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John and Rema Holcombe: Precious Memories
By Karen Brewer


Photograph courtesy of the Holcombe family

Rema and John Holcombe as a young couple.


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Rema and John Holcombe on his 90th birthday, December 3, 2016. The couple were married on September 15, 1948, 12 days after her 17th birthday and three months before his 22nd birthday.




           When asked how they would wish to be remembered, John Holcombe said, “as a good, honest, hardworking family man,” and his wife, Rema, said, “as a mother and a friend.”

            “She’s a good cook. You can put that down,” John added, with a smile. “She feeds the young’uns on Sundays and Wednesdays.”

            Rema and John’s family, including sons Wayne and David, daughters-in-law Kathy and Faye, daughter Debbie, and grandchildren and great grandchildren, have been a source of joy for the couple, who were married on September 15, 1948, 12 days following her 17th birthday.

              Family get-togethers have been a tradition, and Rema has enjoyed cooking for her family.

            For many years, the Holcombe family has gathered at John and Rema’s Easley, South Carolina home for Sunday dinners after church and for special occasions. Each month, Rema cooks for family in honor of family members who have birthdays that month. “David and Wayne come after church every Sunday night,” Rema added. “I have leftovers from dinner. And Wayne and David come every Wednesday night and eat supper, too.” Debbie lives in Spartanburg County but visits her parents every week and attends church with them on Sunday mornings.

            Rema has special memories of her own parents coming to John and Rema’s home, especially at Christmas to celebrate the holiday with the family.

“You’d think Christmas never would come when you were growing up, but now it comes so fast,” said John.

“Before my Daddy died,” said Rema, “they always came here on Christmas morning. And then, every Christmas after my Daddy died, Mama would get in that car and come here by herself before daylight on Christmas morning. She loved Christmas. After Wayne’s boys came along, we would get in her car and go over there on Christmas mornings to watch them open their Christmas, and then we’d come back over here and have breakfast.”


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

          John and Rema Holcombe with daughter, Debbie, and sons, David and Wayne, on John's 90th birthday, December 3, 2016.


            Another memory Rema has of her father was when Debbie, the only granddaughter among eight grandsons, was born. “My Daddy sent me word at the hospital that I had ruined his ball team,” Rema said, with a smile. “Eight boys were in the family, and, when Debbie was born, he thought she had ruined his ball team. And she’s the only one that played ball outside of high school. She lasted longer. We followed her around, playing ball, for years and years. Debbie played volleyball and softball. They retired her volleyball shirt at Southern Wesleyan.”

            Debbie both played and coached on the collegiate and high school levels and won the National Coach of the Year Award from the National Federation of High School Coaches Association. Her first softball team experience, at her home church, Rock Springs Baptist, in her youth, was the beginning to her successful career. She played volleyball and softball as a student at Easley High School and Central Wesleyan College (now Southern Wesleyan University), and was inducted into the Hall of Fame at both schools. (SWU has retired her number 5.) Her volleyball coaching career began at T.L. Hanna High School, and then she took the reins as Head Softball and Volleyball Coach at James F. Byrnes High School. She then served as Head Coach of the Lady Warriors volleyball and softball teams at her alma mater (SWU), where she also taught physical education as an Associate Professor and served as Sports Information Director. She then became the Head Volleyball Coach at Presbyterian College and started the school’s softball team while teaching physical education as an Associate Professor. She returned to Byrnes High, teaching physical education, while also serving as Assistant Softball Coach at Anderson College (now Anderson University). She then became Head Softball Coach for the Lady Rebels at Byrnes High, where she was awarded the honor as National Softball Coach of the Year. She has now retired from coaching but has retained her teaching position at Byrnes. Debbie was honored as the Byrnes High School Teacher of the Year in 2012, and the school yearbook was dedicated to her in 2015.



Photograph courtesy of Debbie Holcombe

Southern Wesleyan University retired Debbie Holcombe's #5 volleyball jersey. Pictured are Debbie with her parents, John and Rema Holcombe, brothers, Wayne Holcombe and David Holcombe, sister-in-law, Faye Holcombe, and aunt, Anita Holcombe Green.


