Honoring our Veterans

Billy Holmes: a good marine and friend.

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Veterans day is a time to remember all the soldiers who fought, bled, died and continue to sacrifice their lives on behalf of the people of the United States of America. We thank you all. This year veterans day is particularly significant for me. Last December i went to the funeral of my good friend William(Billy) Holmes Jr. at the Riverside National Cemetery in So. California. It was my first trip to a national burial ground. Billy was a child of the 60’s. Like many teens of that era, he went to Vietnam. Unlike many, he volunteered for service. All his life he wanted to be a marine. At seventeen he enlisted and it didn’t take long before he was off to war. He fought, he killed many, he survived, thanks in large part to being a deft sharpshooter. One day he was on patrol and a grenade exploded, he took shrapnel that wounded him. He found himself surrounded by VC who grabbed his legs and begin to drag him away. “Well i guess that it” he thought, but then came another explosion. The men holding Billy released him and ran. Men form Billy’s squad appeared. They wanted to carry him back to camp but he said “I can walk.” Billy was hospitalized for awhile but recovered and returned to his squad. He was then given a new assignment – decided who would be sent out on patrol, a sometimes depressing job. Billy survived his Vietnam battles and came home after his tour was up.  It would not be his last battle. In August 2013 Billy, now in his sixties, contracted MRSA, a staph infection responsible for several difficult-to-treat bacterium. He would be in the hospital for a month fighting this deadly, but not always fatal, disease. Billy was a life long smoker and he liked beer. Seven years earlier he needed triple bypass surgery due to clogged and constricted arteries. Doctors took a vein from his leg and used it as a replacement. He was then put on blood thinner and other medications. After the surgery Billy continued to smoke and drink; occasionally he sipped hard liquor.  His doctors told him not to do either as it would kill the medication he was on. A couple of years later he began to have pain in his legs. It would come and go. He was not getting good circulation. It got progressively worse but he lived with it until this year. The pain was getting much worse. Doctors decided to replace the vein in his leg with an artificial one. They did and it worked. Billy was pain-free. He also, doctors believe, contracted the MRSA virus somewhere between operation and recovery. He was given antibiotics. They worked for a while. He was able to go home but even before he left the hospital he was back smoking. To make matters worse, Billy left the treatment two weeks early. Hours after he was home he was drinking hard liquor. “If i die i die”. That’s what he said to me. Billy did not want to die, but he did not fear it. He was no drunk. The shrapnel in his body could not be removed because it was too close to his heart. Arthritis in his spine caused more pain and he says sipping alcohol helped him to sleep. He was a kind man, the best friend you could ever have. The human body, being consistent in its functions, can only take so much. The virus returned stronger than before and Billy was back in the hospital in serious condition. MRSA is known to affect blood circulation and this is what happened. An abscess developed on his heart muscle weakening it’s ability to pump blood. Fluid gathered in his lungs. A team of surgeons concluded that Billy was too weak for the necessary operation. Shortly after this his heart stopped and he was given CPR to get it going again. Billy’s sister Sandy, who had power of attorney, came to the hospital because Billy’s organs were beginning to shut down. Some time ago Billy had given her instructions: if something happens do not revive me and do not let me live on a respirator. Sandy left him on the respirator for a while but it was soon clear that she would have to make the hardest decision of her life. And then Billy was gone. With this article is a video, part of his funeral at the Riverside National Cemetery where Marines presented the US flag to Billy’s grandson E J and we were able to say a final goodbye to our friend.

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