“Amazing Grace” could be heard echoing through the Florence National Cemetery on Monday morning as Sgt. John Charlton Holladay at last was laid to rest in the place he called home for much of his life.
Holladay, a Florence Marine, was killed in action in 1943 in the South Pacific by a sniper during World War II. His remains were discovered recently by a local person on New Georgia Island in the British Solomon Islands and identified through DNA sampling.
Sunshine beamed down on more than 100 family members, friends, civilians and active duty and veteran servicemen who gathered to pay their respects for Holladay in the graveside service with full military honors.
Daniel Holladay Jr., of Columbia, one of Holladay’s nephews, said the return of his uncle’s body was completely unexpected, but it has felt wonderful to be able to say he is home.
“He’s here,” Daniel said, gesturing at the flag-draped casket. “Amazing. Simply amazing.”
He went on to say that Holladay was a part of what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.”
“And great they were,” Daniel agreed.
Holladay was remembered Monday as a leader. He joined the Marine Corps in early 1942 after learning of the bombing at Pearl Harbor and subsequent declaration of war. He was 29 years old, as compared to many of his fellow servicemen who joined as teenagers.
“Sgt. Holladay made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Navy chaplain Jack Carmody, who led the service. “He laid down his life for his friends, sure, but for our country. He laid down his life for people he would never meet.”
Carmody reminded the crowd of the reality of Holladay’s sacrifice. Without it, the chaplain said, “we might not be here today.”
A great debt of gratitude is owed to Holladay and his fellow servicemen, Carmody said.
“We celebrate today, and we know that he is in a better place not because he gave his life for his country, though he did. He’s in a better place not because he was a war hero, though he was,” Carmody said. “… He is in heaven because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”
In an emotional moment at the service’s conclusion, Jack Holladay, another one of Holladay’s nephews, was given the carefully folded American flag that covered the casket on its journey to South Carolina by a member of the Marines. It was Jack’s DNA that was used to confirm Holladay’s identity.
He was also given a letter of recognition from President Barack Obama.
“John Holladay was a fearless soldier, a good friend and a good Marine,” Daniel said.
And his uncle serves as a reminder for all to “seize the day, make the most of it and be the best you can be.”