MIA Vietnam airman from Toledo to be honored at NASCAR race Sunday


It’s been 56 years since Melvin Holland went missing in Laos during an attack by the North Vietnamese, but the wound is still fresh for his family. This Memorial Day weekend, they’ll be sharing his memory by having his name on a pace car at NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Debbie Holland-Burk reached out to NASCAR after seeing other service members honored when she watched last year’s race. After corresponding with NASCAR staff for several months, she finally got the word May 1 that they had selected her dad’s name to be on a car that leads drivers to the start of the race.

“At that time I lost it emotionally, because I never thought it would happen. My dad loved stock cars and NASCAR,” she said.

She and her husband, along with her youngest brother, John, and his wife, will be flying out to see the race in person.

“To us, it’s a sign that he’s not forgotten, he and the 11 other men that were on that assignment. It’s just trying to keep them in the limelight so that the families know these men are not forgotten,” she said.

Missing since '68

Melvin Holland grew up in Toledo and was a career Air Force man, entering the service in 1954. With his wife, Ann Holland, he had five young children when he left for his final assignment Oct. 7, 1967, the day after his son Rick’s eighth birthday.

Rick and Debbie don’t have a lot of memories of him, as he was often away for work and they were so young. Debbie recalled he loved baseball as well as car racing. For Rick, the strong memories are playing catch with a football and watching a baseball game together at the Astrodome.

The story of Melvin’s disappearance is a complicated one. He and a group of other men were staffing a secret radar outpost in Laos, a neutral country during the Vietnam War, where the American military wasn’t supposed to be operating.

To get around that, the Air Force quietly discharged the men from service and arranged for them to be employed by the American weapons manufacturing company Lockheed Martin while on the mission. After the attack that killed many of the men at the radar post on March 11, 1968, 12 men were unaccounted for by the military and considered missing.

Although Ann had clearance to know about the mission, she wasn’t allowed to talk about it, even after that attack. Rick said the Air Force threatened to throw her in jail and take away her kids if she said anything.

She’s been trying to get answers for years, even filing a lawsuit against the government that resulted in some information being declassified. Since then, remains found at the site have confirmed two more of the men to be dead.

Rick has done his own part to keep the story alive, maintaining a website, limasite85.com, with extensive information about the attack, the struggles for explanations and related memorials. He’s also been very active in the prisoner of war and missing in action communities.

In March, while representing the families at Vietnam War Veterans Day in Washington, D.C., he visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, something he normally doesn’t do because of the intense emotional experience.

“I was standing there at the wall, having an emotional moment, and this tour group walked up. … So I was standing in the back, kind of watching, and he pulled up his phone and he says, ‘This is Melvin Holland.’ He pulled up a picture of my dad and started telling my dad’s story. As soon as he pulled up the picture, I blurted out, ‘That’s my dad.’ I’m sure it shocked him as much as it shocked me,” Rick said.

It turned out that the tour guide had been telling Melvin’s story for 10 years on his tours. Just like putting his dad’s name on the pace car, it’s another way Rick sees his dad’s story staying alive.

How to Watch

What: NASCAR Coca-Cola 600.

When: 3 p.m., Sunday.

Where: FOX, PRN, or Sirius XM. Watch after the race live at www.nascar.com/presspass.

MIA Vietnam airman from Toledo to be honored at NASCAR race Sunday