Nick Holman’s poignant stories recall growing up in a rural La Porte City foster home

Editor’s Note: At just six years of age, Richard “Nick” Holman, a member of the La­ Porte City High School Class of 1963, was placed in the state of Iowa foster care system with his large group of siblings. For the next twelve years, he grew up on a farm in rural La Porte City. Following a successful career in the United States Navy and working as a plant manager and long range planning for an international food company, he began writing a book about his experiences. In the Foreword, he writes, “Virtually all foster kids come from dysfunctional family environments and they absorb the bulk of the broken home fallout. The common thread they all share while in foster care is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. This uncertainty can cause them to think and act in ways others may not consider or understand. When they eventually leave the foster home, their futures will range from heartening and uplifting to unsettling and tragic. All incidents that unfold [in these stories] actually occurred during the time I and my siblings – three brothers and four sisters – were growing up in a foster home on a farm [near La Porte City in the early 1950s and 1960s. However, some events have been slightly changed to avoid potential embarrassment for yet-living individuals. All the names [except my own] have been changed, only their ages remain the same. This is the story of a close-knit family of siblings as they struggle to stay together in extended foster care. It’s also a story of life on the farm, but a life and a farm few have ever known or experienced, even those born and raised on a farm. It’s told through my eyes but relates more than just the experiences of me and my siblings. As you’ll see, it all comes to a rapid and unexpected conclusion.”

Anchors Away

By Nick Holman

We’ve just come back from the mess hall at the Naval Training Center (NTC) in San Diego. I’m a month out of high school and have been at NTC for two weeks, going through twelve weeks of basic training, commonly referred to as boot camp. My enlisted rate is Seaman Recruit, or E-1, as low as it gets. But I have high hopes of eventually working up to Chief Petty Officer (CPO), or maybe even Senior Chief (SCPO).

Until a few days ago, I didn’t even know what a CPO or SCPO was, much less that I aspire to be one. But that’s just a small part of what boot camp is teaching us: chain of command, discipline, marching skills, seamanship, naval terminology and so forth. It’s a lot to learn, especially with the Gunnery Sergeant, our drill instructor whom we refer to as the Gunny, always riding our butts. But I’m accustomed to order and discipline, doing what I’m told, and not questioning why, so I’m adapting exceptionally well.

As I’m going through my locker, ensuring everything is in order for the morning bunk-and-locker inspection, the Gunny comes in and yells, “Seaman Recruit Holman, the C.O. [company Commanding Officer] wants to see you!”

I have no idea what I’ve done wrong that would warrant being called before the C.O. I’ve only seen him once, and that was the first day at boot camp when he was introduced to us recruits by the Gunny shortly before our training began. I hustle on over to HQ (headquarters), after first having to ask directions, and report to the C.O.’s yeoman, his secretary. After a few minutes’ wait, I walk in briskly, stand at attention and salute the C.O., a lieutenant.

“Seaman Recruit Holman reporting as ordered, Sir.”

He orders me “at ease” and says without pause, “Seaman Recruit Holman, you’re being ordered to report to Annapolis, Maryland. You’ve been accepted into the Naval Academy! The plane leaves tonight.”

I stand there, dumbfounded, until he dismisses me.

Instead of fast-forward, let’s fast-backward about nine months. As seniors at La Porte City High School, we all take a social studies class and the major project for the year is to research and write a report on two careers we might want to pursue after high school. I choose forest ranger and the military as my two.

I know next to nothing about the military, even though each of my three brothers are either currently in, or have been in, the Army, Navy and Marines. I choose to research a naval career, and parts of that research lead me to literature on the Naval Academy. I include that material in my report and, almost as an after-thought, apply to the Naval Academy through my congressman.

My research had indicated each congressman can appoint two applicants to each of the service academies each year. I figured I’d already done all that work filling out the forms, so why not officially submit them?

Weeks later I receive a letter from my congressman acknowledging the application and setting me up for physical, mental, medical and scholastic tests. All those who pass the first three are then ranked based on their scholastic test scores. The highest two are then the congressman’s primary candidates. The next three are alternates, in case primary candidates turn down the appointment. Over the course of the following two months, all of us applicants for the Iowa third congressional district go through the testing. A month later, I receive a letter from my congressman indicating I’m not a primary candidate, but have been selected as the first alternate and, if anything changed, his office would contact me.

Few primary candidates turn down an appointment to the Naval Academy. Only one in 20 applicants are appointed. I’m pretty much resigned to not getting an appointment. By the end of the school year, when there are no further communications, that chapter is closed. So, I go to the recruiting station in Waterloo to enlist and arrive in San Diego a few weeks later.

And now the story behind the scenes. Shortly after I left for boot camp, Mom gets a letter from our congressman’s office indicating one of the primary candidates has turned down the appointment and inquires if I still want to go to Annapolis. Mom knows I would and contacts the recruiting station through which I enlisted. The recruiter informs her that I’m now an enlisted person in the active navy and not eligible for a direct appointment to the academy.

In reality, he likely is protecting his recruiting quota, and doesn’t want to lose credit for one of his recruitments. Mom is persistent and calls the recruiter’s boss, and then his boss. Each time she gets the same response. “The case is closed”.

This is occurring over the course of several days and time is ticking away. At some point the second alternate will be offered the appointment if I can’t attend.

But, if the reader recalls from earlier stories, Mom is not a person to be steam-rolled or conned by anyone. There were many times in the past on The Farm I hadn’t liked her strong, some would say authoritative, personality and was occasionally on the receiving end of that behavior. She has a Type-A personality and doesn’t take “no” for an answer, not even from the Navy, and I’m forever grateful for that grit.

She calls our congressman’s office and explains what the Navy is doing. They assure her they’ll take care of it.

No branch of the military ever wants to receive a personal call from a member of Congress. Our congressman only makes one call. The next day I’m on my way to Annapolis. Four years later I’m a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.

Go Navy! Beat Army!

Next Week: When six year old Nick Holman’s younger sisters were adopted and abruptly removed from The Farm, Nick just knew he would never see them again. Or would he?