saw the program. She and her sister had played with those giraffes. For three years, that was all they had. Her mother had made those giraffes. She got in touch with Jim and asked him if there was any way she could get those back. He promptly mailed them to her.”