When the new $269 million skilled nursing facility opens at the Veterans Homes of California-Yountville, it will replace in function one of the campus’ oldest buildings, named for a true icon in the Napa Valley community and beyond.

BW photo of three soldiers standing next to a tent in San Luis Obispo, 1917
(l-r) Nelson M. Holderman, Lieutenants A. K. Ford and Chas D. Swanne in San Luis Obispo 1917.

From the moment it opened in 1932, what later became the Nelson M (for Miles) Holderman Hospital has served the Veterans Home of California-Yountville well. The building was renamed in Holderman’s honor on June 6, 1954, in a ceremony just nine months after his death. More than 10,000 people attended that day to pay homage to Holderman, a veteran and Medal of Honor recipient who twice served as the commandant of the Home (December 1, 1919 to January 22, 1921; and then from March 19, 1926, until his death on September 3, 1953).

Named for his grandfather—Union Civil War officer and Medal of Honor recipient Nelson Appleton Miles—Holderman became a hero in his own right during World War I. He commanded Company K of the 307th Infantry, part of what became known as the “Lost Battalion” in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in October 1918.

U.S. Army Infantry division laying on the ground in the midst of fighting,  France 1918.
U.S. Army Infantry in action, France 1918.

Surrounded by Germans and depleted in numbers, they fought for over five days with only minimal food or water. Though wounded repeatedly himself, Holderman carried wounded men to safety through a hail of shells and gunfire, and singlehandedly took out a group of Germans attacking against the Americans’ right flank. Then, as the Germans’ final assault of the battle subsided and reinforcements arrived, he led his men out of their fighting position before allowing treatment for his own wounds.

In addition to his Medal of Honor, Holderman also received the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and numerous others including two French Croix de Guerre medals for bravery and courage.

He and his company received a heroes’ welcome in Santa Ana where 30,000 people turned out to honor them on September 9, 1919.

That celebration came one day after Hollywood released a black-and-white silent film titled “The Lost Battalion” in which many soldiers portrayed themselves in a re-enactment of the fighting. Holderman did not. A few months later, he began his first stint at the Yountville Home after being appointed the interim commandant by Governor William Stephens.

He left in 1921 to return to the Army, serving at the Presidio in San Francisco, and then graduated from infantry school in Fort Benning, Georgia. But his war wounds compelled him to retire, and he rejoined his National Guard unit in Santa Ana, where he earned the rank of colonel. In March 1926, California Governor Friend Richardson appointed Holderman as the permanent administrator at Yountville..

The Holderman Hospital photo taken in the early 1950s with cars parked out front.
Nelson M Holderman Hospital, pictured here in the early 1950s, has served the Veterans Home of California-Yountville for more than 80 years.

Working with architect Cleve Borman – the Yountville Home’s chief engineer from 1920 until 1952 – Holderman oversaw building and expansion of the Veterans Home that included not only the hospital later named for him but also of 9 of the 13 residential halls and at least 10 other major campus projects. He remained the Home’s administrator until his death in 1953.

He finally got his moment on the big screen in 2001, when he was portrayed in the second “The Lost Battalion” film by actor Adam James.

Holderman’s name will remain on the current hospital building, which has historical preservation status and will be used for other purposes yet to be determined.

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