Ocie Leonard Holley
August 2, 1921 to March 23, 2008
Ocie Leonard Holley
Ocie Leonard Holley passed away peacefully on Easter Sunday morning with his family at his side in his apartment at Mt. View Retirement Center in Ashland, Ore. A private family memorial was held at Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home in Ashland, on March 27, 2008. His wishes for cremation were honored and his U.S. military funeral honors were held at Eagle Point National Cemetery in Eagle Point, Ore., on March 28, 2008. A family celebration of his life and distribution of his ashes into the Pacific Ocean will be held on the Oregon coast later this year.
He is survived by his son, and daughter-in-law, Bryan and Nancy Holley, of Ashland; his daughter, and son-in-law, Nancy and Terry McCune, of Chico, Calif.; his two cherished granddaughters, Elena Holley of Portland, Ore., and Amber Lichens, of San Diego, Calif.; his brother, Lewis Holley, and wife, Verna, of Las Vegas, Nev.; and many beloved nieces, nephews, kinfolk and friends.
Born in Wetumpka, Elmore County, Alabama, to Ira Jewel Lanier Holley, and Ocie Lee Holley, he grew up on the family cotton farm where field and garden work were required efforts from every family member. Ocie (or Leonard as many knew him, or Alabam', or 'Bam) had three brothers, Clyde, Paul, and Lewis; and three sisters, Esther, Edna, and Nell.
Ocie was graduated from Holtville High School, where his exposure to a national education experiment introduced him to the profession of journalism. This led to a memorable train trip to New York City and a six-week, on-the-job training session at the Mergenthaler Linotype Company in Brooklyn, N.Y. Back in the era when "hot type" was the only way to set type, he learned how to completely disassemble a Linotype machine, and then learned the unusual style of "typing" required to use it. This ability to learn complex skills would serve him again during the latter chapters of his life.
During his time in New York, he rode the subway to the Empire State Building, to Radio City Music Hall, and to the Paramount and other theaters, where he always fondly recalled hearing great live music from many of his Big Band and Swing heroes, such as Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Alfred Wallenstein, Oscar Levant, Fred Waring, and other musical greats of the '40s and '50s. He never lost this early love of Big Band, Swing, Dixieland, jazz, and Rhythm & Blues, and listened to Benny Goodman's music even during his final few days.
As World War II broke out and swirled around the nation, Ocie Leonard enrolled in an aeronautics school in Whitehaven, Tenn., where he learned sheet-metal repair under the auspices of the Army Air Force. The military needed mechanics to speed production of airplanes into action, and he learned sheet-metal fabrication, first in Tennessee, and then on-the-job in the Panama Canal Zone, where he was a commissioned aircraft sheet-metal worker. On January 10, 1945, he was drafted into the United States Army, was enlisted as a private, and was commanded to the South Pacific front, where he served in the 163rd Infantry Regiment, 41st Division, with orders to prepare for a land invasion of Japan.
After the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, his regiment was instead shipped on the U.S.S. Vulcan to Hiro Bay, Japan, near Hiro, only 30 miles from ground zero. Commanding officers wanted a newspaper published and the call went out seeking typesetters, writers, editors, etc. Ocie Leonard answered the call, was selected and then used his New York City training to run the linotype machine on the U.S.S. Vulcan. The completed lines of type were locked into wooden typecases and he and a team took them on deck, then by pulley down into boats that would motor onshore. With the support of senior command, they then used a Jeep to go to Hiroshima, only six weeks after the dropping of the bomb, to take the typecases to a printing plant (one of the few buildings standing), where they worked with the Japanese to use their presses to print an English language paper. The Musketeer only existed for a few issues, to be replaced by the Stars and Stripes in December 1945. These military accomplishments led to his promotion, and he was honorably discharged on November 20, 1946, with the rank of sergeant.
Returning to civilian life, he moved to Elko, Nev. (influenced by his youngest brother, Lewis) where he met and then married Evelyn 'Nina' Lopez in May, 1948. They were blessed with son, Bryan, (Class of '67); daughter, Nancy, (Class of '68); and son, Mark in 1954 (who died of kidney malfunction in 1958). Ocie always was most proud of his children and all members of his family.
During his life in Elko as a father, and husband, he built a career in the gaming industry, almost entirely at the Stockmen's Hotel. Starting as a roulette dealer, he worked through all jobs in the casino from blackjack dealer to croupier (craps dealer), ultimately being recognized for his talents and promoted to "pit boss", casino manager, and finally, part-owner. When the old Stockmen's Hotel burned to the ground by a kitchen fire in 1957, he was instrumental in getting staff and guests out of the hotel safely, running through halls to sound the alarm. He then led a rebuilding crew to salvage the brick from the old hotel, which was recycled and used for the facade for the new building. His successful career is a testimony to his leadership, hard work, honesty, fairness, communication skills, clever way with words, always ready gentle teasing, and sense of humor.
In later years, he met and married Ruby Shipman, of Paragould, Ark., and lived with her in La Quinta, Calif.; Twin Falls, Idaho; and Carson City, Nev. until her death. He then lived in Laughlin, Nev., near his brother, Lewis, and spent the final decade of his life in southern Oregon's Rogue Valley, first in Medford, and finally in Ashland. He preferred being called Ocie in later years, and frequently said this valley was one of the finest places he had ever lived.
Everyone in Ocie's family sends our sincerest thank you to the many medical professionals who helped keep him healthy and alive during his final years. We all thank all the doctors and staff of Southern Oregon Internal Medicine, Southern Oregon Neuropsychological Clinic, Hematology Oncology Associates, Providence Hospital, Rogue Valley Medical Center and Emergency Cardiology Unit, the Department of Veterans Affairs Domiciliary, in White City, and everyone at Ashland Community Hospital, including its Emergency Room staff and the caring team of supportive Hospice professionals. We are so grateful to all the current and former service staff and management at Mt. View Retirement Center, who always took such good care of Ocie Leonard, especially as they helped family and Hospice nurses provide comfort for him during his last few weeks.
And finally, we salute the people of Eagle Point National Cemetery and the dedicated National Guard volunteers who conducted the flag ceremony with such great dignity and respect.
Donations in Ocie Leonard Holley's memory may be made to any veterans' association in your local area, or to the Oregon, California, or National Alzheimer's Association.