Veteran Who Kept Guard Over His Friends Casket, a Promise Made in a Bunker in Vietnam

'They made a pact to stay in touch, if they survived their tour, and they did. Both were door gunners, and dad was the only enlisted man in VMO-2 to be awarded the DFC in Vietnam.
'They made a pact to stay in touch, if they survived their tour, and they did. Both were door gunners, and dad was the only enlisted man in VMO-2 to be awarded the DFC in Vietnam.

The two men had met when they faced enemy fire in a bunker on Marble Mountain in Vietnam.

In 2017 retired Marine Master Sgt. William H. Cox stood tall, proud and dressed in his Blues at the head of the coffin of his close friend Retired Marine First Sgt. James ‘Hollie’ Hollingsworth.

In doing this, he fulfilled a vow made to his close friend.

It was New Year’s Eve, but instead of champagne corks and dance music, all that could be heard was the whine of bullets that ricocheted in all directions and explosion of shells.

The then 83-year-old put on his dress blues and stood guard over his friend’s casket during his funeral service on October 20, 2017. A promise made in Vietnam. Credit: Bill Cox
The then 83-year-old put on his dress blues and stood guard over his friend’s casket during his funeral service on October 20, 2017. A promise made in Vietnam. Credit: Bill Cox

The two men vowed that if they made it through this horror of a New Year, they would keep in contact every New Year for the rest of their lives.

After completing their military service, the two men returned to the United States and went on with their lives.  They ended up living thousands of miles from each other, but this separation did not stop the two men from keeping their promise made in the heat of battle.

The vow made by Cox and Hollingsworth stood the test of time, and every year for the next 50 years, the two old friends made contact with each other every 31st December.

Neither allowed any of the vagaries of life to interfere with the keeping of this tradition.

Marine grunts in Vietnam exit their transportation, a CH-53A Sea Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463. DoD Photo National Archive
Marine grunts in Vietnam exit their transportation, a CH-53A Sea Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463. DoD Photo National Archive

As Hollingsworth’s life was drawing to a close, Cox, aged 83 at the time, made the long trip from Piedmont in South Carolina to see his friend in Hephzibah in Georgia, and to have the chance to say good-bye.

At that meeting, Hollingsworth had one final request to make to his friend; he asked him to stand guard over his coffin and to deliver a eulogy.

Cox jokingly replied that Hollingsworth had assigned him a rough mission, but after all that they had endured together, he was sure that he could accommodate his friend’s dying wish.

Cox’s son, Bill Cox, shared a photograph on Facebook of the two men deep in conversation.  The caption on the picture said that the two great Marines were reunited once again.

The two men served together in Marine Squadron VMO-2 in Vietnam. They flew more than 200 missions together aboard the same Huey helicopter during the conflict in Vietnam. Credit: Bill Cox
The two men served together in Marine Squadron VMO-2 in Vietnam. They flew more than 200 missions together aboard the same Huey helicopter during the conflict in Vietnam. Credit: Bill Cox

Cox went on to say how proud he was of his father and the service that he had done for his country. He also mentioned how great it was listening to stories recounted by one of his father’s oldest friends.

The two old warhorses always ended all their conversations with the same phrase, “Hollie, you keep ’em flying, and I’ll keep ’em firing.”

In keeping with their tradition, this was the last thing that Cox said to Hollingsworth as the friends parted company for the last time.

Cox kept the promise made to his friend at that last meeting and at Hollingsworth’s funeral held on the 20th October 2017, there is a photograph of the proud octogenarian, dressed in his Marine Blues standing at the head of his friend’s coffin.

At the end of a very emotional eulogy, given by Cox, his last words were the traditional farewell between the two men, “Hollie, you keep ’em flying, and I’ll keep ’em firing.”

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There has also been an outpouring of respect shown to these two amazing men that met in the midst of chaos but faithfully kept their vow to maintain contact, a pledge kept for 50 years.