Way We Were: Marvin Glenn Hollis

Way We Were: Marvin Glenn Hollis
Marvin and Isabel Hollis with daughter, Jan

Marvin Hollis, 93, has been coming and going almost from the time he was born.

Fifteen months after he was born Nov. 4, 1924, his mother passed away. His siblings – two brothers and a sister – were 10, 13 and 15 when he was born. He was raised by his grandmother until his father remarried, then his father died when he was 11.

For several years, Hollis lived with various relatives, including an aunt and uncle who owned a drugstore, then with his sister and her husband in Colorado, then went back to his hometown, Texahoma, Oklahoma for eighth grade to live with a cousin and her husband, whom he helped with planting, plowing, and harvesting.

Marvin Hollis in the eighth grade

Marvin Hollis in the eighth grade

His brothers bought him a horse and buggy to travel the two and a half miles back and forth to grade school, and the enterprising teen soon earned a contract with the School Board to carry drinking water to the country school, which had no well. He earned the vast sum of $4 a month.

Although most of the local families had opted to send their children to the city school, a teacher was hired for an eight-month contract for the country school during his last year there. When Hollis arrived the first day at the one-room schoolhouse, he found he was the only eighth-grader and his sole classmate was a fourth-grade girl. “I was the teacher’s pet, valedictorian and head of the class,” he joked.

After finishing eighth grade, Hollis moved into town to go to high school and stayed at Mrs. McDaniel’s boarding house. “Two or three of us slept at her house, and if it snowed she fed the kids from the school and they spent the night,” he said. “Sometimes there’d be four or six kids in a bed with you. My brothers paid her $13.50 a month and she fed me and washed and ironed my clothes. She was a mother to a lot of people. She was a midwife, too. She probably brought over 100 children into the world. She passed on while I was in the service.”

In 1941, during his junior year in high school a local boy had joined the Marine Corps and came back to town dressed in Marine blues.

“I thought that was the most beautiful uniform I had ever seen. Therefore, I decided to drop out of school and join the Marines,” recalled Hollis about what eventually became a three-year circuitous route from Oklahoma to Murray Hill.

“I hitchhiked the 108 miles from Texahoma to Amarillo, Texas to the recruiting station, which was at the post office. Since I was only 17 they said I had to have my brother sign for me. So, I hitchhiked back home. My oldest brother said he would not sign. But the next to the oldest said, ‘Oh hell, you might as well sign. He’s not going to amount to a hill of beans anyway.’ So, I hitchhiked back to Amarillo the next day, Nov. 25, 1941 and enlisted.”

War was declared on Dec. 7, 1941, and by Jan. 2, 1942 Hollis was training on the rifle range in California then boarded a ship to “somewhere.” That “somewhere” happened to be Pearl Harbor. “We saw all the destruction. Ships were upside down. We thought the world was coming to an end. We were put on trucks with no lights and taken to a tent in a camp – had an evening meal – then were taken back to the harbor to work. Afterwards, we were separated out. There were about 300 of us to go to different places, and I was sent to Midway Island,” said Hollis.

Eleven hundred miles from Pearl Harbor, Midway, a tiny atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, consisted of two islands – Sand and Eastern. “The airstrip was on Sand and the rest on Eastern. I was on Eastern for 17 months,” Hollis said.

In the U.S. Marine Corps

In the U.S. Marine Corps

“We had a telephone outfit in a dugout. We got a message, which was previously relayed from a submarine to Admiral [Chester] Nimitz (U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander), that the Japanese were coming to bomb us. Some ships went out to intercept. Supplies were brought in. We rolled barbed wire and bound it together. Then someone would swim out and attach it offshore.”

In addition, the Marines built gun emplacements, laid sandbags and shelters and readied themselves for the assault which began on June 4 and continued until June 7, 1942.  “They blew up our water supply and our mess hall,” he said.

After his time at Midway, for which he has received many accolades, certificates and recognitions, Hollis ended up back in Pearl Harbor, then tiny Eniwetok Atoll and Guam until the end of the war. While at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Hollis had hitchhiked to Jacksonville a few times to visit his sister who had “married a guy who worked for the Jacksonville Journal newspaper,” so, in 1944 at age 21, he stuck out his thumb in Oklahoma and headed east.

