Holger "Mike" Nielsen

From under a Ft. Bliss sand dune to California and then Kentucky, this dog tag has finally come home. I received an email from Alice (Nielsen) Meade indicating that Holger Nielsen was her father. I talked with Alice on the phone about her father and his time in the service. She told me that her sister Julie was very close to her father and would write to me about her father along with some photographs. This is her letter. JRH

Holger Nielsen near Juarez, Mexico about 1941.
Holger Nielsen near Juarez, Mexico about 1941.

Every time I begin this letter, I include much more info than your are interested in. I didn't realize the things I remembered about Daddy! Holger Nielsen was born in Colorado on February 15, 1917. He was the seventh son and the second one to be born in the United States. The others were born in Denmark. When he was small, they finally ended up in Antioch, Illinois. There, a playmate couldn't pronounce the strange Danish name and asked "Do you mind if I just call you Mike"?

And he was Mike thereafter.

When he was eleven years old, his beloved European mother died from a kitchen stove accident. While opening the oven, flames shot out and caught her long dress on fire. She lived a couple days only. Mike held up though. People did back then. His brothers and father moved to Chicago and Los Angeles to find work. The neighbors took Mike in and he worked for his keep. He worked at a dairy milking cows while in high school. Knowing he couldn't continue to milk cows before and after school for four years, the kind-hearted principal let Mike study at his own pace. He graduated as a junior.

It was now the mid 30's. Hearing how exciting Hollywood was, he joined up with his brothers in Los Angeles to drive trucks. He said up until the 1950's that if a load dock was closed, you could still leave the entire load outside on the dock and it would be there when the business opened the next day.

In 1941 he and a couple of brothers (which ones I don't know, except Johannes, who went to Africa for some of the war) joined the army. I recall hearing of Fort Bliss in regards to a couple of events. It is my understanding that he was there early on in his training the first time. Then he went to Alaska. He was in Seward (Resurrection Bay) and manned those little block buildings that are on cliff sides around and outside the bay. He said it was cold and boring so the guys would come up with games or contest, such as shooting puffin or a different particular bird. He always felt bad about that.

Click pictures to enlarge.

Holger Nielsen in Alaska.
Holger Nielsen in Alaska.
Three of the 7 Nielsen brothers.
Three of the 7 Nielsen brothers.
Somewhere in France during WWII.
Somewhere in France during WWII.

Then he went to Kodiak Island. There, the men were fed a constant diet of mutton - old sheep. Being new, at first he was happy to get it and didn't understand the other guys' complaints. Then it got old. There was a big dog (in the photo) that hung out with Daddy and his friends. Probably because he got all the mutton he could stand! Finding out that an officer was coming to inspect things, Mike and his friends got a big idea: If they could empty the locker of meat (mutton), this guy might feel they weren't being taken care of and get some REAL food shipped in. So one night they snuck into the meat locker and retrieved all the mutton they could find. Even the smell of it was becoming sickening to them. They drug it off a ways and buried it. When someone realized it was gone, it was a big happy joke.

Finally the officer to inspect things showed up. The guys were in formation. Daddy and his friends, each in different areas of the formation, noticed that the big dog was by some buildings. He was struggling with something LARGE. Soon, other stray dogs got in on it. A fight broke out. The big dog grabbed at the big lump and some of it gave way. He ran over to the guys in formation and laid down in front happily gnawing away on a leg of rotten mutton. Not a good thing. The officer got to the bottom of it (why the meat had mysteriously disappeared) and instead of feeling sorry for them, decided they must not be very hungry. They had NO MEAT for a couple of weeks. Then when mutton arrived, it was a little more palatable! Daddy never ate a piece of lamb the rest of his life.

Having read the English version of Caesar's Gallic Wars recently, I realized there's a history to this very thing (sort of). Caesar was chasing Vercingetorix who was burning everything between them and trying to keep Caesar and the army's baggage apart. There was no grain for the soldiers and that was their staple - bread. So, Caesar sent some men out to where the local farmers had hidden with their cattle and of course came back with the cattle. The men ate beef at each meal and they were not accustomed to it and got sick. That is how Dad and his pals felt about mutton.

