August 24, 1924 (Connecticut) – October 23, 1944; 20 years old; unmarried
Last local address: 200 East Avenue, Norwalk
Enlisted November 16, 1942
Service number: 13157372
Unit: 82nd Airborne Division, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, E Company
Missing in Action (MIA); DPAA classifies the case as “Active Pursuit“
Born to Robert A. Sr. (1890-1946) and Elizabeth Holmes (1901-2000). Brother Robert A. III (1923-2015) and sister Susan P. Holmes Spear (1934-2007).
Awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
From the Connecticut Military Portrait Collection, Connecticut State Library, Identifier: PG570; used with permission
PFC Holmes volunteered for a patrol deep into enemy lines near Leuth, Germany, to hide for twenty-four hours and observe enemy installations. He was to return to U.S. lines the following night but failed to do so. The initials, last name and serial number appearing in a broadcast matched PFC Holmes. It was a propaganda broadcast and not initially accepted as official at the time of its receipt. After receiving no additional information about him in the four years following the war, no logical conclusion could be drawn other that he was killed in action on the date he was reported missing in action.
From The Norwalk Hour December 1, 1942
William Holmes, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert A Holmes Jr., of 200 East Avenue, is home for the Thanksgiving holidays from Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia. A week ago, he was sworn into the Army in the Enlisted Reserve Corps of the college. Robert A. Holmes, 3rd, was sworn into the U.S. Navy Flying Corps on November 5 and is still working at the Nash Engineering Company until he receives his call to report for training.
From The Norwalk Hour August 22, 1944
Private William P. Holmes of 200 East Avenue is a member of a parachute infantry regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, a regiment which captured Ste. Mere Eglise in Normandy, three hours before Allied landing forces touched the beachhead on D-Day. The regiment played an outstanding part in carrying out the mission of the airborne troops, which was to prevent the Germans from throwing powerful forces from the West and South against the beachhead. Ste. Mere Eglise was the important junction town through which the Germans were expected to move up reinforcements.
From The Norwalk Hour September 25, 1944
Private William P. Holmes, 20, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Holmes of 200 East Avenue, is a member of the battle tried “All American 82nd Airborne Division,” veteran of operation in Italy, Sicily, and recently in Normandy. Private Holmes enlisted at Drexel Institute, Pennsylvania on November 16, 1942 and attended parachute school at Fort Benning, Georgia, from August 7, to October 9, 1943. He participated in the invasion of the continent of Europe, Normandy Peninsula. Previous to entering the services, he was a student at Drexel Institute of Technology, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is also a graduate of Norwalk High School and in 1941 and 1942 was swimming champion of Norwalk.
From The Norwalk Hour November 15, 1944
Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Holmes Jr., of East Avenue have been notified by the War Department that their son, PFC William A. Holmes, paratrooper, has been missing in action since October 23. It is assumed that this occurred in Holland because he was there when last heard from by his parents. He was in the D-Day invasion. He is a graduate of Norwalk High School and at the time of his enlistment was a student at Drexel Institute, Philadelphia. He has been overseas since last December. A brother, Ensign Robert A. Holmes III, pilot on a dive bomber, is now in the Pacific area.
From The Norwalk Hour December 27, 1944
With the 82nd Airborne Division in Holland — Private William P. Holmes, Norwalk, Connecticut, in Holland with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, first out-climbs his German foes and then outfights them. He took to the heights when his squad leader and a buddy were wounded by a machine gun fired from a window in a Dutch town. He exposed himself to German gun-sights by scaling the roof of the house opposite, then broke up the enemy party by chucking grenades through the window and riddling the room with Browning automatic rifle fire. The single German left alive, tossed a grenade, wounding Private Holmes in the leg. Private Holmes shot and killed him and wound up the days’ work by helping to carry his wounded pals to the aid station.
From The Norwalk Hour January 31, 1946
GALLANT NORWALK SOLDIER IS OFFICIALLY DECLARED DEAD
PFC William P. Holmes Lost In Volunteer Patrol Behind Nazi Lines
The gallant 82nd Airborne Division marched up Fifth Avenue a few weeks ago without that Norwalk lad who so typified the young American hero in jump boots. He was PFC William Powell Holmes, who gave his life when he volunteered in a 10-man patrol which penetrated within enemy lines at Leuth, Germany, on October 20, 1944. Bill, as he was best known, was under orders to disappear for 24 hours, but never was seen again. Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Homes Jr., of 200 East Avenue, have been notified by the War Department that their son has been officially declared dead. PFC Holmes will be well remembered by a wide circle of Norwalk friends and acquaintances as the prototype of the 82nd returning young veteran — a kid with a cocky grin who paraded under 38-year-old Major General Jimmy Gavin in one of the greatest military spectacles New York has ever seen. Norwalk’s PFC Holmes looked every inch the part of that combat infantryman who trod Manhattan streets — bright-helmeted and wearing the proud uniform with the bloused trousers and paratrooper’s wings, the red, white, and blue patch at the shoulder. Bill was entitled to all the 82nd Airborne decoration — the blue Presidential Unit Citation, the Purple Heart Medal, the orange braided lanyard of Holland, the Belgian fourragère, and the French fourragère. PFC Holmes was entitled, too, to the Bronze Star Medal. But he never learned this honor was bestowed on him. He was reported missing before the citation arrived from headquarters for “heroic conduct in action” at Nijgemen, Holland, on September 20, 1944 — just one month to the day on which he set out on the hazardous mission which was to cost him his life. PFC Holmes had become a seasoned veteran of the courageous division which has won world-wide fame as America’s most versatile soldiers because they invaded countries by parachute, then advanced their attack as infantrymen. PFC Holmes joined up with the 82nd when it was in Britain being re-formed after a slugging campaign through Sicily. He participated in the invasion which was spearheaded through Normandy when the first French town was freed. On the scene at Nijgemen, Holland, where PFC Holmes was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Nazis had thrown their entire strength against the combined American and British forces. True to its record of never losing a battle against the Germans, the 82nd came through to such glorious victory that the Military Order of William was conferred for the first time to soldiers outside the realm of the Netherlands. The Bronze Star citation letter, now in the possession of Mr. and Mrs. Holmes reads:
William P. Holmes, private, 505th Parachute Infantry. For heroic conduct in action of 20 September 1944, in Nijgemen, Holland. Private Homes, BAR man, after his squad leader was killed by machine pistol fire, mounted the roof of a house across the street where he was exposed to direct enemy fire and fired his BAR and threw hand grenades into the window of the house, knocking it out. Later he assisted in evacuating a wounded member of his squad. While doing this, he was fired on and lightly wounded by a hand grenade thrown from the house by one of the enemy who had survived his fire. By his heroic actions, Private Holmes helped to insure the success of the attack with minimum casualties.