            Debbie spoke fondly of her father, for whom she has a special name, ‘Diddy.’ “My Diddy is a hardworking yet easy going man,” she said. “He takes great pride in his heritage and places importance on family loyalty. He is also a wonderful father and husband, expert gardener by growing the family fresh vegetables for over 60 years, and a generous provider for the family. Diddy loves to fish and is quite humorous with fish tales and other anecdotes. But most importantly, he is a strong Christian who lives his beliefs by attending church regularly, blessing our food, and being a Godly role model for his family. My favorite memories of my Diddy include him hitting fly balls to me in the pasture, wrapping me in a warm blanket to put me to bed on cold winters nights, me crying and begging to go fishing with him and his buddies when I was little (I always caught the biggest and the most), camping with the family, and attending almost all of my ball games and award ceremonies locally and all over the country. I am very blessed to have my Diddy in my life.”

She also spoke fondly of her mother. “While Diddy was working, Mama was always there for us,” she said. “I have no memory of a babysitter. Still, to this day, she is always home and there when we need her. She taught us how to be conscientious and considerate to others. My Mama makes sure everyone is fed, and she is a fabulous cook. My father passed along his love and ability for sports to me, and my Mama gave me her passion for teaching. My parents complement each other and make the perfect partners to raise a family. They not only required us to attend church, but they lived their Christian values before us daily. To this day, I always know where my parents are on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night....Rock Springs Baptist Church.”


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

John and Rema Holcombe with daughter-in-law, Kathy, and son, Wayne, at John's 90th birthday celebration held at their church.




Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Rema and John Holcombe with daughter-in-law, Faye, on John's 90th birthday.


        

      
John was born in Liberty, South Carolina on December 3, 1926, the eighth of 10 children born to John Esley Holcombe, Sr. and Della Alexander Holcombe. His eight late siblings were Etolia Holcombe McDonald, Leola Holcombe Satterfield, Jessie Mae Holcombe Garrison, Earl Holcombe, Walter Holcombe, Harold Holcombe, Bobby Holcombe, and Bessie ‘Bess’ Holcombe Moon, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 105. John’s only remaining sibling is his younger sister, Anita Holcombe Green.

There were 10 of us,” said John. “That was a bunch. I was number eight, Anita was number nine, and Bobby was number ten. My mother had babies from the time she was 17 till she was 41 or 42, when the last one was born. That’s having babies a long time. We had a good family. We got along together good. My Dad was in police work for almost 30 years. When he first married, he was the choir director at Smith Grove. After he got into his police work, he got out of church, but he finally got back in, down at Siloam.”

John grew up in Liberty, Easley, and Central, and graduated from Welcome High School in Greenville at the age of 16. “Not many people have heard of Welcome High School,” he said. “Welcome was on White Horse Road, and, when they built the new school, they called it Carolina High School.”

            Although his name now is John Esley Holcombe, Jr., and he grew up being called ‘Junior’, he explained that his given name at birth was Esley Napoleon Holcombe, and remained that until he was a teenager. “My mother named me Esley Napoleon, Esley after my Daddy and Napoleon after my grandfather,” he said. “But, when I was about 14 or 15, and we were working in Easley, the man who sent off for my Social Security card asked my Daddy what my name was, and my Daddy told him my name was John Esley. But I liked that Esley Napoleon pretty good. My Grandpa Napoleon Alexander, he was quite a fellow.”

            John’s sister, Anita, still refers to him by the name Junior. “That was my name in Powdersville,” he said. “Everybody in Powdersville that knows me calls me Junior.”


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Rema and John Holcombe with John's sister, Anita, on John's 90th birthday, December 3, 2016.


            Rema was born September 3, 1931 in the Forest Acres area of Easley, one of three daughters born to the late Clyde and Inez Vaughn. She grew up attending Rock Springs Baptist Church, having joined at the age of 12. Her sister and brother-in-law, Dot and Alvin Mahaffey, are longtime members of Rock Springs, as well. Rema’s late sister, Betty Sisk, a member of a church in Greenville, passed away in 2007.

            “My mother’s Daddy, Elferd Jennings, was a Presbyterian, and my mother’s Mama, Sallie Jennings, was a Methodist,” Rema said. “When they moved into the community from Anderson County, there wasn’t a Methodist or Presbyterian church close, but they lived close enough to the Baptist church, and so all of the children joined Rock Springs. My Mother and Daddy both were members of Rock Springs. They started going there when they were teenagers.

            “My parents were hardworking,” she said. “My mother worked in the mill for 38 years on the third shift. Daddy was a farmer part of the time, and then he was in the construction business.”

            Rema began first grade at Concrete Primary School (in Easley but in Anderson County) and later attended Crosswell Grammar School and graduated from Easley High School.

