Dagner (Dag) Alholm was born on January 20, 1917 in San Francisco, California. While attending Balboa High School during the Great Depression he was able to help his family financially by apprenticing with a local union as a meat-cutter. After graduating from high school in 1934 he worked in the city’s food markets as a meat-cutter.
In 1939 while pursuing his trade, he obtained a seaman’s certificate that would allow him to join the Merchant Marines. As the war in Europe was raging, Dag attempted to join the Navy. He failed his physical because of a heart murmur and was classified as 4-A.
He continued with his trade as a journeyman meat-cutter, working for Safeway, Lucky and other markets while pursuing his efforts to join the military. He approached the Army Transport Service (ATS) in San Francisco. The ATS was in need of meat-cutters to work aboard their troop transport ships. The Army ignored his heart murmur condition and told him to report to Ft. Mason and meet with an Army Sergeant aboard a transport ship anchored in the Bay. In October 1943 at 5:00 am Dag reported for what he thought was an interview meeting and boarded a launch for the transport ship Willard A. Holbrook anchored in the Bay. He was in civilian clothes for the “interview” with no luggage. During his interview he heard lines being cast and the ship began to move. He inquired as to what was happening and was informed that he had joined the Army. He was surprised but he didn’t protest being “Shanghaied” by the Army so he just went down to the galley and proceeded to cut meat. The Holbrook kept moving out to sea and did not stop until it had arrived in Brisbane, Australia, forty days later.
Dag did not have a uniform, “dog tags” or basic training when it became apparent to him that he was now in the Army. The Army used his serial number issued by the Merchant Marines when he received his seaman’s certificate as his identification.
The transport ship, Willard A. Holbrook, was built in 1920 by Bethlehem Steel and was named for a World War I major general who commanded the 9th Infantry Division. The ship was originally named the Buckeye State. In 1922 it was renamed the President Taft and then in 1941 renamed again as the Willard A. Holbrook. It was originally built to be a cruise ship to hold 256 first class and 320 third class passengers along with the crew. When requisitioned from American President Lines by the War Department for a compensation of $1,057,002 on 17 June 1941 the ship was to carry 1,000 troops.
It took four meat-cutters to feed the troops two meals a day. The troops only received breakfast and dinner. An apple was served for lunch since they didn’t have any organized activity during the day. The Holbrook made many trips with troops to the islands in the Pacific. It would normally leave the U.S. West Coast and travel South, alone, down the coast of South America before turning west to Australia.
The ship also carried troops to reinforce units in support of General Douglas MacArthur’s famous return to the Philippines. MacArthur had been ordered to leave the Philippines by President Franklin Roosevelt in March 1942 as the Japanese were launching a major invasion to take over the island. MacArthur left behind at Corregidor and on the Bataan Peninsula more than 90,000 American and Filipino troops, who, lacking food, supplies, and support, would soon succumb to the Japanese offensive. Deeply disappointed, he issued a statement to the press in which he promised his men and the people of the Philippines, “I shall return”.
Finally, after the Joint Chiefs decided to support MacArthur’s return he received troops and supplies to make the return possible. On October 20,1944, a few hours after his troops landed, MacArthur waded ashore onto the Philippines island of Leyte. That day, he made a radio broadcast in which he declared, “People of the Philippines, I have returned!” Only one-third of the men MacArthur left behind in March of 1942 survived to see his return. Approximately 60,000 troops did not survive as prisoners of the Japanese. Comparing the enormity of the loss, 58,000 Americans died in the entire Vietnam War. “I’m a little late,” he told them, “but we finally came.”
Dag made another trans-Pacific trip the following year and then was permitted to transfer to the Merchant Marines. He was able to secure a berth on the bulk cement carrier ship the SS Permanente bound for Hawaii from the Kaiser Permanente Plant in San Jose, California. Under contract with the U.S. Navy the SS Permanente delivered cement to Hawaii to repair the harbor damaged on December 7, 1941. Dag learned that his brother Rudy, who he hadn’t seen in two years, was stationed on the island and he joined the ship to visit him. The SS Permanente was to be his last duty voyage.
In 1949 he married Sylvia Nelson. Dag and Sylvia knew each other since their teenage years, having attended the same high school. After his first voyage, they had met again in San Francisco and after dating for a while, he asked her to wait for him. Sylvia was divorced with a young daughter when they later married. Sylvia passed away in 1983.
After marriage, Dag returned to the meat-cutter trade. He was the head meat-cutter for the University of California for ten years. As a journeyman meat-cutter, his services were in great demand and his union easily found work for him with many retail stores in the San Francisco area. Prior to his retirement he took a test with the Federal Government and became the head meat-cutter for the Oakland Army Base for six years.
He is an avid daily reader and western novels are his favorite. He looks forward to his 104th birthday in January and wants to celebrate it by eating a large, well-cut, steak!
Dag passed away on July 16, 2020 at the age of 103-years old