83-year-old Marine keeps promise to friend made in Vietnam bunker

83-year-old Marine keeps promise to friend made in Vietnam bunker

Unless you count playing Call of Duty, most of us have never fought in war. But we're still fascinated by the reality of it. We read amazing stories about veterans, like Louis Zampini in his biography, Unbroken. We see movie masterpieces like Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk. We even dress up in full gear at Civil War Reenactments, firing cannons, recreating historic battles, and watching "Abraham Lincoln" make a speech (No spoilers! I don't know how it ends yet).

However, no matter how much we play dress up, we can't recreate the real experience. We don't know what it's like to witness the horrors of war. Nor do we understand the strong bonds forged between fellow soldiers. But each story about it brings us a little closer, and a recent article about two Vietnam vets is pretty incredible.

On New Year's Eve, 1968, some people were at a swanky party. Master Sgt. William H. Cox and First Sgt. James "Hollie" Hollingsworth were hunkering down in a bunker, in the Marble Mountains of Vietnam. While others watched the ball drop in Times Square, they watched deadly rockets and mortar rip through the sky, and drop all around them.

“Charlie (the nickname for the North Vietnamese) was really putting on a fireworks show for us," says Cox.

Cox was an ordinance chief. Hollingsworth was a mechanic. Both were door gunners. They met on their way to Vietnam, served in the same helicopter squadron and flew many missions together. Now, with the shadow of death creeping over them, they made a promise: “If we survived this attack or survived Vietnam, we would contact each other every year on New Year’s."

And guess what? They survived. After the war, they went separate ways. Hollingsworth - aka "Hollie" - settled down in Georgia. Meanwhile, Cox stayed in the Marine Corps for twenty years, and went on to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. But they kept their pact. Every New Year's Eve, for almost fifty years, they contacted each other.

But that came to an end when Cox discovered Hollingsworth, 80, was terminally ill. He drove 125 miles to visit his old friend in person. That's when Hollie asked him to make another vow: to deliver the eulogy at his funeral.

“I said, ‘Boy, that’s a rough mission you’re assigning me to there,’” Cox said. But he was up for the task. “There’s a bond between Marines that’s different from any other branch of service. We’re like brothers."

Cox, 83, fulfilled his promise. He delivered Hollingston's eulogy, closing with a phrase they used to say during combat missions: "Hollie, you keep ‘em flying, and I’ll keep ‘em firing.” Then he stood guard, without his cane, to pay tribute.

As we keep consuming war in pop culture and North Korea swears "nuclear war could break out at any moment," we hope we never have to fight on the front lines. But if we do end up in World War 3, hopefully we all have a friend like William Cox.