PIEDMONT, S.C. — On New Year’s Eve 1968, just before the dawn of 1969, two Marines were holed up in a bunker in the Marble Mountains of Vietnam.
Rockets and mortars were raining down all around Master Sgt. William H. Cox and his buddy, First Sgt. James "Hollie" Hollingsworth.
“Charlie (the nickname for the North Vietnamese) was really putting on a fireworks show for us,” Cox said.
As the two Marines hunkered down, they made a pact: “If we survived this attack or survived Vietnam, we would contact each other every year on New Year’s,” Cox said.
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For nearly five decades, Cox, who lives in Piedmont, S.C., and Hollingsworth of Hephzibah, Ga., kept their promise.
And earlier this year, Cox kept another promise: He stood guard at Hollingsworth’s casket and then delivered the eulogy at his funeral.
Standing guard, without the cane that the 83-year-old normally uses, Cox was paying tribute, one Marine to another.
But in giving the eulogy, he fulfilled his final vow to his 80-year-old friend.
When Cox learned that Hollingsworth was terminally ill, Cox traveled the 125 miles to visit. Hollingsworth asked Cox to give the eulogy at his funeral.
“I said, ‘Boy, that’s a rough mission you’re assigning me to there,’ ” Cox said.
The military forges strong bonds among the men and women who serve, but for Marines, that connection is even stronger.
“There’s a bond between Marines that’s different from any other branch of service. We’re like brothers,” Cox said.
The two men met on their way to Vietnam in 1968.
After his service, Hollingsworth settled outside of Augusta, Ga. Cox spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and went on to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.
They served in VMO-2, a Marine helicopter squadron, where Hollingsworth was a mechanic and a door gunner, and Cox was an ordnance chief and a door gunner.
They flew many combat missions together, and at the end of each mission, they had a saying, which Cox repeated at the close of Hollingsworth’s eulogy:
“Hollie, you keep ‘em flying, and I’ll keep ‘em firing.”
Follow Donna Isbell Walker on Twitter: @DonnaIWalker