By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Local members of the American Legion Post 71 honored one of their own Monday, March 8, commending a man for 75 years of service to the organization and his country. World War II veteran Verlus “Buddy” Holliday was recognized at 96 years old for his resolute nature, his courageous efforts and his independent spirit that inspired others for so many years.
“I feel like they went out of their way to make me feel good [tonight],” said Holliday. “[The members of the Legion] are wonderful people who work and never get the credit for what they do. They need the credit.”
“I love him and really appreciate everything he sacrificed for me, the family and country,” said his son Bruce. “I am very proud and thankful that the American Legion is honoring him for his 75 years.”
Inspired to help his country, Etowah County native Holliday enlisted in the U.S. Navy on November 17, 1942. He completed boot camp in San Diego, California before attending and graduating the Navy Machinist School as a machinist. A series of assignments followed Holliday’s introduction to the service, including a 13-month spell in Pearl Harbor, where he overhauled Nautilis-class submarines, engines and equipment, working on submarines such as the USS Drum (now on display in Mobile) and the USS Bass.
“Everywhere I turned in the first part of my life was military,” said Holliday, remembering his brothers who served in WWII alongside him. “It was the thing to do, to join and help them out. [We were] patriotic.”
Assigned to the USS Cortland APA 75, Holliday traveled to numerous locations like Seattle and Honolulu before joining his shipmates in the South Pacific campaign. During his time aboard the USS Cortland, Holliday endured two typhoons. He recalled the ship dropping from the waves, completely out of the water several stories high, the loss of electricity and transfer to auxiliary power for such an extended period of time that several auxiliary engine grommets melted. Throughout the storms, Holliday strived to maintain essential back-up support functional.
Holliday’s time aboard the USS Cortland dwelt on the ship’s bottom floor, where he served as the last man trained to steer the ship manually (with a large wrench), should the ship lose normal controls or power. He recalled a young Japanese pilot being held in the brig, who he met and snuck a candy bar.
From China to Korea to Japan, Holliday ventured to different ports hauling personnel until the war’s conclusion. Three days following the war’s end, Cortland sailed from Okinawa with a protective smoke screen overlaying her, due to attacks from Japanese planes. Holliday noted while they were not hit, they voyaged through battle stations.
“In the war, you don’t know what’s happening,” said Holliday. “That’s the whole situation. You just take orders and do the best you can with what you have. You do the best you can do.”
Following the end of WWII, Holliday separated from the Navy with honorable discharge and returned to his home in Egypt community, located near Altoona, where he still resides. He settled into life in Alabama once more, working at his family grocery store in Attalla, before transferring to a position with Southern Hardware. He later began a construction company with his brother, Tiny.
Holliday’s unwavering spirit of perseverance never ceased following his military service, with his advocacy for his country and fellow veterans proving lifelong. Through a position with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Holliday advised veterans and ensured they received benefits as the service officer for Etowah County. He joined the American Legion in 1946, serving as Commander of the 13th District and Northern Area of Alabama. Holliday partnered with the organization and local legislators to lobby for a cause he deemed of paramount importance – the recognition of Veteran’s Day.
During the 1960s, Etowah County schools did not close in observance of Veteran’s Day. While Holliday often took his son, Bruce, out of school to attend the Veteran’s Day Parade in Birmingham, he considered the holiday a time for reflection and celebration of the individuals who dedicated themselves to their country and felt the day had arrived for change. Through his passionate advocacy, Holliday garnered enough support to designate Veteran’s Day as an official holiday throughout school systems statewide – a moment he esteems as one of his proudest achievements.
Bruce attested to his father’s commitment to Veteran’s Day, a light that never dimmed throughout his lifetime. He shared his patriotism with his wife, Mary, who actively supported the American Legion as a member of the American Legion Ladies Auxiliary.
“I grew up on the Attalla American Legion Fair Grounds,” said Bruce. “I remember the many Veteran’s Day dinners we attended with him. Most all of his seven brothers were veterans too, some in the same Legion Post. They supported one another – I remember them working together to pull together events.”
“When I was in junior high at Sardis, I was in the band. [Holliday] would chaperone sometimes. Once, he went with us to the Veteran’s Day Parade in Birmingham and walked with the band the full route in a new pair of shoes that he literally wore out. He still mentions that on occasion.”
Strong-willed, independent and confident characterize Holliday, a man armored with bravery and fueled with fortitude. A relentlessly hard worker, his diligence drifted into all areas of his life, his stalwart nature a force recognized by his children as they grew under his guidance.
“I learned [from Holliday] to treat people the way you want to be treated,” said his daughter Brenda. “You work hard to achieve whatever you want in life. You can pretty much make your life what you want it to be. He is [the best father] there is…he’s my hero. I have three brothers, and he taught me to be independent like them, so he wouldn’t ever have to worry about me.”
“He is a good father,” said Holliday. “He was not one of those hugging, mushy-type men, but he showed his love through support for the family and his long work history. He would always say, ‘Never say never,’ when we were challenged. He taught us how to do many things early in life – like driving cars, farming and [operating] construction equipment. As long as you could reach the pedals, you were old enough [to learn], as far as he was concerned.”
Holliday’s activism reaches far and wide, with his love for his community rousing him to join the Etowah County Fair Association, where he served as president for a number of years. Holliday’s involvement with the Etowah County Fair Association sparked a series of incredible feats for the annual event, which serves as the state’s second-oldest county fair.
“He’s always been a take charge person,” said Walnut Grove councilman and current ECFA President Randall Green. “He always knew what to say, where to go and what to get. He taught me a lot on how to handle things with the fair. Thanks to people like him, we’ve had some of the biggest carnivals. I can remember as a kid walking around, watching him making sure everything was done. He’s always been a head strong person to go to for advice.”
“We had all kinds of crowds, but we tried to treat them all decent,” said Holliday. “I’m that kind of person if it needs getting done, I’ll be the one to do it. We had good people and honorable people [helping] who do a good job. We need to keep it going.”
Holliday’s contributions to his community did not conclude with the fair, as he served in a collection of other organizations, including the Forty and Eight and the Egypt Volunteer Fire Department – as both a firefighter and board member.
From his courageous spirit that inspired him to enlist and carried him across the seas to protect his country in World War II, to his resolute ambition that drove him to advocate for his fellow veterans, to his dedicated efforts as a father and community leader, service marks Holliday’s life. As he approaches his 97th birthday, the American Legion’s recognition of Holliday’s commitment emerges as one representation of decades devoted to fulfilling one’s purpose and influencing those around him, one moment at a time.
Holliday offered a few words of advice for younger generations.
“Be honest,” he said. “You don’t have to back up when you’re honest. That’s the best thing in the world to do – be honest.”