Marine loses two yellow tractors in the Aleutian Islands fighting the Cold War

Marine 1st Lt. Fred Holzweiss of Englewood, Fla. stands in front of a tracked vehicle while training during the Cold War in the 1950s. Photo provided

Fred Holzweiss of Englewood, Fla. was a first lieutenant in the 1st Engineering Battalion attached to the 1st Marine Division in Korea in 1953.

“By then things had calmed down over there. We were putting in mines, barbed wire, culverts and artillery positions near the 38th Parallel,” the 77-year-old local man explained. “We were preparing for an attack or a truce. Whatever came up.

“In 1955 our division came back to Camp Pendleton, Calif. We were in Heaven. It was warm and nice, nobody was shooting at us. We were off on Saturdays.

“Then my company got orders to go to the Aleutian Islands. What we were going to do was called a Marine Landing Exercise,” he said. “We got up there in January. It was freezing cold – just terrible! Our LST (Landing Ship Tank) was bobbing, rolling and bouncing around in the sea off the coast of Alaska.

“We practiced landing on three or four islands in the Aleutians. We got into one of those islands, I forget which one, and off loaded our bulldozers, trucks, compressors and pumps. We were practicing with some wheeled tractors. They had tires at least six feet tall.

“We were about 100 yards from shore building a parking area with these tractors. The weather was about 20 degrees. The next morning we woke up and the temperature was 70 degrees. A southerly wind had b blown in from Hawaii,” Holzweiss explained.

“For three days it was like summer. All the permafrost and snow melted. The wheels of the massive tractors were about a foot deep in the muck, he said. That was no problem because we could still ride them through the mud.

“A few mornings later we woke up and the temperature was back to zero degrees. The tractors were frozen 12 to 18 inches in the mud and we couldn’t get them out. We tried fire to try and melt the mud, but it didn’t work,” he said.

“We were told to reload the LST and get ready for another landing. We didn’t know what to do about the tractors. Finally, we cut the huge tires off the tractors’ wheels, put chains on them and winched them back into the LST 400 or 500 yards away along the shore, “he said.

“It was the only solution because we had to get going. The problem was these tractors were the last vehicles to go into the LST. When we got to the next landing they were blocking the way of the other vehicles on the ship that were behind them.

“We had no other choice but to take a bulldozer, parked behind the tractors, and push them off the LST into deeper water to make way for the other vehicles. If somebody goes up to the last island we landed on in the Aleutians and looks around he my find two yellow tractors without tires just off the beach,” Holzweiss said with a smile.

What did the Marines accomplish practicing landings in the Aleutians more than half a century ago?

Fred Holzweiss of Englewood, Fla. looks at a number of snapshots he took while practicing amphibious landings in the Aleutian Islands in 1955. Sun photo by Don Moore

“The Cold War was in full swing. The United States was concerned about the Russians coming in from Siberia, through the Aleutians to Alaska,” he said. The Marines were asked to be prepared. So we went to the Aleutians and practiced amphibious landings.”

Fred Holzweiss graduated from Princeton with a degree in Architecture in the 1950s. After getting out of the Corps he went to work for IBM in managerial positions around the world for 38 years. He and his late wife, Win, retired to Englewood in 1990.

Holzweiss’ File

Name: Frederick Holzweiss
D.O.B: June 21, 1932
Hometown: Mineola, Long Island, N.Y
Current: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 1951
Discharged: 1956
Rank: 1st Lt.
Unit: 1st Engineering Battalion attached to the 1st Marine Division
Children: Joan, Bill, Paul, Mark, Kurt, David

This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Sept. 21, 2009 It is republished with permission.

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Fred Holzweiss, 82, of Englewood, Fla., passed away Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. He was born June 21, 1932, in Mineola, N.Y., and was raised on Long Island, N.Y.
Fred graduated from Princeton University. He proudly served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. He lived in Stamford, Conn., and worked for IBM for 33 years. Fred relocated to Englewood after retiring 25 years ago.
He is survived by his children, Joan, Paul, Mark, Kurt and David; and grandchildren, Katie, Dustin, Noah, Eric and Lauren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Win, and son, Bill.
Visiting hours will be from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. Sunday, March 1, 2015, at Lemon Bay Funeral Home in Englewood. The Funeral Mass will be held 10 a.m. Monday, March 2, 2015, at St. Raphael Catholic Church, with burial to follow at Gulf Pines Memorial Park in Englewood, with Military Honors.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations in Fred’s name to either the Woodlawn Foundation or Tidewell Hospice. You may express your condolences to the family at  .
Arrangements are by Lemon Bay Funeral Home and Cremation Services.

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