Pearl Harbor survivor gets 100-year salute - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Pearl Harbor survivor gets 100-year salute

December 19th, 2021 development
Pearl Harbor survivor gets 100-year salute

By Ken Sain, Staff Writer

Senators, congressmen and mayors were all in on the secret. Most folks in the city knew there was going to be a surprise party Dec. 11 for one of Sun Lakes’ most notable citizens’ 100th birthday.

The one person who didn’t know, right up to the start of the party, was World War II veteran Jack Holder.

“Completely surprised,” the Navy veteran said. “I had no idea where it was going to be, what it was going to be.”

How did they keep it a secret?

“It’s been very difficult for me, because I go everywhere with him,” said Darlene Tryon, Holder’s program manager. She told Holder she would have dinner with him and some friends as the ruse to get him to the party.

But that was just one secret. There was also the parade through his Sun Lakes community on Sunday and other events planned to mark his 100th year.

Most residents know Holder’s story as he has been featured many times. He was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and survived the surprise bombing by Japanese planes by jumping into a ditch with a shipmate.

They clung to each other during the bombing and while one plane tried to kill them with its machine gun. When it was over they stood up and saw what was left of their base.

“When I came out, I saw devastation I’ll never forget,” he said during a 2020 interview.

Holder returned to Hawaii earlier this month for the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“At 10 a.m. that morning, about the same time as the attack ended, we got Jack to walk back to his hangar,” said Dennis Gardner, who has researched Holder’s life. “This man, 80 years later, we said, ‘Jack, where were you standing?’ He goes, ‘Right there,’ and walked straight to the spot and stood there.”

The hangar is now used by the SEAL Team security forces. Gardner said when he walked into his old hangar, they stopped and stared in awe.

That was just the start of his service in World War II. He went on to sink two enemy submarines and participated in the Battle of Midway.

“As far as we can tell, in World War II the Navy issued 2,000 Distinguished Crosses,” Gardner said. “Jack has two of them.”

The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to individuals who achieve acts of heroism or extraordinary achievement while in aerial flight.

After the war he became a commercial pilot while living in California. He moved to Arizona in 1991 to start his retirement.

Gardner said Holder has spoken to more than 30,000 school children about his life, inspiring new generations.

And that is why Mayor Kevin Hartke, Congressman Andy Biggs and a member of Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s staff were all present at the Dec. 11 birthday party.

“You deserve to be celebrated, you are an Arizona treasure,” Sinema wrote to Holder. Her veterans and military outreach coordinator, Kelly Mills, read the letter at the party.

“Few have enjoyed such a milestone, and fewer still have lived such a distinguished and remarkable life,” Biggs said. “You have always stood apart.”

“We look forward to seeing you again and again, as you remind us of our values of what’s true in our nation, and what’s honorable,” Hartke said.

A group of motorcycle riders escorted Holder’s car into the Phoenix Veterans of Foreign Wars post for the surprise party. All the guests were waiting for him outside and greeted him with American flags, a color guard and both Boy and Girl scouts.

Guests lined up for photos with Holder, others asked for him to sign his autobiography, and some just wanted to shake his hand. The Sun City Poms performed.

The party was just the start of events marking 100 years. One of the others is a relatively new tradition, one he started a few years ago. Each year on his birthday he returns to the air, taking flight from Mesa’s Falcon Field.

Holder said he enjoys the flight.

And that’s no secret.


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