Matthew Holley was one week shy of turning 17 when 9/11 hit, and it changed his life. He came from a line of military service men and women for four generations on each side, and realizing that a profound threat to our freedom had now reached our shores, he chose to enlist. He became a medic with the 101st Airborne out of Ft. Campbell, KY and was serving in Taji, which was a little over 20 miles away from where I was at the time. In November of 2005, Matthew was killed by an IED, (Improvised Explosive Device) and as nightmarish as that was for his parents, what would have happened next would have only made it worse.
When Specialist Holley’s body was sent home, there was no plan to have the standard honor guard greet his casket and unload it from the transport. Instead, the plan was to unload it from the belly of a commercial airplane by using a fork lift, and move it around as though it were a shipment of building materials. His parents, both of whom were ex-mil and who knew who to call, intervened before the flight arrived, and an honor guard was there waiting when he did.
They were fully aware that other parents who did not have the same experience and resources would have faced the same thing, so even in the midst of their grief, they sprang into action. John Holley contacted his Congressman, Duncan Hunter of California, who then turned to the Secretary of Defense at the time, Donald Rumsfeld. Congress ultimately passed a law known as the Holley Provision, which would insure that unless a family requested it, caskets returning from any theatre of combat would not be flown commercially and stowed amongst the baggage, and an honor guard would be there to meet each flight.
An airline official said the following: “You just don’t do that,” he said. (Referring to treating caskets like baggage.) “And doing that with a family watching it, they don’t want to see their son’s casket being unloaded with a forklift or a belt loader, and this is what Congress saw.”
President George Bush signed the bill into law, and the Holleys began their long journey toward healing. Part of that healing process was to go with Move America Forward at Christmastime to visit the troops. Talk about going into the eye of the storm! To go back to the same area where their son and only child gave the ultimate sacrifice had to have been extraordinarily difficult.
John and Stacey have written a wonderful book that starts with the end of Matthew’s life, goes back to the beginning of their only child’s brief sojourn on this earth, chronicles their trip to Iraq and their encounter with a guide who had spent seven months hanging in a dislocate while being tortured by Saddam’s goons. The name of it is Medals, Flags and Memories. It is also a story of faith in the Savior that has only grown stronger. I believe it would make a wonderful gift in this time that we remember the birth of a Savior who gave everything that we might be free.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner