TUSTIN NATIVE Capt Nelson
Miles Holderman was one
of the most decorated U. S. soldiers and a member
of The Lost Battalion during World War I.
As we prepare to celebrate the
three-day weekend which now serves as Memorial Day, it is appropriate to
remember Nelson Holderman, a Tustin native whom many consider to be one of
the most decorated U.S. servicemen in World War I.
His parents, Upton C. and Myra
Holderman, natives of Johnson County, Iowa, came to Tustin in 1893 after
spending 20 years in Nebraska. They bought 20 acres near Tustin High
School’s present location and planted oranges, walnuts and apricots. Before
too long they added 10 acres of walnuts nearby.
The Holdermans had three daughters,
Uppie, Emma and Lyda, and a son, Myron, when they came to Tustin. A second
son was born on Nov. 10, 1885, and named Nelson Miles Holderman after Nelson
Appleton Miles, a Civil War hero and Medal of Honor recipient.
Myron, Nelson and Grant, who was born
after Nelson, all attended Tustin Grammar School while John J. Zielian was
principal thus qualifying for membership in Zeke’s Bunch.
Holderman began his military career
as a private in Santa Ana’s National Guard Unit, Company L. He served from
June to October 1916 on the Mexican border during the time of Pancho Villa’s
In October 1918, Company L was called into active service and sent to France
under the command of Holderman, now a captain. The company was assigned as a
replacement to Company K, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division.
They became involved in the fierce
battles in the Argonne Forest and earned the name The Lost Battalion after
being cut off and surrounded by the enemy for five days. Official
descriptions of the battle noted Capt. Holderman as being wounded on Oct. 4,
5, and 7 but throughout the entire period, “although suffering great pain
and subject to fire of every kind, continuing personally to lead and
encourage the officers and men under his command with unflinching courage
and distinguished success” in a series of counterattacks against a large
attacking German force.
On Oct. 6, although wounded, he
rushed through enemy machine gun and shell fire and carried two wounded men
to safety. His and his company’s actions have been credited as the primary
reason for repeated German attacks failing to capture the position.
Company L returned to Santa Ana and a
rousing welcome during April 1919. At a servicemen’s recognition celebration
attended by 30,000 on Sept. 9, 1919, Capt. Holderman received the Medal of
Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. He also received two Croix de
Guerre medals for his courage and bravery in leading his men.
Hollywood has filmed the story of
“The Lost Battalion” twice; the first time in 1919. A 2001 version has Adam
James playing Cap. Holderman and Rick Shroder starring as his commanding
officer, Major Whittlesey.
After returning to Tustin, Capt.
Holderman rejoined the National Guard and was appointed a colonel. The
governor of California named him commandant of the Yountville Soldier’s Home
in Yountville, Calif., in 1926. Holderman worked tirelessly for the veterans
for over 25 years, building new dorms and other facilities including a
Col. Holderman and his wife, the
former Marguerite Talbot, raised four children while living at the Soldier’s
Home. He served until his death on Sept. 3, 1953. He is buried at Golden
Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, Calif.