            Her family lived on the road that is now Highway 123, across from the current location of the Wal-Mart shopping center (the former location of Platt Saco Lowell), back when that land was a home place. “We were in walking distance from church,” she said. “If we didn’t have a way, if Mama and Daddy couldn’t go, we could walk up to the church.”

            Rema began worshiping at Rock Springs in the 1922 sanctuary, before it was bricked up, when it was a one-room, white wooden building. “My parents didn’t attend regularly when we lived so far away,” she said. “But then we moved closer, and we got a car, but we lived close enough to walk when Mama and Daddy were working. My grandmother Sallie Vaughn would walk with us and go to church.”


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

John and Rema Holcombe on Rema's 85th birthday, September 3, 2016.


            Rema was saved at the age of 12 during a revival meeting at Rock Springs and joined the church and was baptized in the spring pool in the woods. “That was the coldest water,” she said.

            “There were fewer than 100 members when I started going,” Rema said. “The church was out in the country. There were woods all around. There were trees all of the way around the church. We had to get water out of a well. The well was where they built the parsonage, and then built the church that we last came out of (the 1990 sanctuary).”

            “They had some good singings,” John recalled. “That whole yard would be full of young people. They raised the windows, and the women would have the fans.”

            John and Rema met at a third Sunday night singing held at Rock Springs, in the 1922 sanctuary. “All of the Powdersville boys would get together and come to Rock Springs to see the girls,” explained Rema. “That white building was small, and it was full. We were standing room only that night. I was standing in the doorway when I met him.”

“A girlfriend I went with a good long while introduced me to her, and then she rolled her eyes at me a little bit,” he said with laughter. “I got to going with her.”

            John had visited Rock Springs once before, as a little boy, when he rode a mule to the church one night. “My brother’s wife was expecting a baby, and I was supposed to stay with her while he was working second shift,” recalled John. “But another little boy and I rode that mule up to Rock Springs church. The preacher was preaching away, and I went off to sleep. When I woke up, it was thundering and lightning like you wouldn’t believe. While I had been asleep, the other little boy had made arrangements for him a ride home, but I had to ride the mule home. I got on that mule and started down the road. It was a dirt road then. That mule was afraid of cars. I had been told not to get him around a car. But, when I got started, here came a car down the church yard, and here came one behind me, blowing its horn. That mule went to bucking and throwing me up and down. I held around his neck, and I just hung on. I reckon the Lord took care of me that night.”

            “I’ve enjoyed watching the church grow,” Rema said. “It has always been exciting, because it’s always in a growing stage. We’re always planning to build.”

            She recalled when the 1959 sanctuary was built. “With that building, we had more room, and a nursery. When Wayne was little, I didn’t get to go to church regularly if the weather was bad, because they didn’t have a nursery in the 1922 building, and we had to sit out in the car. He was premature and was sick so many times. I thought he would die if he got sick, so I didn’t go if the weather was bad. When David was born, they had bricked the church up and had a nursery, but they didn’t have workers. And the nursery was right near the pulpit, and you had to get up and disturb everybody. When we were in the 1959 building, we had a nursery, and it was much better to leave your child and not have to worry about them crying.

            “That’s when I started teaching Sunday School, when we moved into the 1959 building. They needed more Sunday School teachers. I taught for 43 years. I always looked forward to it. Each child was different, and you had to deal with them differently. I also taught Mission Friends for about 40 years. We had Sunbeams, and it changed to Mission Friends. I taught Training Union. I didn’t have Training Union as long as I had the others, but, at one time, I taught all three. I always worked with the children.”


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Rema Holcombe on her 82nd birthday, September 3, 2013.



            Rema remembers the first service held in the 1990 sanctuary, on Easter Sunday. “We had room for everybody together,” she said. “It was hard to leave the 1959 building. That building was special, because my children grew up in that building, and they all joined the church in that building, but I was glad to do it to have room for people.”

            She felt the same way when the church family moved yet again into another new sanctuary, in May of 2004. “It was needed to be done to have room for more people,” she said.

            “I remember when it was just the little white building. I’ve seen it grow. It’s amazing, when you remember where we’ve come from and where we are now. It’s hard to imagine. The people who went to church back then, the older families who really kept the church going then, I know that they would be excited now with all that’s been going on. I saw a lot of changes, but the change was a joy.”

            The age group Rema taught in Sunday School for 43 years was the three year old age group. “Some of them say they remember me being their teacher, but a three year old doesn’t remember that,” she said. “Why they remember is because they came to Mission Friends and Training Union, and it was up to five years old, and they can remember more than a three year old.”

   


Photograph by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

John's Bible and Sunday School book.


         John also taught Sunday School at Rock Springs, children ages seven and eight. “I taught at one time in the little folks department,” he said. “They called it the primary department then,” said Rema.

          
John recalled one little boy, in particular, he taught, who, along with his father and uncle, drowned in a boating accident. “The Sunday before, I talked with him a little bit,” said John. “He loved to fish, that little boy. He was eight years old, I believe. He said, ‘Yeah, we’re going fishing next Saturday if it don’t rain.’ Well, it had come a bunch of rain and got the rivers up, but they went, anyway. They think what they were doing was catching bait at the foot of the Issaqueena Dam, and a big log must have come over and hit the boat. All three of them drowned.”

            “That woman lost her husband, brother, and son,” said Rema.

The little boy was only eight years old,” said John. “He was a smart little boy. I loved to talk to him.”

            John has also been active in Rock Springs, having served as a deacon and also as an usher for many years, in three sanctuaries. “He was an usher in the 1959 building,” said Rema. “When we went to the 1990 building, they put him in the balcony as an usher, and he thinks he can’t get out of that balcony.” John still serves as an usher in the balcony, in the current sanctuary, which was built in 2004.

            All three of John and Rema’s children are members of Rock Springs, and their oldest son, Wayne, has served on staff at the church since the 1980’s. “He was a mechanical engineer,” said Rema. “He had knee surgery and was out of work, and he asked for something to do. He began visiting in the hospitals and helping with the church before he was on staff. I’m proud that Wayne has worked for the church, because there’s not a member who enjoys that church any more than he does. He spends the biggest part of his time there. It’s his job, I know, but he loves doing it. He loves every phase of it. I’m proud that he works for the church. He was premature, and he almost died. People say he lived for a reason, so I think he lived to work for the church.”

            John and Rema’s son David, and daughters-in-law, Kathy and Faye, have also been actively involved at Rock Springs. Kathy has sung in the choir, taught young girls about missions in GA’s, taught in Vacation Bible School and Training Union, taught two year olds in Sunday School, and has helped with camp. Faye has taught two year olds in Sunday School and has taught young girls in GA’s with Kathy.

            “Rock Springs is a part of my life, and always has been,” said Rema. “It means a whole lot to me.”

Photographs by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine

Photos from John Holcombe's 90th Birthday celebration, held in the parlor of their church, Rock Springs Baptist in Easley.



          John and Rema still live in the same house they purchased in 1950. The home holds many years of memories for the Holcombe family. The house had been built in 1948, the same year they became husband and wife. “This is the only home the kids have known,” said Rema. On a wall inside their home hangs a painting of their house. “Debbie had that picture of the place painted,” said Rema. “She said it’s called ‘The Homeplace.’ She gave it to us for Christmas about two years ago. The art teacher where she teaches painted it from just a photograph.”

            “She did a pretty good job, didn’t she?” said John. “She’s a pretty good artist to do that.”

            Rema explained how they came to buy their homeplace. “I was working at Greenville, and I rode with this woman named Iris Ellison, who’d come by and pick me up to go to work. She said, ‘We’ve been looking at a place to buy.’ And we were looking at this, too. One morning, we had an appointment (with the owners), and we were going to tell them that we wanted it. And she told me that they were going to go that afternoon and tell them that they wanted this place. I realized we were talking about the same place. We got here that morning, and she was going to wait till that evening, and so we got it.”

            The home was in the country in 1950. “Cotton fields were all over,” said John. Now, Highway 153, subdivisions, and businesses abound. “It was really country then,” said John, “but, boy, we’ve got the traffic now.”


                                         Photograph courtesy of Debbie Holcombe

                                        John and Rema at home with daughter, Debbie, and sons, Wayne and David.


Photograph courtesy of Debbie Holcombe

John and daughter, Debbie.

Photograph courtesy of Debbie Holcombe

Rema and daughter, Debbie.


            The Holcombes have seen much progress and many changes during their lives.

            John has a pamphlet that lists historic events and prices of items in 1926, the year he was born. Calvin Coolidge was President. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series. Movies included the silent film Ben Hur. It lists the average yearly income as $2,000 and notes that a car cost $500 and a home $6,500. Coffee cost $0.30 a pound, and sugar sold for $1.00 for 15 pounds. Eggs sold for $0.14 a dozen, and the price for bread was $0.08. A gallon of milk cost $0.34, and a gallon of gas cost $0.11. A stamp was $0.02, and the price for a movie ticket was $0.20. One in every six Americans owned a car. Telephones were available in American homes for $4.00 per month. Television was invented, and NBC was founded. Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket. Nineteen-year-old American swimmer and Olympian Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim across the English Channel. Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett were the first to fly over the North Pole. Andy Griffith, Joe Garagiola, and Ray Price were born. Rudolph Valentino and Harry Houdini died.

            “I don’t feel like I’m 90,” said John. “I feel like I’m about maybe 50.”

            Rema noted that there have been three deaths in the Holcombe family within the past year. “My sister and two nieces,” said John. “Bess made it to 105. I’d like to try to make it to about 106, if my health could be good. I was at the VA this week and talking with a doctor there. There is a man who is 96 years old who brings three of his buddies to the VA, and they’re 90, 91, and 92. That doctor said, ‘You wouldn’t believe how that man gets around at 96.’”

            John said that he might have been described as ‘wild’ when he was growing up. “I wasn’t too bad of a boy,” he said. “I slipped off from school one time, though, and played hookey, and got a good whipping for it.

            “I was at Concrete (Primary School). I don’t know when it got started, but, for some years, they had a fad going on April Fool’s Day. The kids would play hookey. My Daddy was at a little country store the night before, and he heard that a bunch of kids were going to play hookey. That night, at the supper table, he told me and Anita and Bobby, ‘I want to tell you one thing, you’d better not play hookey.’ So, the next day, I went to school, and I made up my mind I wasn’t going to do it, but those boys said, ‘You’re chicken if you don’t do it.’ I didn’t want to be called a chicken, so here I go with them. Do you know, there were some girls in that crowd. Some of them had their fishing poles, and this James boy had a big sack full of sandwiches, and I stayed close to him. We went out and loafered through the woods and the creeks, and they fished a little bit. A guy had stove wood stacked up to dry, and some of the boys threw some of that in the branch, but I didn’t do that. But that was the only thing that they did that was out of the way. We were just little country young’uns.

“In high school, I played hookey a couple of times. My mother caught up with me one time, or liked to have. During cotton picking time, we could only miss so many days in school. Well, she marked it on the calendar when I was out. When I got my report card home, she said, ‘They’ve got you counted for more days absent than I’ve got on the calendar.’ Those were the two days I played hookey. There were four of us. We lay down on the back of the bus. That bus driver made like he didn’t know we were on the bus, and he carried us to Greenville, over to town. That was where he would go every day and he’d stay all day over there. And we just hung around over there and rode the bus back when he came back.”

John said that his parents, as well as siblings, were good influences for him. “My parents were good, and I had some sisters who kind of guided me along, to help keep me out of trouble,” he said.

Photographs by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine




                       Photograph courtesy of Debbie Holcombe

                      Debbie with John, in uniform, after a patriotic service at their church, in which veterans were honored.




            John entered the United States Army in 1945, trained at Camp Croft in Spartanburg, and served in the Army for nearly two years. “We were scheduled for the invasion of Japan,” he said, “but, before we got there, they dropped the bomb, and that ended the war.

“I was in the Occupation of Japan. We landed on the beaches of Nagasaki, where they had dropped the big bomb. From the beach, we loaded on an old steam-engine train in southern  Japan. It was warm down there. We rode all day, till about dark, up to northern Japan, to Sasebo. It was cold up there.  We stayed in some old Army barracks. They were cold. We used old orchard pots to try to keep warm that winter.  We liked to have froze to death. And the bathroom was built out over the ocean and it didn’t have heat. It was cold. That was a rough winter there. And then we moved to another part of Japan, to Kyushu. We stayed there in 12-man tents during the summertime. We were on the air field, where we had bombed them. There were pieces of planes all over the place. And then we moved from there up to Yokohama and stayed there a good long while. We were on Main Street in Yokohama, right on the northern part. That’s where we spent a lot of time before we came home.

“We had bombed Yokohama and Tokyo like you wouldn’t believe. I didn’t have any idea we had bombed them like we did. There was an old Japanese woman on the street in Yokohama who had an old makeshift violin and something like a five-gallon bucket, and she’d go out there and sing, and the soldiers and everybody would give her money. Her song was about Yokohama getting tore up. That’s what the Japanese told me she was singing. That’s where she made her living.

