Stories That Live Forever: Part X - A Distinguished Life

Nov. 10, 2009

Stories That Live Forever

Editor's Note: The following story is the 10th installment of the Stories That Live Forever series. The series originated in 2007 to commemorate Memorial Day and honor the names listed on the Washington State University Veterans Memorial on the WSU campus. Beginning Veterans Day 2008, the scope of the series was expanded to include Washington State student-athletes who have served, or are serving, the United States in the military. To access the entire series please click HERE.

Some information in the following story was taken from C. James Quann's book 'WSU Military Veterans: Heroes and Legends.' The story of the WSU Veterans Memorial, of which Mr. Quann was the driving force in its creation, serves as Part I of the 'Stories That Live Forever' series.

Part X - A Distinguished Life

By Jason Krump

The Washington State University Baseball program has a long and distinguished history with the program's inception corresponding to the founding of the University in 1892.

There have been over 800 letterwinners in the program's history. Many members of this elite group earned letters in multiple seasons and moved onto the professional ranks, while others earned a letter for one season.

Jack Holsclaw was one of the single-season letterwinners in 1938. But his story and life were defined by much more than the 1938 season he played for Washington State College; as he went on to serve with distinction in World War II flying for the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

Born March 21, 1918 in Spokane, Wash., Holsclaw was the city's first African-American Eagle Scout at the age of 15. Graduating from Spokane's North Central High School in 1935, Holsclaw spent a year at Whitworth College before transferring south to Washington State College.

Holsclaw played basketball and baseball and tried out for both while at WSC. He was the last person cut from Jack Friel's basketball squad but he did make the grade on Arthur 'Buck' Bailey's baseball team. Because of transfer rules, Holsclaw sat out the 1937 season before playing his junior year in 1938.

'I could throw the ball pretty well but, truthfully, I was an infielder.'
Jack Holsclaw

In a Feb. 10, 1998 interview with C. James Quann, veteran of the Korean War, former WSU Registrar, and author of the book WSU Military Veterans: Heroes and Legends, Holsclaw talked about his baseball experience in 1938.

'I could throw the ball pretty well but, truthfully, I was an infielder,' Holsclaw remembered. 'The first half of the season I played third base, but Buck was impressed when we were trying out because I could catch a fly ball...and I could throw it accurately back into the infield.

'Because of my good throwing arm, Buck always thought I should be in the outfield,' Holsclaw continued. 'But he played me at third-base the first half of the season, and then the last half he moved me to centerfield. I enjoyed it, playing ball was important to me, even though I would have much rather been in the infield, it was important to play, so the outfield was okay too.'

Holsclaw demonstrated that throwing arm in the final game of the 1938 season against Idaho, and because of it, sparked a brawl.

In the eighth inning, Idaho's Mark Stoddard tripled when Idaho's next batter, Roy Ramey, sent a fly ball in Holsclaw direction in right field. According to the Daily Evergreen account, Holsclaw made a beautiful throw to catcher Sam Eastman after making the putout.

As the Evergreen stated, 'Holsclaw perfect peg to Eastman nailed Stoddard for the double play.'

Eastman blocked the played in a manner that apparently irritated Stoddard to the point that he wrapped his leg around Eastman and spiked him (as the Eastman claimed in the Evergreen's story).

The two exchanged blows at home plate, and as the story said, hundreds of spectators rushed out of the stands to join in the melee, and only for the quick action of umpire Ollie Arbelbide and others prevented any serious damage. Trouble was finally quelled after 10 minutes.

For the 1938 season, Holsclaw batted .238 and became only the second African-American student-athlete in Washington State baseball history to earn a letter.

While at WSC, Holsclaw majored in political science but he decided to pursue a career in the medical field. He was accepted into a chiropractic program and transferred to Western State College in Portland, Ore., thereby ending his baseball career.

As one career ended, another one would begin for Holsclaw, and it would not be in the medical field.

During the time he was working on his Naturopathy degree at Western State, where he graduated in 1942, Holsclaw was also busy pursuing another endeavor.

'While at college, I participated in the Civilian Pilot Training Program and Multnomah College and earned my private pilots license,' Holsclaw recalled. 'I paid $8.56 for my training and that took me through the whole program including ground school, plus 40 hours flying time.'

