By David Fleet
(Editor’s note, BHS student Noah Cox contributed to this story).
During the very early hours of July 13, 1944, Coolidge Holt and his best friend Leo Flood were trying to get some sleep in the slip trenches they dug in on a battle field in Italy.
“They both tossed and turned through the night unable to sleep,” wrote Denise Bielan a resident of Dacula, Ga. and the daughter of Holt.
“Daddy was taller than Leo and Leo’s trench was longer. Leo said ‘Holt, let’s swap places’ . . . Not long after the swap heavy combat ensued and a round of mortar fire came in. Leo was hit and killed. Daddy was hit in his shoulder with shrapnel but kept fighting. By afternoon he was hit again this time in the right foot and left knee. His machine gun disabled. He could no longer fight so he hunkered down as the combat continued and waited for medics to arrive. The medics arrived in the early morning hours of July 14.”
Bielan’s discription of the Holt and Flood World War II experice is the result of her research and the work of Brandon High School Junior Noah Cox who spent several months tracking the life of Pvt. Flood. In September, Flood was one of three 2017 inductees for the Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame honoring former Brandon High School and Ortonville High School graduates.
“Daddy did not speak of his WWII experience with his family often but when he did he always mentioned his best friend, Leo Flood,” said Bielan, who found the Flood story posted on The Citizen newspaper website and responded earlier this month. “He never mentioned, and I never asked, when he actually met Leo (Flood). My sisters and I have always felt if not for Leo (Flood) there would not have been an ‘us.’ I don’t think a Veterans Day past that we didn’t remember Leo and his family. Daddy is a good man and lived a good life. One that I think Leo would be proud of. Our thoughts of Leo have always been – “Greater love hath no man that he gives his life for a friend. Lest we forget.”
The path to war torn Italy for both Flood and Holt differed.
“Flood graduated in 1943 from what was then Ortonville High School and was immediately drafted into WW II,” said Noah Cox, who researched his Army career. “After receiving training in Georgia, he became part of the famed 88th infantry division of the army, helping liberate Italy from Nazi
Holt, a Byrdstown, Tenn. native was drafted into the Army Aug 15, 1943 – he was 18 years old and just six weeks into his senior year in high school.
“He had never spent more than a few days away from his childhood home in Byrdstown, Tenn.,” she said.
After Ft, Oglethorpe Ga., he went to Camp Blanding, Fla. In Feb 1944 he began a 26 day voyage on the Joseph Hewes from Charleston, S.C. to Naples, Italy. In late March/early April, 1944 – they landed in the devastated harbor of Naples. After a rough 25 mile train ride to Santa Maria, Italy, southeast of Naples, they arrived at a replacement depot in Santa Maria, Italy. The “repo camp” was once Mussolini’s dairy farm.
On July 13, approximately four months after arriving in Italy, the 349th regiment, 88th Infantry division, Company H had a “mountain to take.” As they battled north the mountain became known as Bloody Ridge.
The 88th became known as the “Blue Devils” because the Germans said they fought like devils. Both Flood and Holt were assigned to Lt. General Mark Clark’s 5th Army, Company H, 88th Infantry division.
Both men received Purple Hearts—Flood earned the Silver Star while Holt the Bronze Star. Flood is buried in the Oxford Cemetery. His bravery in action was shared in the book titled, Blue Devils in Italy.
Through letters and conversations with other 88th Infantry soldiers throughout the years they would recall how kind a person Flood was – one soldier remembering how he was assigned to Company H without the proper provisions. Flood took him in, shared his blanket, and helped him until provisions arrived.
“He later told daddy he thought of Leo (Flood) often throughout the years and would always remember his kindness,” said Bielan.
Holt spent the next two months in a field hospital somewhere in Italy. He was transported back to the states on a hospital ship from the harbor in Naples. Holt wrote that the harbor in Naples was a devastation scene, workers were dirty, no soap to wash with, the harbor was almost destroyed, sunken ships with masts were sticking out of the water. Nine days later he landed in Charleston, S.C. “What a beautiful America – lest we forget,” he recalls saying.
Holt spent several months in a hospital in Charleston and then moved to Louisville, Ky. where he had surgery on his feet and leg. He spent 18 months recuperating.
Honorably discharged at the age of 20 he returned to Byrdstown, Tenn. – soldiers were told to not dwell on the war and their combat experience, to get on with living, and to live a good life.
Today, Holt is 93 years old and resides in a nursing home in Manchester, Tenn.