My Grandfather served in a mixed-race unit in Normandy

My grandfather, Regis Holden, was a Normandy veteran who served in the mixed-race unit, the Red Ball Express, famously depicted in the 1952 Sidney Poitier film.

PITTSBURGH, PA. – My grandfather Regis Holden was a Normandy veteran, who served in the mixed-race unit “The Red Ball Express.”

He landed 12 days after D-Day when the fighting was very ugly there. Initially assigned to a rear-echelon anti-aircraft unit, my grandfather was a yinzer & volunteered to get closer to the front as a truck driver in the legendary unit which was famously depicted in the 1952 Sidney Poitier film Red Ball Express.

The Red Ball Express was 75% Black & my grandfather took great pride in his very white circle for being a volunteer in the mixed-race unit. They undertook the very hazardous work of driving explosives and gas to the front lines, often under combat conditions on unsafe roads (see below).

A lot of guys did die not just in combat, but in vehicle accidents. These guys were driving explosives often under shelling on very unsafe roads. They died getting supplies to the front to beat the Nazis and the experience of their sacrifice in the fight against fascism always inspired my grandfather.

After the war, he got involved in the bricklayers union. One day while building a high school in the 1950s, he was asked if he had ever considered teaching high school votech.

So, he went back to college on the GI BIll and taught at Hempfield High School, helping to organize a teachers union there. He served as a city councilman and mayor, founded a community college, and helped back a young McGovern inspired maverick named Allen Kukovich when he first ran for office.

(Check out my 2017 profile of how my grandfather played a key role in backing Kukovich against the party bosses)

My grandfather was very proud of his service in Normandy and fought for unions and education that he didn’t have as a kid in the Depression. He’s a constant inspiration for me in the fight for truth, justice, and democracy, which so many of his friends died fighting for on D-Day.

As the last of the living veterans assemble for the 80th anniversary, let’s remember the Normandy veterans like my grandfather who fought to defeat fascism and then fought against the boss to build unions when they got home. Regis Holden presente!

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]