VALDOSTA -- A true friend, brother and hero.
That's how those who knew Army Spec. Christopher J. Holland described him during a memorial service Thursday on Valdosta State University's front lawn.
VSU's Sigma Nu Chapter conducted the service to honor its fraternity brother, a medic assigned to the 1st Armored Division. Holland was killed during an ambush in Iraq on Dec. 17.
Holland had the distinction of being the chapter's founding father. Joining Holland's fraternity brothers were his family and other friends as they listened to those who knew him best.
John Williams remembered his roommate as someone who was always there for a friend.
"A lot of people would say that Chris was really quiet and hard to talk to, but the more and more you got to know him, he was one of those people who would never shut up," Williams said, smiling. "He always accepted everyone for who they were. Pretty much with Chris, what you saw is what you got. He was definitely one of a kind."
Holland graduated from VSU in August 2000 and lived in Colorado for about a year. The two friends didn't stay in contact as much as they would have liked, Williams said.
When Holland joined the Army in August 2001, he never told Williams why. Holland often described how much he loved the Army and planned to reenlist.
Tommy Wehner was Holland's roommate in Colorado. When Holland joined the Army, Wehner returned to Valdosta, he said.
"He was a person you could get along with and trust, and he was a trustworthy person," Wehner said. "I was truly blessed having him in my life -- he was a friend, a very good Christian. We had lots of good times and lots of good memories."
When Williams learned of his friend's death, he wanted to do a memorial service for him. It was a way of giving thanks to him, he said. "He would have done the same for anyone of us," Williams said. "I know he died protecting me and all of us here today."
John Harris remembered his fraternity brother who took the time to write him and his wife and congratulate them when he learned they were going to have a baby. This was when his unit was getting ready to enter into Iraq. He wrote of no uncertainty and no fear, Harris said. "He was a brother and friend, and now he's a hero."
Friend and fraternity brother Josh Cothran said that the common theme for the day was hero. The dictionary tells us that a hero is a man who is admired for his accomplishments and one who shows great courage, he said.
"I believe what John (Williams) has told us, that we all can say we know a true hero today, because of the effect Chris Holland had on our lives," Cothran said. "We all lost someone who affected us in a positive way. Chris had a rare combination of hard working trustworthiness and insightful humorous personality, that made you want to stay up late and talk with him."
Vice President Dr. Louis Levy said the university was proud of Holland when he graduated in 1999 and his service to his fraternity and his university. Levy said he shared a special bond with Holland since they both had served as medics in the Army in times of combat. "On behalf of all of us here at Valdosta State University, we thank you the family for Christopher Holland for sharing him with us ... ," Levy said.
In his quest to honor his friend, Williams initially ran into Whit Chappell, director of Annual Giving, who steered him in the right direction. Chappell, a retired Air Force officer, understood how Holland's friends felt, and he steered them in the right direction.
"I gave them some ideas and they took them and ran with them. You know how I feel being a 25-year veteran, I want to honor that person who gave the ultimate sacrifice," Chappell said.
At the end of the service, Taps was played by bugle while the American flag in front of the university was lowered by an honor guard provided by the VSU Air Force ROTC program. The honor guard folded the flag and presented it to Army Recruiter Staff Sgt. Christopher Walker, who then presented the flag to Holland's mother.
To contact reporter Rip Prine, please call 244-3400, ext. 237.
MORVEN -- A monument to the days when basketball was the sport in a small South Georgia town was destroyed Thursday by an early morning fire.
An official with the city of Morven said the fire was called in at about 2 a.m. by neighbors of the old Morven School gymnasium off Highway 133. The North Brooks and East Brooks Fire Departments responded to the blaze, which still smoldered late Thursday afternoon. Rod Williams, an investigator with the Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner's Office is investigating the cause of the blaze.
The 8,512-square-foot structure made of heart pine, located next to City Hall and the newly renovated auditorium, was completely engulfed by flames within an hour, a witness said.
Barbara Moody Sumner is a member of the Landmarks Organization which was working to preserve the Morven School that was built in the 1930s. She is also a former basketball player, coach and teacher at the Morven School.
"The gym held so many memories for me," Sumner said. "I have a knot in my stomach. I feel like a member of my family has died."
Sumner remembers 1953 when the Morven boys' team won the district and a year later, the girls team on which she played won district. She was in that same gym the day John F. Kennedy died in 1963.
"I was in the gym teaching a class when a boy walked in and said JFK had died," Sumner said. "He had heard it on his transistor radio as he walked over from class."
In 1995, she was a hostess for the reunion of four classes from the Morven School when the idea to preserve the school surfaced. She is a charter member of the Morven School Alumni Association which oversees the Landmarks Organization. She had hoped the gym could be repaired, but the fire ended that possibility.
"Really, the gym was beyond repair, but it held so many memories," she said. "All of the trophies that used to be in the gym are now in cases in the Citizens Community Bank. We cleaned them up and at least they are not gone."
Zach Williams, Morven School coach from 1952-55, said he was sadden by the news of the gym's destruction.
"This is a loss for the community," Williams said. "I felt sorry, and I felt disappointment. It meant a whole to the people who played ball there."
City Clerk Sandy Rentz did not attend the school, but she has listened to her husband talk about his days at the Morven School. She said she hated to see the fallen, burned structure.
"There was nothing of value inside -- a time clock and score board that may have been worth money," Rentz said. "The only other thing in there was a whole bunch of memories."
To contact Tanya B. O'Berry, call 244-3400, ext. 239.
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