We lost an American hero on Saturday, Dec. 12, one who lived right here among us in Logan County, and one who was as gracious and humble as they come. Elizabeth Traughber Holman of Adairville died six days ago at the age of 97. She lived a long and interesting life to say the least, one in which she contributed much more than people would ever understand by just looking at her.
I had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Holman in July of 2013, and I can say it was one of the highlights of my career. Meeting someone of her caliber, and being able to hear first hand what she had accomplished and been through, was something I will carry with me the rest of my life.
Elizabeth lived a life like most, marrying the love of her life James “Pope” Holman for 56 years, and raising their daughter Debby together as she worked as a nurse with a local doctor’s office. She wasn’t a sit down kind of woman, working side by side with her husband on their farm in Adairville. She was a faithful member of Oak Grove Baptist Church, the oldest living member at the time of her death, and came to know many in her almost century of living here on earth.
What most do not know about Elizabeth is what she did between 1942 and 1946. For four years she stood out and made a difference she could never have imagined, even at her death. It’s like the Christmas special “It’s a Wonderful Life” where a man really doesn’t realize the effect he has on so many other lives while living his own. The lives that were saved because of Mrs. Holman will never been known to us, but those lives who brought other lives about, and the wonderful things accomplished because of it, are her legacy that will stay long after she is gone.
Against her father’s wishes, Elizabeth joined the United States Army on Oct. 5, 1942, during World War II and served until Jan. 27, 1946. During my interview with Mrs. Holman she told me that when she came home and told her father she was joining the Army, he said that it was crazy, and to forget about it, that women didn’t go off to war. After receiving a letter telling her that her country needed her, she knew she needed to go, and quickly packed her bags, kissed her family goodbye and left her little town of Adairville for a ship overseas.
She was assigned to the 1st US Army 5th Evacuation Hospital Unit, starting her training at Camp Rucker, Ala. and finishing at Camp Miles Standish, Mass. Her unit disembarked from Boston in Dec. of 1943 on the British cruise ship, “The Sterling Castle.” The unit disembarked Southhampton, England for the landing at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France on D+6. During the next 10 months, the 5th Evacuation unit served through southern Normandy, NE France, Eastern Belgium, and eventually crossed the Rhine River over the Remagen Bridge on March 26, 1945. After VE Day, the unit was in Central Germany at Gotha.
Lieutenant Traughber was one of 19 nurses who treated wounded casualties. During the 10 months after the Normandy invasion, the 5th Evacuation Unit admitted 25,544 patients and performed over 8,900 operations. Many of their duties were done in tents very close to the front lines.
During WWII nurses worked closer to the front lines than they ever had before. Within the “chain of evacuation” established by the Army Medical Department during the war, nurses served under fire in field hospitals and evacuation hospitals, on hospital trains and hospital ships, and as flight nurses on medical transport planes. The skill and dedication of these nurses contributed to the extremely low post-injury mortality rate among American military forces in every theater of the war. It was because of Holman and others like her that America’s sons and fathers made it home from the war alive.
One night Holman’s hospital was bombed and she had to stay in a fox hole. She remembers the buzz bombs going off above her and the artillery exploding around her. She said after a while you kind of resigned to the fact you probably weren’t going to make it out alive.
Before leaving Germany, Lieutenant Traughber was eyewitness to the atrocities of the Nazi Death Camp of Buchenwald. Buchenwald was one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps on German soil, following Dachau’s opening just over four years earlier. Between April 1938 and April 1945, some 238,380 people of various nationalities including 350 western allied prisoners of war (POW’s) were incarcerated in Buchenwald. One estimate places the number of deaths at 56,000.
“It was horrible,” said Holman, who still cringed as the thoughts of her memory during our interview. “There were bodies piled everywhere, in the fields, on the grounds, in the gas chambers, just horrible.” Holman couldn’t spend much time talking about this memory as it cursed her thoughts like so many that saw it.
By the end of the war Elizabeth was awarded the European Theater Ribbon with 5 battle stars, the American Theater Ribbon, and the Meritorious Unit Citation. She served with distinction during the invasion of France, The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, and the March into Germany until the war’s end. Not bad for a small town girl from Adairville.
I say farewell to an American hero. Your life was a testimony to patriotism and humanitarianism, and because of you many great things will now come to pass.
To contact Chris Cooper, email [email protected] or call 270-726-8394.