On New Year’s Eve 1968, just before the dawn of 1969, Master Sgt. William H. Cox and his buddy First Sgt. James T. Hollingsworth were holed up in a bunker in the Marble Mountains of Vietnam.
Rockets and mortars were raining down all around them, or as Cox puts it, “Charlie (the nickname for the North Vietnamese) was really putting on a fireworks show for us.”
As they hunkered down, the two Marines made a pact: “If we survived this attack, or survived Vietnam, we would contact each other every year on New Year’s,” Cox recalled.
For nearly five decades, Cox, who lives in Piedmont, and Hollingsworth, whose nickname was Hollie, kept their promise to each other.
And earlier this year, Cox kept another promise: He stood guard at Hollingsworth’s casket and then delivered the eulogy at his funeral.
Standing guard, without the cane that the 83-year-old normally uses, Cox was paying tribute, one Marine to another.
But in giving the eulogy, he fulfilled his final vow to his friend.
When he learned that Hollingsworth was terminally ill, Cox went to visit, and his old friend Hollie asked Cox to give the eulogy at his funeral.
“I said, ‘Boy, that’s a rough mission you’re assigning me to there,’” Cox said.
The military forges strong bonds among the men and women who serve, but for Marines, that connection is even stronger.
“There’s a bond between Marines that’s different from any other branch of service. We’re like brothers,” he said.
The two men met on their way to Vietnam in 1968. After his service Hollingsworth settled in Georgia, while Cox spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and went on to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.
They served in VMO-2, a Marine helicopter squadron, where Hollingsworth was a mechanic and a door gunner, and Cox was an ordnance chief and a door gunner.
They flew many combat missions together, and at the end of each mission, they had a saying, which Cox repeated at the close of Hollingsworth’s eulogy: “Hollie, you keep ‘em flying, and I’ll keep ‘em firing.”