Mr. and Mrs. Holmes have also received a letter from Colonel William Ekman, Bill’s commanding officer, describing the fateful mission into Germany. Colonel Ekman’s message follows in part:
Your son, as you know, was an old member of the Regiment, had participated in the invasion of France on 6 June 1944, and at all times had acquitted himself as a superior soldier should. He was well known for his bravery, courage and coolness under fire, and on the 23rd of October 1944, when our unit was hard pushed by attacking Germans, he volunteered to go on a patrol deep behind the enemy line, in order to secure information of the enemy’s disposition and intentions. It was planned that he and his group would remain in hiding behind the lines for 24 hours and return the following night with the information required. As you no doubt know, such patrols are absolutely necessary and, while they jeopardize a few individuals, the information which is received as a result, saves the lives of many. In our Regiment, we never lacked for such volunteers because of his capabilities. The patrol left on the night of 23 October 1944 from our lines near Nijgemen, Holland, with the mission of observing the enemy in the town of Leuth. Nothing more was heard of this patrol, and nothing more has been heard since that time. It has been hoped by our headquarters that he might have been made prisoner and that the rapid advance of our Allies would have released him by now. Many times, some of our men who had been captured by the enemy were released, returned to the States, and discharged before we received the information, and as I say, we were hoping that such would be the case with your son. But certainly, some word would have been received by now.
The letter was dated October 27, 1945, a year after PFC Holmes disappeared. Bill Holmes was known as the City of Norwalk swimming champion of 1942, the same year in which he was graduated from Norwalk High School. He entered Drexel University the following fall, and in March 1943, enlisted in the paratroopers. His older brother, Ensign Robert Anderson Holmes III, had just returned from Pacific action. Besides his brother and his parents, PFC Holmes is survived by a younger sister, Susan Priscilla Holmes.
Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency formally lists him as “non recoverable” in Germany.
The 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment was activated under the Airborne Command, Fort Bragg, N.C., July 6, 1942, at Fort Benning, Ga. The regiment was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division Feb. 4 the following year.
During World War II, the 505th PIR participated in seven major campaigns and four regimental airborne assaults. On April 28, 1943, the 505th left the New York Port of Embarkation for Casablanca, North Africa, where the regiment underwent six weeks of grueling training. The Regiment then flew to Kairouan, Tunisia, where final preparations were conducted for the 505th’s entry into battle.
The regiment made its first regimental-size combat jump July 9, 1943, as it landed behind enemy lines at Gela, Sicily. In its first trial-by-fire, the 505th, though out-manned and out-gunned, used raw courage and fighting spirit to block the German Herman Goering Panzer Division and to save the beachhead and the Allied landings. With Sicily secure, the Allies continued attack on the Axis powers with landings on the Italian mainland.
The 505th conducted its second combat parachute attack on September 14, 1943, into Salerno, Italy, becoming the first unit to enter Naples. During the early months of 1944, the Division was moved to England as the allies were preparing for the assault on Western Europe. The largest combined military operation in history, “D-Day”, was to be spearheaded by the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.
On June 6, 1944, at 3 a.m., 505th Paratroopers were landing on the Normandy Peninsula for the regiment’s third combat jump. It was one of the first airborne units to hit the ground, and it liberated the first town in France, St. Mere-Eglise. The paratroopers jumped prior to the actual start of the invasion – “H-Hour”. Because of that tradition, of being the first into the fight, the 505th motto is “H-Minus”.
For their performance during the invasions, the 505th was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, which is the unit equivalent of the Medal of Honor awarded to individual soldiers. In the words of author Clay Blair, the Paratroopers emerged from Normandy with the reputation of being a pack of jackals – the toughest, most resourceful and bloodthirsty in Europe.
On September 17, 1944, as part of “Operation Market Garden”, the 505th made its fourth jump at Groesbeck, Holland – the largest airborne assault in history. During that fierce combat, two lightly armed platoons – at most 80 men – were surrounded by an entire German infantry battalion supported by tanks. The Paratroopers fought back three savage German assaults and held their ground until relieved. The 505th received a second Presidential unit citation.
PFC Holmes is memorialized Tablets of the Missing, Netherlands American Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands