Californians and the Military
Colonel Nelson Miles Holderman
Medal Of Honor Recipient
by
Nathaniel T. Robertson
Regimental Historian, 185 th Armor Regiment
 
 
Colonel Holderman entered service in the California National Guard as Private, advanced to noncommissioned officer, and was later elected as a Lieutenant in Company L, 7th California Infantry Regiment. In 1916, he served with the Regiment during Mexican Border Service, and later organized into Company L, 160th Infantry, assigned to the 40th Division. He and his whole company were assigned as replacements to Company K, 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and the California Medal for Valor for his actions during the period 2-8 October 1918, while Commanding Company K, 307th Infantry Regiment of the "The Lost Battalion". He was wounded on 4th, 5th, and 7th October, although suffering great pain and subjected to fire of every character, he continued to personally lead and inspire the officers and men under his command. On 5 October, in a wounded condition he left the safety of his position to lead a series of counter attacks against a large attacking German force.
 
During the last of these attacks, while in great pain and bleeding from his wounds; he stood in the open so his men could see him moving towards the aggressors, affixing his bayonet; then blasting away with his rifle, whooping and hollering whenever he scored a hit. Inspired by this incredible display of unflinching courage, his exhausted and demoralized men started firing and joining the counter attack. This unexpected action halted pinning down the attackers until they retreated; thus again preventing the positions from being enveloped. On 6 October, in a wounded condition and at great personal risk, he rushed through enemy machinegun and shell fire, and carried two wounded comrades to a place of safety. On the afternoon of 7 October, he and one other man,with only pistols and band grenades alone and single handed, met and dispersed an attacking enemy platoon; when they attempted to close in on the right flank while at the same time making a frontal attack. He killed and wounded most of the attacking enemy, thus saving two machineguns from capture as well as preventing the envelopment of the position.
 
That night the Germans used flame-throwers during their last all-out assault against his position. Although he was wounded and in a serious condition he remained on his feet, keeping the firing line organized, inspiring and leading his men preventing the envelopment of the position by a enemy superior force. He refused to let his wounds interfere with his duty until after relief was effected. The successful defense of the position was largely due to his courage. He personally led his men out of the position to the rear after the relief arrived and before permitting his wounds to be attended. The courageous optimism and inspiring bravery of this officer encouraged his men to a successful resistance in spite of five days fighting, hunger and exposure." Colonel Holderman and his Company's actions have been credited as the primary reason why repeated German attacks failed, and the position was never captured.
 
Colonel Nelson Miles Holderman, was born 10 November 1885, died 3 September 1953, buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, San Mateo County, California. After the war he returned to California, rejoined the National Guard and was appointed a Colonel. In 1926, the Governor of California appointed him the Commandant of the California Yountville Soldier's Home, where he served until his death in 1953. The "Colonel Holderman Years" was considered very successful. He built new dorms, buildings, hospital, and expanded the entire facility. Colonel Holderman was considered by many as the most decorated soldier of World War I, but never used his fame for personal gain. Many said of him, that he was honorable, generous, selfless, and worked tirelessly for veterans and his Country.
Major Charles Whittlesey 's Recommendation
 
Major Whittlesey, when making his recommendation for the award of the Congressional Medal of Honor to Captain Nelson M. Holderman, whom he designated to command and conduct the defense of the right wing and right flank of the position, had the following to say:
"While in command of Company K, 307th Infantry which company held the right flank of the force consisting of six companies of the 308th Infantry, two platoons of the 306th Machine Gun Battalion and Company K, 307th Infantry, and which force was cut off and surrounded by the enemy for five days and nights in the Forest d'Argonne, France, from October 2nd to October 7th, 1918. Captain Nelson M. Holderman though wounded early in the siege and suffering great pain continued throughout the entire period leading and encouraging the officers and men under his command. He was wounded on the 4th of October but remained in action during all attacks made by the enemy upon the position, personally leading his men, himself remaining exposed to fire of every character. He was again wounded on the 5th of October, but continued personally organizing and directing the defense of the right flank against enemy attacks. During the entire period he personally supervised the care of the wounded exposing himself to shell and machine gunfire that he might help and encourage his men to hold the position. On October 6th, though in a wounded condition he rushed through shell and machine gun fire and carried two wounded men to a place of safety. This officer though wounded, continued to direct the defense of the right flank and on the 7th of October was again wounded but continued in action. On the afternoon of October 7th this officer and one man, with pistols and band grenades alone and single handed, met and dispersed a body of the enemy, killing and wounding most of the party, when they attempted to close in on the right flank while their forces were at the same time making a frontal attack, thus saving two machine gum from capture as well as preventing the envelopment of the right flank. Again on the evening of the 7th of October and during the last attack made by the enemy upon the position, a liquid fire attack was directed or the right flank; though in a wounded and serious condition Captain Holderman remained on his feet, keeping the firing line organized and preventing the envelopment of the right flank. He refused to let his wounds interfere with his duty until after relief was effected. The successful defense of the position was largely due to his courage. He personally led his men out of the position after assistance arrived and before permitting himself to be attended. The courageous optimism and inspiring bravery of this officer encouraged his men to a successful resistance in spite of five days fighting, hunger and exposure."

 

 

 
After Captain Holderman was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Major Whittlesey wrote him the following letter:
 
 

 

    Dear Captain Holderman:
     
    To my great delight I have just received a notification of the award to you of the Medal of Honor. I am enclosing herewith the carbon copy, although I know the information will have reached you direct.
     
    This is the finest news in the world and I am looking forward with eagerness to passing it on to George McMurtry.
     
    I wish I could be on hand to see you decorated.
     
    Let me hear from you when you can.
     
    With best wishes, as ever,
                    Sincerely yours,
                     
                    Charles W. Whittlesey.
"
 

 
The Medal of Honor
 
Rank at time of receipt: Captain, U.S. Army
 
Unit: 307th Infantry Regiment, 77th Division
 
Place and date: Northeast of Binarville, in the forest of Argonne, France, 2-8 October 1918
 
Entered service at: Santa Ana, California.
 
Born: Trumbell, Nebraska
 
Medal credited to: California
 
Authority: War Department General Order 11, 1921
 
Citation
 
Captain Holderman commanded a company of a battalion which was cut off and surrounded by the enemy. He was wounded on 4, 5, and 7 October, but throughout the entire period, suffering great pain and subjected to fire of every character, he continued personally to lead and encourage the officers and men under his command with unflinching courage and with distinguished success. On 6 October, in a wounded condition, he rushed through enemy machinegun and shell fire and carried 2 wounded men to a place of safety.