John "Hillbilly" Mant Holt

Army Badge
  • Name: John "Hillbilly" Mant Holt
  • Location of Birth: Myra, Kentucky
  • Date of Birth: April 6, 1920
  • Date of Death: June 30, 2011 (91 years old)
  • Parents: Orbe and Cora Tackett
  • High School and Class:
  • College:
  • Highest Rank: MSG (Master Sergeant)
  • Branch: Army
  • Other Branch:
  • Date Sworn In: February 3, 1941 (Enlistment Date)
  • Place Sworn In:
  • Date of Discharge:
  • Place of Discharge:
  • Military Awards:
    European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars
    American Defense Medal
    American Theater Ribbon
    Good Conduct Medal
    World War II Victory Medal
    Occupation Medal
    American Campaign Medal
    National Defense Service Medal
    Good Conduct Medal with 4 Bronze Loops
    Expert Rifle Medal

  • Military Highlights:
    John joined the United States Army at an early age and served 23 years in the Army. He was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He served with the 106th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Battalion.

    John was stationed in Italy, France, Germany, Rhineland and Central Europe. He participated in battles in Rhineland and Central Europe.

    Memorable experiences: it was a snowy, wet and cold Christmas day in 1944 when Sgt. Hammer ordered foxholes to be dug for their four 50s and 37mm anti-aircraft guns and for themselves. After digging all day they were cold, wet, bone tired and lonesome. Holt discovered he only had one dry sock, so he decided to crawl out of his foxhole in search of a dry one. He only crawled a short distance when the Germans lobbed a grenade into his foxhole.

    He checked with his buddy, he didn't have any, so he crawled out to go to another foxhole when the Germans blew the hole up he was just in. When he reached the other hole, his friend had received a Christmas gift from home--a pair of purple socks. He offered both, but, needing only one he took it and left, crawling back to his own foxhole. The Germans lobbed another grenade and he lost his second buddy after just leaving his hole. Holt's life was spared three times by crawling from one fox hole to the other looking for a sock. To this day he wears one purple sock in memory of the two buddies he lost that Christmas. The purple sock has created much laughter for others, but in his heart there are tears that time has not erased with years.

    Article written by Lisa Rosemore, Grand Rapids Herald-Review, dated May 25, 2008:

    "Memorial Day - every day
    It seems like such a simple item.
    A purple sock. A single, solitary, purple sock.
    But this single purple sock is a physical, tangible reminder for one Grand Rapids man, his own token for a Memorial Day, every day.
    Has been for 64 years.
    It was December 1944 when American and German forces clashed in what would later become known as the Battle of the Bulge. It was Hitler's last offensive attempt to reverse a lost cause, a World War II battle in which more than one million men-American, German, British, French, Canadian, Belgian-would fight.
    The fighting began December 16, 1944 in the Ardennes Forest on the border of Belgium and German. It was foggy and misty, it was cold, it was snowy, the temperatures would fall below zero.
    And a young soldier was without a dry sock.
    John "Hillbilly" Holt was a member of the 106th Anti-Aircraft Battalion. They had been ordered to dig foxholes on Christmas Day and after digging all day, "we were cold, wet, bone-tired and lonesome," Holt wrote later. He made the decision to leave his foxhole in search of a dry sock.
    He hadn't crawled far when a German grenade landed and exploded.
    The grenade would have killed the young soldier had he not left the foxhole when he did.
    Holt made it to a buddy's foxhole. The buddy didn't have any socks, so Holt crawled from that hole to continue his quest, right before it blew up.
    Holt reached another buddy's foxhole, still alive. This time, there were socks. The young soldier's buddy had received a pair of purple socks for Christmas. Both were offered, but Holt only needed the one sock, so he declined the offer of the other.
    Holt crawled out from that fox hole with the purple sock, and again, an enemy grenade landed where he had been moments before, killing the buddy who had just shared his Christmas sock.
    The fighting continued on the Belgian border for another month, in an area covering more than 100 square miles. By the time the battle was over, more that (than) 600,000 American troops fought at the Bulge. More than 81,000 American casualties were reported, including approximately 23,500 captured and 19,000 killed.
    It was the worst battle the United States military ever suffered in terms of losses. More American soldiers fought in the Battle of the Bulge than any other one battle.
    And one young soldier survived because he was looking for a dry sock.
    Holt stayed in the Army for 23 years, retiring as a master sergeant. He is clearly proud of his service to the United States and loves to show his military uniform to visitors. His military medals are displayed in a frame in his room, including ribbons for two Bronze Stars.
    And to this day, he wears one purple sock in memory of the two men who died on a cold Christmas Day in Europe.
    "My purple sock has created much laughter for others," Holt wrote in a small story about his sock. "In my heart, there are tears that time has not erased with years."
    "On Monday afternoon, Holt will attend the Memorial Day ceremony presented by the American Legion for residents of Evergreen Terrace.
    But Holt's Memorial Day has been every day for 64 years. He wears a purple sock. Just one.
    A single, solitary purple sock."