“We did a good bit of witnessing with the Army chaplain on the streets of Yokohama. I liked that guy. He was a good guy. Monday was witnessing day. We had a lot of fun doing that. We passed out pamphlets. When we were passing out those pamphlets, the older Japanese wouldn’t take them, but just about all of the young Japanese would take one. And, if they took one, they’d stand there and read every bit of it before they moved.

“The Japanese were like 100 years behind us. They were poor people. But if you go over there now, you wouldn’t think that. It was a disaster, but they paid a big price for the bombs hitting them, didn’t they? If they hadn’t pulled that sneak attack, we never would have dropped the atomic bomb.”

After John returned home from service, he worked as an insurance salesman. “On my insurance route,” he said, “I had a man who, with another Marine, put the flag up at Normandy. He said there were so many soldiers killed that the beach was covered with bodies. He said you could step from one body to another and never step on sand. That’s how many dead soldiers were there. That was terrible.”

John’s nephew, the son of his sister Leola Satterfield, was killed in Hurtgen Forest in France during World War II. “He was two years older than me,” he said. “He was 19 years old when he got killed.”

“It was the only son she had,” said Rema.

“We made five blunders in that war,” said John. “And Hurtgen Forest was one of the blunders. One General wanted to go circle them and cut them off and save lives. One of them said, ‘No, we’re going through there and wipe them out.’ Well, the Japanese were dug in. We lost several thousand right there.”

John was surprised one day while he was in Japan when his brother Harold, who was four years older, walked through the door of John’s Army barracks. “I was sitting in the barracks one day, and he just walked in the door,” he said. “He was in the Philippines the last I knew. I don’t know exactly how he found out that I was there, but he found me, and he came walking in the door.”

“He probably got a letter from home,” said Rema. “Your Mama probably wrote him.”

            John recalled one Christmas time while he was serving in Japan and pulling guard duty at night. “We had a pile of lumber,” he said. “We were building a barrack. The Sergeant told me, ‘Somebody’s stealing that lumber.’ I had the night shift, the midnight shift. I was walking by myself, but I had a rifle loaded. About midnight, I was walking, and I heard a racket at the lumber pile, so I went down to the lumber pile. A really old Japanese woman had gotten a board out of the lumber pile, and she was dragging it down the street. I followed her at a distance to see where she was going. Where we had bombed their building, it was gone, but they had dug down in there and made a room, and she was going down in there with that board. They had a little fire in there, and there were children down in there. And that’s where they were living, down in that. So, I just let them take it. I didn’t say anything to them. She probably came back and got some more, I guess, but I hated to say anything to them. There were a lot of poor Japanese people, you wouldn’t believe.

“They would come to our mess hall and, where we had dumped the stuff out in the barrels, they would go down in there with their hands and get that food and eat it. And, when we would go to the USO Club on Main Street and come out the back, there would be a whole bunch of women, with little babies on their backs, begging for some food. That’s how poor they were.” John would often distribute a sack full of food to them, he said.

            John said that he had many experiences from his time spent in service, “good ones and bad ones.”

            One good experience was reuniting with a good friend, whom he called Sarge, with whom he served overseas. “He was a good guy,” said John. “I always liked him. We played ball together, over there in Japan.” Every Saturday night, John attended a Gospel meeting at a Protestant church on Main Street. “I’d take him to church,” John said. “One Wednesday, I think it was, he was talking with some boys. He’d go down with those boys, and they’d get drunk and come in the barracks raising cain and carrying on. They said that Japanese stuff could really make you drunk. I said, ‘Sarge, are you going with me to church on Saturday night to the Gospel meeting?’ He stood there a minute. One of the guys said, ‘No, he’s going with us to get drunk.’ Sarge said, ‘No, John asked me first, so I’m going to church with him.’ So, he went to church with me that night. I’d take Sarge to church with me, but he never would make a commitment, but it seemed like he enjoyed it.”

