Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Day 6 - In Memory of Herbie Hollywood

On the outskirts of Rimini, Italy, on September 12th, 1944, with the Allied Seaforth Highlanders of Canada (5th Canadian Armoured Division), Herbert J. Hollywood was taken down in the line of duty in what was the heaviest week of fighting experienced since Monte Cassino. His older brother, Russell, fighting on another WW2 Italian front, heard the news and immediately went AWOL to be with him. Arriving in Rimini on September 17th, Russell did not make it to the military hospital on time, as Herbert had passed away, mere hours before Russell's arrival, and FIVE days after he had been taken down. Russell, still alive, is my Grandpa, and Herbert, rest in peace, was my Great Uncle.

EZ and I gave ourselves one day to get from Roma, to Riccione (a small town close to Rimini), to the Coriano Ridge Canadian War Cemetery, and then into Firenze (Florence). No one in my family had yet had the chance to personally pay their respects to Herbert and I was honored to be the first. I was quiet on the train ride to Riccione, thinking of the war stories that Grandpa Hollywood was finally beginning to share with the family, if you asked him. 50 years of Post-traumatic stress diagnosed as Parkinson's, going AWOL and hitching rides across Europe, driving tanks in North Africa, seeing his Captain's head get blown off, a tale of his other brother Ken getting shot in the left eye and having the bullet exit through his neck. Ken SURVIVED, is still alive today and you can barley see the scratch.

One short story in particular stuck in my mind. He was 'in the thick of it' on a front outside Ghent, Belgium. The Germans were advancing by land and air and he was retreating through a farm field. He came upon a trench and hopped in. The trench was occupied by two other allied soldiers who immediately gave him the boot. There wasn't enough space. So Russ jumped back out into the openness of the field where he then spotted several large bails of hay. The enemy was getting close, so without hesitation he ran to the closest bail and jumped inside. There he hid, overnight, surrounded by the sounds of the hell all around him. Waiting until the noises had past, the next morning he slowly came out of his hay bail. The area was safe. Suddenly, he came upon the trench to see the dead bodies of the soldiers who the day before had kicked him out. They had been obliterated by panzer gun fire. If my grandfather had fought to stay in that trench, no one in my family would be here today.

We arrived at the Riccione train station, and The Canadian War Graves Commission website is not very detailed with instructions on how to get from Riccione to the Coriano Ridge War Cemetery, so we were left to our own devices. We took the wrong bus twice as we slowly made our way into the country. We asked locals, who spoke no English, how to get to the Canadian War Cemetery in Coriano, an even smaller hamlet on the outskirts of Riccione. They tried their best to help us, and it was not easy getting there, but considering the circumstance, hardly worth complaining about.

Finally we arrived at the site, and the driver of bus 20 shooed us off and pointed us in the right direction. We entered through the gates, past through a very well-manicured garden and into the property that contained the final resting place of some of my nations greatest heroes. The place was very well cared for and we nodded thanks toward the groundskeeper who was working in one of the gardens. He smiled proudly, and seemed happy to see people visiting the remote site. The Canadian War Graves Commission gave me the plot, row and grave number, so we made our way down the rows and rows of names looking for Herbies. Plot 10, Row D, Grave 9. There it was, lying in the shadow of a Canadian Maple Tree. Uncontrollably, my eyes welled up, for a man I had never met. I turned to EZ, who was documenting the trip for my Grand Pa. Neither of us expected such a swell of emotion. I kneeled down behind the headstone to video a message.

"Hi Papa and Nana, and everyone in the Hollywood family. Erin and I have made our way... just a couple kilometers east, no west, of Rimini, and we've come here to visit, Papa your brother Herbie. And this is where he is lying to rest. (here's where I start to lose it) And, uh, we're going to give him a Canadian flag. Anyways... it's really sad... I'm sure it's really hard to lose a brother... and we'll remember everything you guys did... cause I'm... cause Phil (my brother) and I will never have to do anything like that, because of what you guys did"

Obviously, those words alone can't capture what it felt to be there, but this experience is one I would take over any jungle adventure or jeep safari. Take the time to make the trip to visit your nations fallen. You'll be amazed at what you'll learn about yourself and the world from just a simple headstone. It just requires a small detour between the major sites.

The trip back was much easier and the ride to Firenze for us was peaceful and full of pride. Thanks to my Papa and his brothers.

1 comment:

  1. Great story Joe. We must consider ourselves lucky that our Grandfathers made it home alive!