Remembering Capt. Nelson Holderman of the Lost Battalion

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

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 raids.

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 hospital.

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.

 

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