On leave from Alaska, he visited his brothers in Los Angeles. One of them stayed at a boarding house owned by Elsie Story, an Austrian woman that immigrated with her American husband in 1912. She had been a showgirl. When Mike went to see his brother at Elsie's, Elsie noticed how handsome he was and decided to fix him up with a new girl named Edna. She was from a small town in Wisconsin and worked as a carhop (in gorgeous Hollywood style costumes, many of which were Spanish style). Daddy had two weeks of leave in Los Angeles and found himself married on the last day! At some point Edna (Mom) moved to Fort Bliss - El Paso and Daddy went to France.

Holger Nielsen and Edna.
Holger Nielsen and Edna.
Edna around 1944.
Edna about 1944.

Now Mike was with a motor group. He said he worked on trucks in all weather. He got that job because someone overheard him talking about driving trucks and having to fix them in the desert. He said the parts ordered never arrived. Instead, they would get boxes of flywheels. Always, flywheels. The would have to strip other vehicles for parts or attempt to make them. While in France they would run into some unsettled areas and snipers would still be around. Mostly however, it was pretty well clear where they would go as it had already been bombed or cleaned up.

There was a rug factory where he and a few other guys slept for awhile. They rolledup in the rugs to stay warm. One night, someone passed gas (I'm certain this happened all the time, but this was a particular event). A backward boy from the deep south said "Mike, did you just fart"? Daddy hesitated, then answered with all seriousness: "Why, I don't even know how". The boy was quiet and then finally said "really"?

The last thing I know about Daddy in the army is that he and Guy Cooper where stationed at Fort Bliss. Guy had married a girl named Della. Della and Edna were good friends. Daddy and Guy never ate so well. Those two women tried to out cook each other. One night Edna would cook, the next night, Della. Mike and Edna were married three times. First in Tijuana, Mexico. The army sent Edna a notice when he was in Europe that they weren't really married. For some reason, when he got back they married in Juarez, Mexico. The army didn't like that either so they got married on base with a Chaplin...that one stuck.

Here is a recent story. On July 11th, having been going through a lot with my husband's health and company that stayed too long and having too many horses, I had a chat with Daddy. I do that. Yes, I know he passed away years ago. "Daddy, is there more? I talk to you and ask you give give me a sign that you hear me. I'll see your birth date on the radio screen or the day you passed away on the clock, but I guess that could be debated. Is there more after death? Do we come back? If this is correct, let me know. But let me know with something that is just yours, only from you. Not me looking for numbers. So there is no question. If I don't receive a strong sign, then that too is an answer. Either that you are not there or that you are there but we do not come back. All day, I tried to notice everything that could possibly be from Daddy. Nothing all day...oh well.

The next day my sister, Alice called. "Jule-de-la Jules! You'll never guess..." I knew somehow this was the answer! Surely! She went on "...I was watching Forensic Science, my favorite show, when I decided I had to Google Dad's name. I've never Googled a name, but I had to leave my show and do it right then! Isn't that strange? So I typed in Holger Nielsen. I looked around a little while and then found Metal Detecting In The USA and there were Dad's dog tags! I e-mailed the man who has them, Mr. Hoff and was so excited that I had a glass of wine and fell asleep! So I could not call you last night..." She was going to call me the same day!

"...so Mr. Hoff is going to send the dog tag he found at Fort Bliss". I immediately told her my story. We were excited! We hung up and I told my husband Gary the whole story. He questions everything, but even he had to admit this was strange. He said "too bad she isn't going to let you have them". Oh, I couldn't ask Alice. She's got all the photos - I couldn't. She called just then: "Jules, I forgot to tell you, when I got Mr. Hoff's e-mail response, I called Bruce (the boyfriend) and told him that I was going to send them to you". Alice, I just told Gary everything and he said it was too bad I couldn't have them. It was all too strange. You see the words, tag or tags. I didn't know if it was one or two. Alice sent me the tag the other day. I wear it all the time.

He was a healthy, handsome young man with the whole world ahead of him when he lost that tag. It feels good to wear it.

Thanks so much!
Julie (Nielsen) Richards

Holger "Mike" Nielsen passed away November 9, 1993 in Newbury Park, California. Thank you for your service Mike!

Holger Nielsen's WW II Dog Tag