Remembering D Day: Alva Hollingsworth
Editor’s note: In recognition of the 75th anniversary of D Day on June 6, we reprint this profile of the late Alva Hollingsworth, formerly of Gainesville, a soldier who participated in the Allied invasion of Normandy, France. Written by Mary Ruth Luna Sparks, editor of the Ozark County Genealogy and Historical Society’s Old Mill Run, it was originally published in the March 12, 2008, edition of the Times. Mr. Hollingsworth died in 2012 at age 94. His widow, Phyllis Hollingsworth, lives in Gainesville.
On the morning of June 6, 1944 – D-Day - Alva Hollingsworth watched through binoculars as the first U.S. troops went ashore on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.
Hollingsworth, now 89 and a Gainesville resident, remembers that the first wave of troops was to go at 6:30 a.m. His unit, the 447th Anti-aircraft (automatic weapons) Battalion, was scheduled to go at noon. But things were not going well, and the 447th’s departure was delayed.
Eighty-five percent of the soldiers of the 447th were from Arkansas, so it was fitting that they waited near the battleship Arkansas on June 6, watching it fire its big guns at the enemy on shore.
Hollingsworth had been drafted in August 1942. He spent a few days at Camp Robinson near Little Rock, where the men had been questioned about their skills. Hollingsworth’s uncle, who had served in the Army, had advised him, “Never volunteer for anything.” So Alva kept his hand down when the questions came:
“How many can drive a truck?” a sergeant asked.
“Those men were set to operating wheelbarrows,” Hollingsworth said, smiling.
“How many have gone to college?”
“Those men went to KP,” Hollingsworth said, laughing.
He received his basic training at Fort Bliss near El Paso, Texas, and was promoted to sergeant before the unit headed to Yuma, Arizona, for desert training. It appeared they were going to North Africa.
But the Allies began winning there. So Hollings-worth’s group was eventually sent to England, arriving early in 1944. They trained for amphibious landings. On D-Day, June 6, they put that training to use. They were ferried from troop carriers to the beach by landing ship transports.
“The first dead soldier I saw was on the LST when it came to get us,” Hollings-worth said.
A German pillbox on the left of their beach sector gave the unit trouble as they landed.
The 447th was an anti-aircraft unit, but by June 1944, Germany had virtually no air force left. For-tunately, the unique weapons the 447th fired also were effective against tanks, artillery or infantrymen.
“One of my guns received a citation for hitting a sniper at 1,000 yards,” Hollingsworth said.
Battery A’s weapons systems included eight 40 mm guns, four quad-pack 50-caliber and several 30-caliber machine guns. The quad-packs operated like the turret of a B-17 bomber, but they were mounted on vehicles called half-tracks. Half-tracks had tires in front like a truck. In back, they had tracks like a tank. They were easier to maneuver than a tank.
Soon after D-Day, part of the 447th marched through Paris in a victory parade, but Hollingsworth’s Battery A missed the celebration; his unit was loaned to support Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army’s dash across France.
At one point while Hollingsworth’s unit was still with Patton, they’d been sent back to an area to rest. A lieutenant came and told Hollingsworth he was to get his men up early the next morning to exercise. Sgt. Hollingsworth told the lieutenant he didn’t want to disobey the order, but they had been sent there to rest.
“I reached over and pulled off my stripes and told the lieutenant he could get someone else to do the job,” Hollingsworth said. He would get up to exercise if ordered, he said, but he wasn’t going to force the other men to do it. Later, the lieutenant asked Hollings-worth to take his stripes back, but he refused.
The powerful weapons of Battery A were in demand, and Hollingsworth took part in three other major campaigns: Huertgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Rhineland.
In the Huertgen Forest, where even more men died than on Omaha Beach, Hollingsworth said he pulled his half-track out front so that he had a wider “field of fire.” The Germans were dug in, he said, so U.S. bombers had been ordered in to drop napalm.
He was too far out front when he saw the planes coming. He skinned his shin getting out of the half-track, and it bled. His lieutenant wanted to put him in for a Purple Heart, but Hollings-worth refused it. “I knew what a real Purple Heart stood for,” he said.
In another battle, the track came off his vehicle. “I raised the hood and pitched in a grenade,” he said. He wasn’t going to leave it behind for the Germans to recover.
Hollingsworth was in Waldfeschbach, Germany, when the war in Europe ended May 8, 1945.
“We were in what had once been a shoe factory,” he said. “The officers brought out whiskey rations. I don’t know where they got them, but we had tin cups. We threw quite a drunk,” he said.
Hollingsworth came back to the U.S. in November 1945. Army officials advised the soldiers to either call or telegram their folks at home. They said there had been reports of mothers having heart attacks when a son showed up unexpectedly.
Alva Hollingsworth’s parents had moved to Oklahoma when he left for the service. They didn’t have a telephone, so he sent them a telegram. Later he called an uncle saying he would be coming in on a bus from Camp Chaffee. But he got together with some other guys, and they hired a car to drive them to Tulsa. So he surprised his parents about midnight. He remembers hearing his mother squeal with joy.
After the war, Hollingsworth worked on the construction of Bull Shoals Dam, and then for Boeing Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, and at Baxter Laboratory in Mountain Home, Arkansas. He moved back to Howards Ridge in 1967 and moved to Gainesville after retiring from Baxter Lab in 1978.
Hollingsworth’s first marriage ended in divorce. On July 2, 1977, he married Phyllis Fox Evans of Gainesville.
A Battery, 447th Anti-aircraft Battalion, held annual reunions for 44 years, Hollingsworth said. Phyllis Hollingsworth, who accompanied her husband to many of the meetings, said she’d never seen a bond such as those men had with each other.
The last reunion was held in 2000. Since then the battery’s numbers have dwindled, and not enough men are able to attend reunions anymore. Still, Hollingsworth has a buddy from his battery, James Godfrey, who lives in Harrison, Ark., and they get together occasionally for lunch.
“We were a mean bunch,” he said. “We fought among ourselves, but no one else had better hurt one of ours.”