“I had money in my shoes, cap and several pockets,” laughed Hollis, as he recalled that adventure. “I made it to Shreveport, but couldn’t catch a ride, so I dozed a while at a filling station, then a car passed with only one person in it. I said a bad word, but he turned around and came back. He asked if I could drive. He was an Army officer and was a bit drunk. He gave me his billfold to buy gas, fed me, then I caught a ride in a truck to Jacksonville. I only lacked a credit and a half to finish high school, so I went to school on Duval Street and for $21 got my diploma, then I was off to the University of Florida.”

After a few misstarts, on the recommendation of a professor Hollis decided on a degree in agriculture, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1949. In the meantime, while in Jacksonville on a visit, he met a young woman at the Rexall Drug Store on Edgewood Avenue – Isabel Watkins.

“She was from Jacksonville; her folks lived on Gilmore Street in Riverside. I don’t know what possessed me. I just fell in love,” he said. The couple married Dec. 22, 1946 at what was then Wesley Memorial Methodist Church on Stockton Street and moved back to Gainesville for Hollis to continue school.

After graduation they came to Jacksonville and bought a house on Lancaster Street in Murray Hill and baby Jan, now Jan Hollis Mathis, and the mother of Jeremy and Cody, was born in December 1952. Hollis worked as parts manager at Ferguson Tractor Place on Edgewood, then the Ford Tractor Place on 5th Street, then David Brown Tractors. He and Isabel won a trip to England to tour the Brown factory and sightsee in London.

Marvin Hollis with World War II memorabilia

Marvin Hollis with World War II memorabilia

Unexpectedly, Hollis received a call from Smith Hardware Company in North Carolina asking him to move up there and take over the wholesale farm equipment and hardware business. They offered incentives, such as paying to move him and his family, buying his gas, helping him get a house and a significant raise. He flew up and “talked and talked.” The persistent company called Isabel and convinced her. “When I went into the office to resign my job with Brown, my boss offered a lot of incentives to get me to stay. I said, ‘Well, if you can do it now why didn’t you do it before?’ So, we went to North Carolina for a few years.”

When the Hollises returned to Jacksonville, he retired from the workforce but a glance at his current calendar shows the many committees, duties, activities and meetings he has with Murray Hill Methodist Church – Men’s Club, Wesley Fellowship, Sunday School, Finance Committee, and president of Young at Heart for the past eight years. A Young at Heart member remarked that he is impressed with Hollis’ posture, saying, “He is ramrod straight – just like he came out of the Marines.”

Hollis was frequently asked to participate in programs related to the Battle of Midway, but his wife, Isabel, was ill and then passed away in 2008. Afterwards, his daughter, Jan, encouraged him to attend commemoration services and sometimes accompanied him. He has been a guest speaker at several organizations and at the Naval Air Station. A table in his home is filled with plaques, statues, flags and other memorabilia recognizing his service in the Marines and at the Battle of Midway.

Despite his world travels with the military, and his cross-county hitchhiking days, Hollis and his long-time companion, Sandy Bahret, don’t travel as much as they used to since she is still employed fulltime. Previously they had traveled to Mexico and the Bahamas.

“We met in Sunday School at Murray Hill Methodist about eight years ago. My wife had passed on and Sandy was a widow; I had tickets to some shows downtown, so I called and asked her, as a friend, if she would like to go and it gradually developed into more,” he said.

Hollis said he doesn’t even know how to turn on a computer, has few hobbies, and doesn’t go to movies, but at age 93 is in excellent health and just likes “hanging out” with Sandy, and an abandoned cat named No Name, which lives in his garage.

Marvin Hollis and Sandy Bahret

Marvin Hollis and Sandy Bahret

“I read a bit of everything. I used to walk and exercise but now I just live my life,” he said.

Although he still spends a lot of time in Murray Hill, Hollis and Bahret live at Settler’s Landing, where he continues in a leadership role as treasurer of the Homeowners’ Association. When asked about changes in Murray Hill, he remarked, “There are new stores coming and going, new eating joints, but it’s mostly the same.” 

Hollis has also been coming and going for almost a century – from a small town in Oklahoma to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, from Jacksonville to North Carolina and back, and he’s still going strong. Plus, he doesn’t have to hitchhike anymore.

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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