Holleder on the cover of Sports Illustrated
August 3, 1934|
Buffalo, New York
|Died||October 17, 1967
Ong Thanh, Vietnam
|Place of burial||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1956–1967|
|Unit||2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division|
*Battle of Ong Thanh
Distinguished Service Cross
Bronze Star Medal
Early life and football career
Holleder was born in Buffalo, New York, and at age 13, he and his family moved to Irondequoit, New York. He attended high school at the Aquinas Institute in nearby Rochester. He was heavily recruited by a number of top college football teams, including West Point's offensive coach Vince Lombardi. He elected to enroll at the United States Military Academy at West Point. As a junior in 1954, he was named to the All-America team as an end. The following season, Army head coach Colonel Red Blaik asked him to move to quarterback. Holleder clearly lacked the skills to be a productive passer, but Blaik felt that his leadership skills were important and would help the struggling team improve. Blaik's move was ridiculed but it paid off. The team finished with a record of 6-3-0, including a rousing upset of Navy that led to Holleder's appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated. One of Holleder's classmates at West Point was General Norman Schwarzkopf. They both graduated in the Class of 1956.
The New York Giants selected Holleder in the 1956 NFL Draft college draft, however Holleder was not interested in a professional football career. After graduating West Point, he continued to serve in the U.S. Army. Over the next ten years he rose to the rank of Major, serving posts in Hawaii and Korea, and in between returning to West Point for three years as an assistant football coach, recruiter, and scout.
Battle of Ong Thanh
In 1967, Holleder, now a Major, requested to be sent to Vietnam, where he became the Operations Officer for 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division. He was killed in the Battle of Ong Thanh on Tuesday October 17, 1967. While he and his commanding officer were overflying the battle in a helicopter, where they observed the entire command unit on the ground had been killed and the remaining men were in serious trouble. Don volunteered to organize a rescue effort. Upon landing, Don secured three volunteers and rushed to the battle site. Running far in front of his volunteers, he was gunned down and killed by a sniper. The battle is documented in Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Maraniss’ book They Marched Into Sunlight and Terry Tibbetts' book A Spartan Game, the Life and Loss of Don Holleder. A film of the story is being produced by Tom Hanks.
Holleder left behind a wife and four daughters.
In 1974, the football stadium in his hometown was renamed Holleder Memorial Stadium in his honor. The stadium was home to the football team of his high school Alma Mater, Aquinas Institute. In 1985 the stadium was torn down where the Holleder Technology Park now stands on the site, bisected by Holleder Parkway.
In 1985, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and that same year, West Point's basketball/hockey arena was named in his honor (The Donald W. Holleder Center). Each year, the Army football team recognizes one of their players with the Black Lion Award, given "to a player who best exemplifies the character of Don Holleder, leadership, courage, devotion to duty, self sacrifice and, above all, an unselfish concern to put the team ahead of himself."
He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on April 27, 2012.
Donald Walter Holleder is interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
- Holleder biography and tribute
- Entry at Arlington National Cemetery
- Holleder Center at USMA
- Bio at College Football Hall of Fame
- Holleder in high school football Hall of Fame
- They Called Him Holly - biography by Harvey Shapiro
- Photo of Holleder in Army-Navy game from Sports Illustrated
- Army press release on Black Lions Award
- Article on Black Lions Award
- A Salute to Our Local Heroes
- Military Times Hall of Valor page