Preserving the Legacy of Two Remarkable Americans

Posted by on Apr 2, 2016 in Perry's Blog | 0 comments


By Perry Smith

A nation may be judged, in large part, by how well it honors its heroes. One powerful way to honor the valiant is to preserve and enhance the legacy of those who sacrificed their lives to serve their nation.


Mark Albertin, Augusta’s outstanding videographer, has just completed a 55 minute DVD on a remarkable Army officer. When Duty Calls: The Life and Legacy of Don Holleder tells the uplifting story of an Eagle Scout, an All American football player, the recipient of college football’s highest award for sportsmanship and the recipient of two major awards for heroism. Major Donald Walter Holleder was killed in combat in Vietnam in October, 1967.


His life’s story is similar to the life story of Augusta’s hero, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Dyess. Let’s examine what each man accomplished in his short but remarkable life (Holleder was killed at age 33, Dyess was 35).


In the Spring of 1955, the legendary coach of the Army football team, Earl “Red” Blaik faced a tough decision.  His outstanding quarterback, Pete Vann, had lost his eligibility; no one was standing in the wings ready to replace him.


In what was ridiculed as “Blaik’s Folly,” Holleder, an All-American end, was converted to quarterback just prior to his senior year at West Point.  Holleder had never played in the backfield in high school or college. Coach Blaik’s faith in Holleder’s leadership was confirmed when he led his Army team to victory over a heavily favored Navy squad.


Although drafted by the New York Football Giants, Holleder chose to follow the Army career for which West Point had prepared him.  In Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Purple Heart, the Soldier’s Medal, and the Distinguished Service Cross.


On October 17, 1967, Holleder sacrificed his life for others when he was cut down

by enemy fire while racing onto an active battlefield in an attempt to evacuate wounded soldiers.


Don Holleder’s name lives on in the Black Lion Award, established in memory of him and the men of the Black Lions – the 28th Infantry Regiment – who died with him that day.


Each year, all across America, the Black Lion Award is presented by high school

and youth football coaches to the player on their team “who best exemplifies the

character of Don Holleder: leadership, courage, devotion to duty, self-sacrifice,

and – above all – an unselfish concern for the team ahead of himself.”


In 1985, Don Holleder was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1988, in his honor, West Point renamed its winter sports facility the Holleder Center.


Now let’s examine briefly the similarities between Holleder and Augustan Jimmie Dyess.


Both were Eagle Scouts

Both attended and graduated from a military college.


Holleder—West Point

Both were varsity football players.


Both received a high award for heroism

In a non-combat situation

Dyess—the Carnegie Medal

Holleder—the Soldiers Medal

Both received a high award for combat valor

Dyess—the Medal of Honor

Holleder—the Distinguished Service Cross

Both were killed in combat

Dyess—in the Marshall Islands

Holleder–in Vietnam


Both are honored in their hometowns

Dyess—the Jimmie Dyess Parkway in Augusta.

Holleder—the Holleder Research Center in Rochester, NY

Both have had biographies written about them.

Dyess—Courage, Compassion, Marine

Holleder—A Spartan Game

Both have been highlighted in DVDs

Dyess—Twice a Hero

Holleder—When Duty Calls


Both have permanent exhibits honoring their service and sacrifice.

Dyess—at the Augusta Museum of History

Holleder—at the Holleder Center at West Point.

Both are highlighted in annual events each January

Dyess–Jimmie Dyess Symposium in Augusta

Holleder– the Black Lion Award ceremony at West Point.


Mark Albertin deserves great credit for helping preserve the legacy of both Dyess and Holleder. He was the videographer and producer of both DVDs. He has produced two profound, poignant and inspiring DVDs.


Also due great praise is Hugh Wyatt, a high school football coach from the state of Washington. Wyatt was so moved when he learned the full story of Holleder’s sacrifices in peace and war that he created the Black Lion Award. He is committed to sustaining this award for many decades into the future. Every year, each recipient will receive a copy of the DVD, When Duty Calls.


For the purpose of full disclosure, I should point out that I was Holleder’s roommate at West Point and I married  Jimmie Dyess’s daughter, Connor Cleckley Dyess.  Also, it was Don Holleder who introduced me to Connor.


Anyone interested in obtaining the Dyess book, the Dyess DVD, or the Holleder DVD should feel free to email me at I have plenty of copies in my garage.


Major General Perry M Smith,  USAF (ret.) serves on the boards of the  Augusta Warrior Project and the Augusta Museum of History.

[This posted also appeared as a guest column in the Augusta Chronicle on April 2.]



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