WALNUT RIDGE – Private First Class Holly Akin, Jr. was an Oklahoma farm boy who headed off to serve his country in World War II, never to return. Akin died in battle in Germany near the end of the war, but his correspondence from those years keeps his memory alive through a recently published book titled, “One Soldier’s Letters Home.”
The book is written by Akin’s niece, Mary Akin Smith, who compiled the letters and wrote a narrative around them. She recently donated a copy of the book to the Felix Goodson Library at Williams Baptist University (WBU).
Smith discovered the collection of letters in her parents’ belongings after their passing. She was so moved by reading them that she began the work of transposing them, retyping Akin’s words from the fragile letters she had found.
“Holly was a good, hard-working farm boy who had limited education. However, his courage, common sense and work ethic far exceed many who earn a high school diploma or college degree. So, by design, all of the excerpts of his letters used in the book are exactly as Holly wrote the original letter, with the exception of a few times that I insert a word to help with understanding,” she writes in the book’s preface.
Smith has a close connection to WBU through her brother-in-law, Stan Norman, the president of WBU, and her sister, Joy Norman.
“We are deeply appreciative to receive this book, which is obviously meaningful to our family, but also to WBU. Our campus began as an airbase – the Walnut Ridge Army Flying School – in World War II, and this school educated many returning soldiers in the postwar years. We have always had a heart for veterans because WBU has a heart for our country and the freedoms it represents,” said Norman.
Norman noted that others from their family have also served proudly in the military, including their son, Daniel, who recently returned after a tour of duty with the US Army in Afghanistan.
“This book makes a connection with our campus community, and anyone else who reads it, which transcends the generations,” he said. “It speaks in a very moving way to the dedication, service and sacrifice of all military personnel and their families, regardless of their time of service. A great legacy of WBU is the long-cherished relationship we enjoy with those who serve our country. Immediately after WWII, many returning veterans found a place here to prepare for their future. Throughout the years, WBU has unwaveringly supported our sons and daughters who serve our country.
“On a personal level, both Joy and I find encouragement in Mary’s book about their uncle, Holly Akin, Jr. In many ways, his military service represents many in our immediate and extended family who served our country, including both our fathers, numerous uncles, and several nephews. Recently, our son, Daniel, completed six years of service in the US Army. We are grateful and proud of his service.
“I know many in the WBU community share stories similar to ours – family members who have or are currently serving in the military. I believe I speak for the entire WBU community when I say to all those who have or are currently serving our country – thank you. We do not take our freedom for granted. We know it is because of you and countless generations of those who have served before you that we enjoy the freedoms we have today. Know that you always have friends here at Williams Baptist University who are grateful for the sacrifices you have made on our behalf.
“One of our founding values that continues to influence and advance our mission is service – we place a high value on service to others and to our country. At WBU, students are encouraged to grow in their appreciation of servant leadership, civic responsibility, and our American heritage.
“I encourage anyone who has an opportunity to read ‘One Soldier’s Letters Home.’ You will be moved, encouraged, and challenged by the story of Pfc. Holly Akin, Jr.”
Smith and her husband, Joe, recently presented the book to WBU Director of Library Services Pam Meridith, as well as Dr. & Mrs. Norman.
Holly Akin was killed February 26, 1945, in Germany. Smith said the extensive research she did in writing the book helped her to feel a deeper connection to her relative, and she hopes reading the book will help others to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of their country.
“I truly believe there were more young men just like Holly, perhaps farm boys themselves, who never got to see the homeland soil again,” Smith writes. “Young men who never got to know their nieces and nephews, or more importantly, whose nieces and nephews never got to know them. My sincere hope is that through the sharing of Holly’s letters, he can come alive for others just as he has for me.”
Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of “One Soldier’s Letters Home” can contact Mary Akin Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.