TSgt Holland Memorial
Toledo City Park, Toledo, Washington
On September 6th, 2008, the Toledo, Washington Lions Club dedicated a memorial to TSgt Melvin Holland. Two years later they added a Veterans Wall of Honor. If you would like to add a brick to the wall, complete this form.
40 years later, a sense of closure in Toledo
Sep 5, 2008
TOLEDO — Ann Holland has spent 40 years wondering what really happened to her husband on a top secret mission in Laos during the Vietnam war. She still has more questions than answers, but she says Saturday’s dedication of a MIA memorial here will at last bring some sense of closure.
“It’s been 40 years and the Air Force should have done something like this a long time ago, but they never will,” Holland, who now lives in Woodland, said Wednesday. “But this is completely awesome. My kids and I have needed something like this for a long time.”
The memorial, built by the Toledo Lions Club, honors not only Toledo native Tech Sgt. Melvin Holland but all of the 10 men still missing from the Site 85 radar station mission in Laos. The area was attacked on March 11, 1968. Ever since Ann Holland said the government has been trying to cover up its mistakes instead of searching for answers.
The work at Site 85 was secret because at the time America wasn’t supposed to be operating in Laos, which borders Vietnam. Laos was dragged into the war because the North Vietnamese Army used Laotian territory as a staging ground and supply route for its war against the South.
Both the men who volunteered and their wives had to sign secrecy agreements barring them from discussing it even with relatives or members of the clergy.
For months after the attack, Holland wasn’t even allowed to tell Mel’s sisters or her children that he was missing.
Fed up with the secrecy, Holland went public with her concerns in a 1970 Daily News article. She also sued the government in 1978, though the case was eventually dropped because it was past the statute of limitations.
Twelve men initially were unaccounted for after the battle. One, Richard Etchberger, died shortly after being rescued. In 2005 the remains of another man, Tech. Sgt. Patrick L. Shannon, were found and returned to his family in Oklahoma. Holland believes the others may have been taken captive and has even heard rumors they were transferred to Russia and could still be alive. She travels to Washington, D.C., frequently to review records and ferret out more information.
“We still don’t know what happened to him,” Holland said of her husband. “Maybe he did die on March 11, but I know, I’m absolutely positive that they could not account for everybody on that hill and I don’t know which ones.”
The attack and lingering questions about the men’s fate are chronicled in the book “One Day Too Late” by Timothy Castle. In it, he lauds Holland’s relentless work to get answers for the families and laments that so much remains unknown. Castle can’t attend Saturday’s ceremony but does plan to visit the memorial when he gets a chance. A letter from him will be read during the dedication.
“While there still is much to know, this memorial stands as a lasting tribute to her love,” Castle wrote of Holland.
The idea for the Toledo memorial came about during a casual conversation with a relative who knew Mel Holland, said Ron Smith of the Lion’s Club. Mel was born in Vader and grew up in Toledo. He was part of the Toledo High Class of 1954 but dropped out before graduation and had enlisted in the Air Force by January of 1954.
Ann, orphaned at age 13, says Mel’s fun-loving personality and love made her “believe in the human race again,” after years of a hardscrabble existence on her own. He moved Ann and their five children to Woodland before shipping overseas. They had been married 11 years.
Intrigued, Smith tracked Ann Holland down at her Woodland home and asked her to speak at a Lion’s Club meeting.
“And we were all on the edge of our seats,” he said of her speech about the mission, the attack and her quest for a answers.
From there, it only seemed fitting to erect a memorial honoring the service of Mel and all the men at Site 85.
The wood and concrete memorial, designed by Lions member Mike Morgan, features Mel’s picture, a list of all of the men’s names and a synopsis of the March 11 events. A flag pole displays the American flag as well as the POW/MIA flag.
“The thing that stuck in my mind is I can’t think of anything worse that not knowing,” Smith said. “Ann’s family just never knows what happened. There’s no closure that way. I can’t imagine it.”
Holland said she was blown away with the Lions generosity and added its only fitting that the memorial be in Washington. In addition to her husband one of the men, Staff Sgt. David S. Price, is from Centralia and another, Staff Sgt. Herbert A. Kirk, lived for a time with his grandmother in Tacoma.
“Out of the 50 men picked for the whole assignment, three were from Washington state and two were from Lewis County,” she said. “And they were the cream of the crop, that’s why they got picked for this.”
Holland will attend Saturday’s dedication with four of her five children — one son is too ill from surgery complications to travel. Also present will be Mel’s large extended family and several retired military men who knew Mel.
Holland has already seen the memorial but said she knows seeing it Saturday with her children will be especially emotional. She hopes the day is a celebration of Mel and what he meant to people. And she said she can’t thank the Lions enough for making the day possible.
“My husband always wanted to come back to Toledo,” she said, choking up with tears. “And how I feel about it is that now the Lions Club has brought him home.”
The MIA memorial dedication starts at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Toledo city park at the intersection of Cedar and South Sixth streets. At 11 a.m. the large Holland family will hold a reunion at the park. All friends and family are welcome to attend, share stories and catch up.