S.D. Human Relations Commission Recognition to Couple who turned grief over fallen son into action.
After their only child was killed in Iraq in 2005, John and Stacey Holley decided to channel their anguish into something positive to make a difference for other grieving parents.
The Carmel Valley couple had been aghast to learn that their son, a combat medic, would make his final trip home in the cargo hold of a commercial jet. They quickly lobbied for more respectful treatment for both him and other military personnel who had sacrificed their lives for their country.
As a result, the “Holley provision” was added to federal legislation mandating the return of fallen heroes' coffins aboard military or charter jets. Furthermore, they must be met by uniformed honor guards instead of baggage handlers with forklifts.
But the Holleys' mission hasn't stopped there. They now are creating a foundation in the name of their son, Matthew Holley, to present scholarships to deserving teenagers. Two $500 scholarships in karate, his favorite sport, were given out this spring. Scholarships also will be presented to aspiring young graphic artists.
After all, Matthew's last phone call home was a request for crayons so he could teach Iraqi kids to draw.
Today, however, Matthew's parents are getting the recognition as the S.D. Human Relations Commission gives them its first annual award.
“They turned their grief into a gift for other people,” says commission head Nicole Murray-Ramirez.
The award is named in honor of Keith Turnham, a World War II prisoner of war with terminal cancer, who served on the commission for eight years. Turnham will present it today at the downtown Witherby event center.
More than 3,500 Americans have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Before the new law was passed by Congress, the dead that arrived from overseas at the military mortuary in Dover, Del., were then typically flown to the commercial airport nearest their families.
Some were met by smartly uniformed military honor guards. But in other cases, the flag-draped caskets were unceremoniously taken off the plane by ordinary ground crew members and handed over to the family at a warehouse in a cargo area.
The legislation ensuring such treatment bears his name: the Holley Provision, which the Pentagon quietly started following in January.
“I don't know what Matthew would've thought about this, because he was a private person. But I am sure he would've been glad that because of him, other soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen were properly honored,” said his father, John Holley.
“This is an awesome thing. I am glad the government has adopted the policy it should have had from the beginning,” said Holley, who tears up when talking about his son.
Matthew Holley was a resident of The Colony from 1992 to 1999. He attended Camey Elementary and Griffin Middle School.
He was the son of John and Stacey Holley, both Army Veterans. He followed in his father's footsteps by earning his jump wings from the 101st Airborne as his father did years before.
On November 15, 2005, Matthew paid the ultimate sacrifice and died of injuries sustained in Taji, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV during combat operations.
Matthew Holley was the son every parent wants: smart, handsome, creative, and filled with purpose. A three-time AAU national karate champion, he was an exceptionally-skilled athlete. He was also a gifted amateur artist. With his talent and his drive, Matthew could have excelled in nearly any profession he chose. He chose to be a Soldier.
When Matthew enlisted in the United States Army in February of 2004, he was following the example of generations of his family. His father and his mother were both Army veterans. Between uncles, cousins, and grandfathers, the Holley family had collectively served more than 150 years in uniform since World War II, and Matthew was ready to do his part. But most importantly, Matthew was excited to be following in his father's footsteps.
The day he graduated from Air Assault School Matthew called home, saying, “I've got my wings, Dad. We can put them with yours.” Matthew put in for assignment to his father's old unit, the 101st Airborne. He got his wish and became a Screaming Eagle, just like his dad before him. He chose his military specialty, Combat Medic, because he wanted to help people, again following the example set by his father, who has been both a paramedic and a professional firefighter