At the time of his graduation, World War II was occurring, and Holsclaw went right into the Army after college, where his flight training would pay off.

Holsclaw reported to flight school at Tuskegee University where he underwent training with a distinguished group of flyers.

'Our entire unit, pilots, crew members, mechanics, mess personnel, the whole outfit, our commanding officers, were black,' said Holsclaw. 'We were the Red Tails; we got that name because of the tails of our P-51s were painted red.'

During the war, Holsclaw flew in seven major campaigns as an escort pilot throughout the European Continent logging long hours.

'I had 350 combat hours and I would say 280-300 of those hours were in P-51s,' said Holsclaw. 'And I would say that all of our guys had about the same number of hours. All told, in all of our group's escort flying, we didn't lose a single bomber to enemy fighters. That is what I am most proud of.'

'We knew we were outnumbered...our mission was to stay with and protect the bombers instead of flying off in pursuit.'
Jack Holsclaw

Holsclaw most notable occurrence in those hours logged occurred on July 18, 1944, when his crew were escorting heavy bombers attacking enemy installations in Germany.

Suddenly, the unit of 64 P-51s soon came up against 300 German fighters

'We knew we were outnumbered,' Holsclaw remembered. 'The weather was kind of bad that day. Our group leaders had engine trouble and had to return to the field so I took over as group leader . I was not one of the most senior people but we were sitting up there flubbing our dub, flying in circles and I knew we weren't going to make it to the target--escorting the bombers if we didn't get going. I just kind of automatically took over and said over my radio that we were heading out and I took the lead to rendezvous the bombers.

'Our mission was to stay with and protect the bombers instead of flying off in pursuit. So what we did was designate one of our four squadrons as an attack squadron for each mission and we rotated the attack designation so that any given squadron would be the attack squadron every fourth mission,' Holsclaw said, 'the attack guys could break off and go in pursuit of the German fighters while the 3 other squadrons had to stay and protect the bombers.

In all, Holsclaw's unit shot down 11 German fighters, Holsclaw accounting for two. For his heroics, Holsclaw was bestowed with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In December of 1944, after flying 68 missions, Holsclaw was chosen to become the Assistant Operations Officer, a mainly administrative position.

'It was a very responsible job because you had to plan all of the missions, determine if we could fly that far and anticipate weather conditions.'

But it also meant that Holsclaw would no longer be flying. After completing 68 missions, he was nearing the limit of 70 mandated before a pilot was grounded to avoid combat fatigue.

Holsclaw remembers when he was told the news by his colonel.

'I went out and he was sitting in his command car outside and he said, `How many missions have you got' I said this will be 69 and I'm getting there. `No, he said, you have gotten there and you are through, you are not flying today.' And so that was it.'

Holsclaw made a career of the military accepting a commission after the war and staying on until his retirement from the military in 1965.

During that time, Holsclaw served in Korea, Japan and Vietnam, as well as serving ROTC duty in the states. After retirement he worked for the Federal Housing Authority in Northern California and returned to Washington to work in Bellevue for a decade before retiring for good to Tucson in 1984. He passed away on April 7, 1998.

Jack Holsclaw (middle) Distinguished Flying Cross Award Ceremony (Photo Chanute Air Museum)

Because of that one 1938 season Holsclaw had a connection to Washington State. And Washington State has a connection to a great hero in World War II as evidenced by his Distinguished Flying Cross citation.

The citation read: For extraordinary achievement in aerial flights as a pilot of a P-51 type aircraft on 18 July 1944. Lt. Holsclaw led his flight as escort to heavy bombers attacking enemy installations in Germany. Despite several adverse weather conditions, he brought his flight through to engage an enemy force of approximately 300 enemy fighters. In the ensuing engagement, despite superiority in numbers of enemy aircraft, with complete disregard of his personal safety, Lt. Holsclaw with an outstanding display of aggressiveness and combat proficiency, destroyed two enemy fighters and forced the remainder to break off their organized attacks. By his outstanding courage, professional skill and devotion to duty, as evidenced throughout his combat career, Lt. Holsclaw has reflected great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
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