As a young draftsman for Ford Motor Company, Dale Holland spent many hours dimensioning B-24 blueprints so that the Dearborn automaker, in the process of converting manufacturing plants to serve the war effort, could mass produce the heavy bomber, nicknamed ‘The Liberator’.

At nineteen, he had no idea that he’d soon be piloting the very aircraft he was drawing.

Not that planes were ever far from Holland’s heart: as a boy growing up in the shadow of his father’s Inkster service station he used to fly model aircraft in the then open fields along Cherry Hill Road.  He dreamed of piloting, but his parents had steadfastly refused to sign permission-to-enlist forms, and by 1943, when he turned twenty-one, he enlisted, but had no real hope of mastering the incredibly complex B-24.

Fortunately, the Air Corps had more faith in him than that. 

“I remember the first time I sat in the cockpit,” Holland reminisces in the comfortable rec room of his son-in-law Dave Hellie, “I wrote home to my folks that I doubted I could learn to take off much less fly the thing.  I was overwhelmed.”

But, as part of his Irish pluck and determination, he stuck with it, and went on to fly fifty-nine missions in the South Pacific with the legendary ‘Jolly Rogers’, the 90th Bomb Group.  To this day Holland thinks fondly of his squaron, the 319th, and his crew of ten who he fought along side with. He speaks of them in the highest regard and admires them all to this day. He admits one of his biggest regrets in life is not staying in closer contact with his crew.

Among the notably accomplishments in his illustrious, and by his own admission, ‘totally lucky’ war experience was the successful bombing of the oil refinery at Balikpapan on the east coast of Borneo, then the main source of fuel for the Japanese armed forces.  His success in this mission, which others had tried for months, earned him a letter of commendation from George C. Kenny, commander of the Allied air forces in the Southwest Pacific which he still proudly displays.

That goes well with his purple heart: an award which he maintains, to this day, would have been better offered to his co-pilot.  “The flak came through the window and struck him first,” says Holland.  “It knocked his throat mike off, missed killing him by less than an inch.  It hit my arm, broke the skin, but did no serious damage.  I’ve always felt that my co-pilot was more in the line of fire than I was and should have been given the medal.  Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works.  I bled and he didn’t.”

Having flown his required missions, Holland was set to return home when the decision to invade mainland Japan was reached by top brass in Washington.  His role in this invasion was to drop parachutists onto the Japanese shoreline.  “Not one of us expected to return alive from that mission,” Holland says with a shake of his head.  “The Japanese army was too entrenched, too fierce in defense of their island; they would have fought to the death.  It was only the decision to drop the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki that prevented that invasion from happening.  I have no doubt to this day that I owe my life to Truman.”

On his final B-24 flight in the war, he flew above the devastated countryside around Nagasaki and saw the damage that had been wreaked.  It’s a sight that, however fortunate to his own survival, haunts him to this day.

Asked about his status as a member of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ Holland shakes his head with bemused surprise, typically humble.  “I never heard that term until Tom Brokaw came up with it.  To me, every generation did what they needed to do to improve their world; one isn’t ‘greater’ than another.  And to be perfectly honest, I think today’s generation will have a harder time than we ever did, considering the shape the world is in.”




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