Howland vet had Cold War experience

Veteran George Holko of Howland served in the U.S. Air Force. by R. Michael Semple

Editor’s note: This is part of a weekly series published every Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.

WARREN — For a young George Holko, military service during the Cold War in French-speaking Morroco in the early 1950s was an eye opener.

“I never saw such poverty before, in about 80 to 85 percent of the people,” Holko said.

He said what struck him about his time in Africa was the difference in the way people worked.

“The men were lazy,” Holko said. “Women did most of the work and they were poor.”

Americans, Holko said, cannot imagine the poverty the people endured, something he witnessed when performing guard duty while accompanying a supply truck in west Africa.

“We drove supplies with guards on trucks, mostly so we came back with everything,” he said.

Service men saw French citizens driven out of Morocco and displaced Arabic peoples returning to Africa. They saw and were forced to avoid sunken World War II ships in the harbor as planes carrying troops had to circle Casablanca to enter and exit Morocco, the veteran recalled.

Holko, who spent the first 18 months of service training in the states, said he wasn’t sure where they were going to take him.

“I started in radar and then I moved into special services, what I did the most in Africa,” he said.

Special services included organizing entertainment for the troops and various duties, such as guarding trucks from other types of attacks, like a swarm of locusts that once sent a truck off road, he said.

Holko said the thing he feared most during his time overseas was the possibility of coming upon a scorpion.

“One Frenchman got bit by a scorpion. They had to cut his shoe off before treatment at headquarters,” he said.

Holko said it was so hot in Morroco — with temperatures sometimes reaching up to 120 degrees — men could not sweat as water would evaporate before it hit their faces.

Near the end of his service, in 1956, he took a bike ride from Illinois to South Carolina, where he met his wife, Joanne. She and their four children were the reason he attended night classes at Youngstown State University on the GI Bill, he said. He graduated in a little over six years and left his job at a gas company to start his own roofing business.

Military service taught Holko the importance of hard work and giving back throughout his life, he said. It also taught him how lucky citizens of the United State are.

Holko said he thinks it a shame that less than 1 percent of the population is in the military. He said the will to serve is important to the future of this country, noting other countries, like Israel, require everyone to sign up for the military at age 18.

“It should be that way in this country too, because we are going to need it,” Holko said.