Robert Kimball Holmes

Robert Kimball Holmes

Remembering WWII's Fallen

Stories about Robert Kimball Holmes

Robert Kimball Holmes

  • Salt Lake City, Utah

Robert Kimball Holmes was born May 8, 1922 in Wichita, Sedgewick, Kansas, the son of Edward Daniel Holmes and Sydney Ola Campbell. He was the youngest of seven children with three older brothers and three older sisters. His father was born in Iowa and his mother in Texas. His mother passed away in 1938, and his father remarried in July 1940 to Rozina Nate. His father worked as a carpenter and later as a stock salesman.

Robert was nicknamed Bobby and in 1930, he resided with this family in Huntington, Emery County, Utah. In 1940, he resided with this brother, John and his family, along with their father, in South Salt Lake, Utah.

As soon as he turned 18, Robert planned to enlist in the Marine Corps, doing so on May 20, 1941, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He had completed one year of college and worked as a nursery and landscape laborer prior to his enlistment.

Private First Class Robert Kimball Holmes was serving in the United States Marine Corps on board the USS Oklahoma, which was moored at Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when the ship was attacked by Japanese aircraft on December 7, 1941. The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which caused it to quickly capsize. The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Holmes. Robert was 19 years of age at the time of his death.

Only 35 were identified in the years immediately after the attack. The Oklahoma's casualties were second only to the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177 men. As soon as possible after the attack the bodies and remains of bodies were collected and buried in graves in Hawaii with the marker "Unidentified" at the site of burial. In May 2018 the military authorities informed the family that his remains were positively identified. Nearly 77 years after Robert Kimball Holmes last visited his family in Utah his remains were going to be returned home.

"It's strange, isn't it," Bruce Holmes said, "to be here honoring a 19-year-old kid killed 77 years ago."

It was, in many ways, a traditional military funeral. Bagpipes and drums played. Marines in uniform acted as pallbearers; they stood at attention as family members spoke and prayed; they fired off a salute; they took the American flag from the coffin, folded it and presented it to a family member. A lone bugler played taps as the more than 150 people in attendance bowed their heads.

On hand also were two-dozen members of the Patriot Guard Riders, the biker group that, decked out in leather vests and chains, attends funerals of members of the U.S. military and was formed 64 years after Pearl Harbor.

But it was indeed strange to be burying the remains of a man killed nearly eight decades ago — "a few bones" covered by "dress blue uniforms," Bruce Holmes said.

Only one person in attendance at the graveside services — his nephew and namesake, Bob Holmes — had any personal memories of his uncle. The younger Bob, now more than four times as old as the older Bob was at the time of his death, said he has vivid memories of his uncle coming home on leave in the summer of 1941 when the nephew was just 6 years old. And stark memories of America's sudden entry into World War II.

"One Sunday morning," Bob Homes said, "my dad grabbed me and my younger brother [and] said, 'There's been a tragedy. We have to go down to Gramps.'"

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and his grandfather was listening to a radio report about the raid on Pearl Harbor. What they didn't know at the time was that the battleship on which Pfc. Bob Holmes was serving, the USS Oklahoma, had been hit by several torpedoes from Japanese warplanes. It capsized and sank on battleship row.

"Grandpa had to wait weeks to get any kind of information from the Marines, the War Department or the Navy Department," the nephew said. Eventually, he received a telegram telling him his son was missing, followed by a second that he had been killed.

Bob Holmes recalled, decades later, talking to a friend of his uncle who had served with him on the Oklahoma. "He said, 'One of the things that I remember most about Bob is that he had this attitude. Not just a Marine attitude, but a Holmes boy attitude — defiance, aggression and don't-mess-with-me.

"He said Bob was standing on the deck of the Oklahoma, firing his handgun at the Japanese planes as they were bombing, strafing and dropping their torpedoes."

Nearly 77 years later, Robert Kimball Holmes was laid to rest under a towering pine, just below 11th Avenue — a site that overlooks not just the military section of the cemetery but also the city itself.

"We have finally completed our journey, bringing Bob home," Bob Holmes said.

Robert’s final resting place is the Salt Lake City Cemetery in Salt Lake County, Utah.

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26 Jul 2020
27 Jul 2020
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