            John reunited with him when Sarge visited with the Holcombes in their Easley home. “He called me on the telephone,” John said. “He said, ‘Do you know who this is?’ I said, ‘Your voice sounds familiar.’ He said, ‘This is ol’ Sarge. I’m in Greenville. We’ve been to the mountains, and we started back, and I got your name and telephone number.’ I said, ‘Well, come on out, Sarge.’ He and his wife came and stayed a good long while. Sarge said, ‘Let’s walk down and look at your cattle.’ So, we walked out there, and then we sat down at the picnic table. I said, ‘Sarge, you look happy, like you might be a Christian now.’ He said, ‘Well, I am, now, but, when I came home, I turned out to be the meanest boy in the community.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I started with alcohol, and then I got on drugs, and I’d steal from my own parents.’ He said he lost his car, he lost his girlfriend, and one Saturday night, he said, ‘I’m just going to end it all.’ He wrote his parents a letter, and he told them that he loved them and he was sorry for what he had done, but he was going to end it all. He put a gun in his pocket and was walking down to the river. He was going to shoot himself and then fall in the river and they wouldn’t have to bury him. It was after midnight, I think he said. As he was walking down that road, there was a light, a light that got in his eyes, and he kept walking. When he got there, he was at a preacher’s house.” Sarge remembered those Saturday night Gospel meetings that John had taken him to during their Army days. “He said, for some reason, he left the road and went and knocked on the door. The preacher knew him and said, ‘What are you doing out on this cold night?’” The preacher had been studying for his sermon the following day, but invited Sarge in, and there, in that preacher’s study, Sarge was saved that night. When the preacher took him home, his parents were on their knees, praying for him. Sarge told John that John might have had a part in his salvation.

Photographs by Karen Brewer, The Christian View magazine




            John said that his faith has made a difference in his own life.

“I’ve had some close calls in my lifetime,” he said. “The last close call I had was the time ice was on the ground and I was going to the barn to feed the cats. As I was walking down the path and stepped into the barn, I heard a crash behind me. A big limb had come off that oak tree and fell right down the path I was walking. I missed it by about 5 or 10 seconds, getting killed right there.”

Another close call, he said, was in 1950, right after he had bought his home. The well had nearly gone dry, and he and his brother-in-law, Alvin, had gone in the well to dig it deeper. “Rema went out the next morning and said, ‘The well’s caved in.’ It’s a wonder that thing hadn’t caved in while we were working down there. Maybe the Lord took care of us. But I’ve had some close calls, really close calls.”

They dug a new well on the other side of the house, but they no longer use the well. “One of the blessings of life is to turn the spigot on and get water,” said Rema. “You don’t have to worry about a well.” “The bucket was always empty,” said John. “You’d have to go get a bucket of water. It was good water, though.”

A verse of scripture tells of the living water that Jesus gives that never fails. “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).

God’s Word is important to the Holcomes. John said that he likes to read the book of John and that his favorite verse is John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Rema’s favorite verse of scripture comes from I John, “God is love.” “We had that in Sunday School for years,” she said.

Her favorite songs include “Blessed Assurance” and “What a Friend.” She added, “I guess I sang “Jesus Loves Me” more than anything else, though, because we usually sang that about every Sunday for the three year olds.”

             John said that one of his favorite songs is “Nothing But the Blood,” as he remembers his father, who once was a choir director, singing that song. “I heard my Dad sing that in the field when he was working. He had a beautiful voice. He had a voice between a base and a baritone. My brother said he had the prettiest voice of any man he’d ever heard. I love music. We have that good music at church, I tell you what.”

            When John and Rema left their own families to marry and form a family of their own, they never could have imagined all of the experiences they would share and all of the joy life would bring through all of these decades.

“My parents are the best in the world,” said Wayne. “No one could have asked for a better home. They have always shown us what it means to be committed to each other and love your mate and family. They have always taken us to church and lived before us what it means to be a Christian. I have been blessed to have a dad with a sense of humor and a mom who puts others first.”

“I believe my Daddy is a part of the greatest generation because of his love of God, family, and the country in which he served,” said David. “I have been blessed to be a part of a family in which almost all are believers in Christ and many that have died and gone on before us. My Daddy does not stand in the middle of most issues; they are either right or wrong.” He noted that his parents gave much love to their family, as well as second chances and firm discipline. “My parents never gave up on me,” he said. “They always made me feel special on my birthday and at Christmas. They provided me with the opportunity to further my education. My father provided us with a good home and a chance to learn farm life. He taught me I needed to learn how to take care of the things God has given me. I couldn't have picked a better father or mother.”


                                    Photograph courtesy of Debbie Holcombe.

                                    John and Rema in the front yard of their Easley home, with daughter, Debbie, and sons,
                                    Wayne and David.