He was the Golden Boy.
In high school, Danny Holland could do no wrong.
As legendary federal court judge Miles Lord reminded him on Jan. 12, 1970: “You won athletic letters in football and track four years each and three years in basketball. You served as junior editor and senior editor of your high school newspaper. Vice president of the student council, and treasurer of the Luther League. You were co-captain of the debate team and participated in several categories of your high school’s forensics competition. You were a National Merit Scholar and received an American Legion Citizenship award. You also received a four-year journalism scholarship from WCCO-TV.”
He then went on to sentence Danny Holland to two years in federal prison for refusing induction into the armed services of the United States.
Daniel — he goes by Daniel now — was two years ahead of me, and I have to confess (sorry Dan) I didn’t like him much. Didn’t like him at all, in fact, and I have no reason not to think the feeling was reciprocal.
I was a short, scrawny smartmouth who made a point of not showing proper deference to Caledonia High’s adolescent demigods. He, in turn, was the demigod who put me in a headlock and proceeded with a fierce double-knuckle noogie while frog marching me the length of the center aisle of Immanuel Lutheran Church as just penalty for a particularly irreverent comment made just before choir practice.
And if that wasn’t reason enough to resent him, it seemed that my every step away from the straight and narrow was met with the admonition, “You should be more like Danny Holland…”
Y’know, they were right.
Growing up in the ‘60s, the draft and the Vietnam War it sustained hung over us all. As the casualty lists grew longer, opposition to the war grew stronger, and each of us was faced with hard choices that could shape the course of our lives.
For Daniel, opposition to the war literally began on his father’s lap. He grew up reading the newspaper with his dad and recalled the day in 1959 when a story appeared reporting the death of two American servicemen in Vietnam. “It’s not our fight. We should get our troops out of there,” was the elder Holland’s reaction. It stayed with his son.
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And barely 16 months later, Daniel’s father would be dead, a victim of an auto accident on a quiet country road.
“I still come to tears if I dwell on my father’s death,” Daniel wrote, “just as the loved ones of our soldiers killed in Vietnam must also feel their losses to this day. Knowing the pain a family endures after the sudden loss of a loved one made it unbearable for me to witness the relentless progression of death brought on by the prosecution of a war increasingly devoid of any value or purpose…”
In time, that awareness would lead him to realize “it was time for me to join the ranks of those who had already put their lives on the line by trying to stop the war by stopping the draft, ... Americans whose moral compass demanded they act on their knowledge of the difference between good and evil. ... I knew in my heart the right and honorable thing to do was to stand up in public and declare, ‘Hell no! We will not fight this war anymore.’”
On Sept. 28, 1968, Daniel Holland refused induction.
I hadn’t seen Daniel since the night he graduated from high school when we found ourselves at the same table having lunch after the funeral of a mutual friend back in Caledonia. He told me he was writing a book about his experiences with the draft and the resistance and offered to send me a copy when it was published. It arrived a few weeks ago.
After reading it, I like Daniel a lot better … I can almost forgive him for that noogie. And yes, I do wish that through my life I’d been more like Dan Holland — to have had the courage to act on what I knew to be right and bear the cost. His book is a reminder that we all make that choice and that choice shapes our lives forever.
Dan’s book is called “Death Wins All Wars,” and you can order it on Amazon.
It’s worth your money. It’s worth your time.
It might even change your life.