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 †
|Awards||Distinguished Service Cross
Bronze Star Medal
Donald Walter Holleder (August 3, 1934 – October 17, 1967) was an American college football star while attending the United States Military Academy and later assistant football coach for the United States Military Academy, who was later killed in the Vietnam War.
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 recruiters, 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.
1956 NFL draft
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
During the Battle of Ong Thanh on Tuesday October 17, 1967, he and his commanding officer were overflying the battle in a helicopter. 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, Holleder 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 volunteers who accompanied him pulled him into cover behind a tree. Before they could apply emergency first aid, Holleder died. He is interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
Holleder had 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."
- Connors, Greg (December 10, 2010). "Recalling WNY's homegrown Army hero". The Buffalo News. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
- Tibbetts, Terry (2011). A Spartan Game: the Life and Loss of Don Holleder. Bloomington, Indiana: iUniverse. pp. 238–239. ISBN 9781450290807.
- Tumulty, Brian (April 28, 2012). "Heroism of Holleder honored 44 years later". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. p. 1. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
- "They Marched Into Sunlight". IMDb.
- Andreeva, Nellie (1 April 2013). "FX Teams With Stephen Gaghan For Limited Series About The Vietnam War". Deadline.com.
- 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
- Don Holleder at Find a Grave