WWII veteran honored with missing-man flyover at Fort Snelling

The radial engines firing up at Flying Cloud Airport had a special mission. The pilots climbing into the cockpits of their vintage WWII trainers, T-6’s and SN-J’s and a later model T-34 were all assembling to honor a fellow veteran older than their planes. 

"He lived a wonderful life," said Karen Drake of her father Bernie Holritz who recently died at the age of 101. Drake emphasized that he was actually 101-and-a-half.

"Strong and as good of mind all the way to the end," she said.

Holritz grew up in North Dakota and headed toward California in 1941 to find work. He ended up at Lockheed helping to build and perfect a relatively new concept fighter aircraft that Lockheed and the Army Air Force called the P-38 Lightning. But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Navy came calling.

The Navy discovered he was good at electronics and radar, so they asked him to teach radar and that’s what he did," said his son Paul Holritz who is still somewhat amazed that his father never went to sea. "He was in the Navy all those years, and never boarded a ship."

When the war in the Pacific ended in 1945 and US Army General Douglas MacArthur led the allied occupation of Japan, Bernie leaned on his faith and his life took a different path.

"General MacArthur asked that they send a thousand missionaries to Japan to fill the void after the war," Drake recalled. "And my parents were among those who answered that call."

Holritz and his wife stayed as missionaries in Japan for 20 years. While there he founded a Christian radio network that became known at the Pacific Broadcasting Association. Their life’s work eventually became the life’s work of their children.

"We watched his life and mom’s life being so consistent in what they did and we wanted to emulate that both my sister and I," said Paul. "So she went to Africa and I went to Japan."

As the VFW rifle squad and bugler paid their respects to Holritz at his Ft. Snelling burial, the pilots were hitting their precisely timed arrival overhead. Plane number 3 peeled off from the aerial quartet and rose into the sky. The missing man formation is meant to symbolize a veteran rising into heaven. The moment was not lost among Holritz’s family.

"This is so very special to see this happen," said Drake of the pilot’s tribute to her father. "He was very proud of his being able to serve."