Oral History Interview with
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview
Oral History Interview with
June 9, 1987
Niel M. Johnson
JOHNSON: Mr. Holeman, I'm going to begin by asking you to tell us when and where you were born, and what your parents' names are.
HOLEMAN: I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, June 23, 1920. My father's name was James Holeman, and my mother's name was Dixie Hester Holeman.
JOHNSON: And that's where you were educated?
HOLEMAN: I went to public schools in Raleigh, and then I went to the University of North Carolina; graduated in June of 1940 with a BA in Journalism.
JOHNSON: Then what happened?
HOLEMAN: Then I went to New York and starved to death for
nine months or a year, and finally got a job as a copy boy on the New York Daily News.
JOHNSON: And that lasted until...
HOLEMAN: Well, I was sent to Washington on Memorial Day, 1942 as a cub reporter on a theory that I would never be drafted. I worked here for about six months as a reporter; then my Brooklyn draft board heard about my situation, and I was promptly drafted. I went away in January of '43 and came back January of '46.
JOHNSON: But you were here in '42, here in Washington, D.C.
HOLEMAN: Six months of '42. The last six months.
JOHNSON: Did you cover the Roosevelt White House at all?
HOLEMAN: Well, I was in and out. I was just a kid reporter. I was given, eventually, a White House card. I went to the press conferences upon sufferance; you had to stand in the back and say nothing.
JOHNSON: But in the Oval office at the White House?
JOHNSON: And I suppose you were impressed with Roosevelt's handling of the press?
HOLEMAN: Well, yes, but again, I was impressed by everything. I was twenty-three years old.
JOHNSON: Except by the Army, maybe.
HOLEMAN: Oh, yes, I didn't care much for that.
JOHNSON: What kind of service did you have then?
HOLEMAN: I was six feet eight and weighed 150. That shows you how black things were in those days; they drafted me. So they eventually threw me into the Medics. But I got out of there, and served most of the time in the Counter-Intelligence Corps in the Pacific. I was eventually assigned to the 214th Counter-Intelligence Corps Detachment with the headquarters of the XIV Corps. My own outfit went from Brisbane, Australia to Sydney, Australia and back up to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands where we joined the XIV Corps. Then we went on up to the Lingayen operation, landed on Luzon, and then to the occupation of Japan. I had the grand tour.
JOHNSON: Did you ever get to see the U.S.S. Missouri while you were out there?
HOLEMAN: Well, not then, no. We were in a little town of San Jose, Neuva Eicja on Luzon when the war ended. We went from there, and on about September 14 we landed in Sendai, northern Japan. It's on the Island of Honshu, but it's north. I saw the Missouri later; coming back from Rio [de Janeiro] I was on the Missouri.
JOHNSON: You were on the Missouri when it went to Rio?
HOLEMAN: We flew down, and came back on the Missouri.
JOHNSON: I see. Do you have any recollection of August 14, 1945?
HOLEMAN: Oh yes, everybody does. The night that the Japanese surrender offer was announced, we were watching a movie; you know, an outdoor movie around a tent hospital. The movie went off and the lights came up, and they said, "This is Major Reginald Jackson, Public Relations Officer, XIV Corps. United Press has just carried a flash; Japan has offered to surrender." The question was whether we would take it, and let the Emperor remain
and all of this. I never will forget, there was a sonofabitch named Kilgore, who was a Senator from West Virginia, and who did not want to stop the war. He wanted us to keep fighting.
JOHNSON: Harley Kilgore?
HOLEMAN: I forget what his name was, but he went to see Truman, told him not to accept this offer, because half of his state was in war plants, you see.
JOHNSON: I hadn't heard that one before.
HOLEMAN: Well, it's true. All you've got to do is look at the newspapers at the time.
JOHNSON: How about April 12th, when Roosevelt died?
HOLEMAN: Well, I was in the hospital again, on April 12, down in a little place just south of Manila. Everybody got sick two or three times. This time I had jaundice. I never will forget; there came a notice on the loudspeaker, "We have just received word"--whatever source it was--"that President Roosevelt has died." And the guy in the bed next to me said, "Slim, I don't believe that shit, do you?" Nobody could believe that Roosevelt was dead.
JOHNSON: Thought he was immortal, huh?
HOLEMAN: Well, he had been alive all our time. He had been running the country for all the time we were grown.
JOHNSON: I suppose they said, "Harry Who?"
HOLEMAN: Well, we hadn't gotten around to him yet.
JOHNSON: When you heard the bombing, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, what was the reaction?
HOLEMAN: Well, we were all for anything that would end the war. You see, our outfit, we already knew, was slated for what was going to be called operation Coronet, which was the invasion of the main islands of Japan. We had been weighed and measured and assigned ships. So the first landing, as we understood it, was going to be a landing on Kyushu, which is a southern island, but that was a feint. The main assault was going to come on the Kanto Plain, just around Tokyo, and the XIV Corps was in there.
JOHNSON: You were in Counter-Intelligence?
HOLEMAN: Yes, but we were attached...
JOHNSON: So you had more information than most.
HOLEMAN: No, no. We didn't have any. You know, we just had scuttlebutt. This could all be checked somewhere, but we believe that was the case. We knew we had been weighed, how many pounds and how many cubic feet, and assigned ships. So we were going to be in on the invasion, and we were the boys who were going to get hit.
JOHNSON: When did you come back then to the States?
HOLEMAN: We left Sendai in November, and forty days later, on Christmas Eve of '45, we landed in Galveston. We came on an empty Liberty ship, with their merchant gun crews, you know. Only 14 GIs were on it; we had a wonderful trip home.
JOHNSON: Did you go around the tip of South Africa?
HOLEMAN: No, through the Canal.
HOLEMAN: It's a town about like Baltimore, north of Tokyo. It's in Tohoku Prefecture; it's the site of the University of Sendai.
JOHNSON: When did you get your discharge?
HOLEMAN: January 1, 1946, at Fort Bragg. I couldn't get out fast enough.
JOHNSON: What did you do then?
HOLEMAN: Immediately back to the Washington Bureau of the News. I had gotten a letter, after the surrender, from the head of the Washington Bureau, saying did I want to come back to the Bureau, or go to New York. I said I would like very much to come back to the Bureau. So they let me back.
JOHNSON: Where were you located here in Washington with the Bureau?
HOLEMAN: In Room 1272 of the National Press Building.
JOHNSON: The building we're in right now.
JOHNSON: What was your first job then?
HOLEMAN: Well, the first hearing I covered was a hearing where Averell Harriman went up on the Hill. He was
then Secretary of Commerce, I think. I went up, wrote the story, scared to death. But the woman who was running the Bureau that day, Ruth Montgomery, was very kind to me. She cleared the thing through and just said, "It's too damn long," but nothing outside of that. So I was back in business.
JOHNSON: That was your first article.
HOLEMAN: After returning home from the war. I had written for six months before getting into the war. I covered the Battle of Midway, from Constitution Avenue, you know, from communiqués.
JOHNSON: So Harriman was the first Truman appointee that you really got familiar with.
HOLEMAN: Covered, yes.
JOHNSON: What was your primary job?
HOLEMAN: We had a roving assig