    Article written by Willow Sedore, Herald-Review Staff Writer, dated June 25, 2003:

    "The legend of the purple socks
    Johnny "Hillbilly" Holt's life was spared by one wet sock.
    SFC U.S. Army Sergeant Hillbilly spent Christmas Eve of 1944 in a snowy, wet, cold foxhole in Bauxwielier, France during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
    "After digging all day, we were cold, wet, bone tired and lonesome," he said. "I discovered I only had one dry sock, so I decided to crawl out of my foxhole in search of a dry one. I'd crawled a short distance when the Germans lobbed a grenade into my foxhole.
    "I checked with my buddy, he didn't have any so I crawled out to go to another when the Germans blew the hold (hole) I was just in. When I reached the other hole, my friend had received a Christmas gift from home, a pair of purple socks. He offered both but needing only one, I took it and left. Crawling back to my foxhole the Germans lobbed another grenade and I lost my second buddy after leaving his foxhole.
    "My life was spared three times by crawling from one foxhole to the other looking for a sock. To this day I wear one purple sock in memory of my two buddies I lost that Christmas day."
    Unlike many in his unit Hillbilly said, "I was never hit, never even a piece of shrapnel in the Battle of the Bulge." He was later injured in a jeep accident after the war which did substantial damage to his knees.
    More than 600,000 American soldiers, 500,000 Germans and 55,000 British soldiers fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Hillbilly, who now lives at Evergreen Terrace in Grand Rapids, was one of them.
    Hillbilly was part of the 106th anti-aircraft automatic battalion attached to the unit of the 45th division known as "The Thunderbirds." The average age of the 106th Infantry Division was 22 years old, but at the time Hillbilly was only 16.
    Originally from the hills of Kentucky, Hillbilly joined the National Guard in Brooklyn, N.Y. Named Sterling Mant Tackett by his birth parents, Hillbilly hitched rides when he was a young man on freight trains across the country until he ended up in Brooklyn where a family adopted him and named him John Mant Holt. Regardless of the given name, everyone calls him Hillbilly. Those in his military unit even called him Sgt. Hillbilly.
    When the war broke out the Federal government inducted the entire National Guard unit Hillbilly was in. He later trained in Ft. Ethan Allen, Vermont before heading to Italy. The unit marched up through Germany and finally into France.
    I can't even remember Paris," said the 83-year-old today. "But I can remember Bauxwielier."
    As history will say, the 106th Infantry Division was credited with stalling the German Offensive which had actually been winning. The front, stretched across 21 miles, extended the battle and slowed the German army so much that they were never able to recoup.
    In all of WWII the Battle of the Bulge ended with 81,000 American casualties. The Germans captured 23,554 and killed 19,000--including three of Hillbilly's close friends.
    When he was sent back to Kentucky after the war's end Hillbilly said he didn't adjust well to civilian life. He reenlisted in the service and spent 23 years total in the Army. Although he was so young at the time of the war, Hillbilly said, "I know we had to protect ourselves the best we could." Looking at it now through the eyes of an aging man Hillbilly says, "I feel that we were doing the right thing then. We are all free now."
    Because the technology has changed so much Hillbilly said it doesn't seem like the battles being fought by U.S. Armed Forces today are the same as those fought to liberate France during WWII. Despite the changes, however, Hillbilly's fondness for the Armed Forces remains.
    He says, "If I could go in right now, I would today."
    After being posted in bases all over the United States and Europe Hillbilly moved to Grand Rapids from Fairbanks, Alaska in the late 1950s with his second wife Anna Bell who was originally from Grand Rapids. They opened a restaurant and called it "Hillbilly Holt's Cafe" which was across the street from what is now Sammy's Pizza. "They came for the BS not the food," he admitted.
    When Anna Bell died Hillbilly remarried, but never had any children of his own. He is, however, blessed with five step-daughters who enjoy listening to the stories Hillbilly will tell.
    Over the years the legend of the purple socks has created much laughter for Hillbilly and those he is close to, but he admits, "In my heart, there are tears that time has not erased with years."

    John "Hillbilly" Holt served from 1941 - 1962.

  • Wars Involved:
    World War II
    Korean Conflict

  • MIA / POW:

  • Civilian Life:
    John was orphaned, his mother died when he was two years old, and he was raised by uncle and aunts.

    Following his discharge in 1962, he settled in Grand Rapids where he and his wife, Ann Belle, operated "Hillbilly Holt's Cafe" for many years.

    His wife Ann Belle died in 1997 and his second wife, Rosemary, died in 2002.

    John was well known for calling bingo for the American Legion at the Itasca County Fair.

    John served as Chaplain for the Itasca Disabled American Veterans Chapter 13 for fourteen years and Commander for four years.

    He is survived by five stepdaughters, Jeanine (Norman) Bickford, G. Ann (Steven) Miller, Michele (John) Hedin, Mary (Roger) Lantinen, and Kathleen Mann; eleven grandchildren thirteen great-grandchildren; five sisters, Marcella White, Joyce Hall, Jean (Jerry) Compton, Linda (Dennis) Shewmaker and Pat Yeast; one brother, Arvid (Ruby) Tackett; and numerous nieces and nephews.

    John died at Grand Itasca Clinic and Hospital in Grand Rapids, Minnesota and is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery at Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

  • Tribal Affiliation(s):