Holmes was a member of the Overseas Press Club Foundation and past president and board member of the Society of the Silurians, the nation’s oldest press club. She was also an associate member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers.
She wrote three influential books about POW experiences, 4000 Bowls of Rice: A Prisoner of War Comes Home, Unjust Enrichment: American POWs Under the Rising Sun (of which there are two editions , 2000 and 2008, with the second having a new forward), and Guests of the Emperor: The Secret of Japan’s Mukden POW Camp. She also completed and published POW archivist Roger Mansell's book on the men and women captured on Guam by the Japanese in December 1941, Captured: The Forgotten Men of Guam.
Along with her older sister, Susan, she attended Scarsdale schools. According to the Scarsdale Alumni Association, Holmes was “the wittiest in her class”. The caption under her senior photo was “Lady of the Press”.
After graduating from Wellesley College in 1955, Holmes jumped into the world of broadcast. She worked in the television production department at Ted Bates & Co., a pioneering advertising agency in Manhattan, and at CBS Television.
In 1959, she married Theodore Edward Holmes. The couple had two sons and later divorced.
In 1994, Holmes published her first book, 4000 Bowls of Rice, about Allied prisoners of the Japanese who built the Burma Railway. The book was inspired by a conversation over dinner on Shelter Island with an Australian friend, who’d spent three and a half years in POW camps in Java, Burma, and Thailand.
Holmes relates how Cecil Dickson, who served with the Australian Pioneer Battalion, off-handedly marveled while passing a serving dish of rice, that even though he’d eaten nothing but rice for over 3,800 consecutive meals, he still enjoyed it.
Dickson, also a journalist, was the first POW Holmes met who had actually worked on the Death Railway made famous in the film The Bridge on the River Kwai. After he passed away, his widow sent to Holmes a packet of letters that he’d written during his time as a POW. Holmes conducted research and connected Dickson’s stories of forced labor to records kept about Allied prisoners who built the notorious Thai-Burma Death railway.
In 4000 Bowls of Rice: A Prisoner of War Comes Home, which includes photographs taken in secret by POWs and not previously published, Holmes tells a story of slave labor that had not before been reported. She said she was inspired by the spirit of the prisoners, “the indomitable determination to look ahead because if you dwell on the past you are still a captive in your own mind.”
What enabled the POWs to survive unspeakable hardship? “They helped each other. They helped each other have the will to live.”
The book was added to the John E. Taylor collection of military history and intelligence volumes at the National Archives Library in College Park, Maryland, the National POW Museum at Andersonville GA, and the Australian War Memorial.
Richard Myers, a senior archivist for the National Archives Modern Military Records, was among the people Holmes got to know well during her research. It was at his recommendation that she became the first Pacific War historian appointed to the U.S. Government Interagency Working Group (IWG). It was formed in 1999 under the aegis of the National Archives to locate and declassify material about World War II war crimes. The agency made a final report to Congress in 2007.
In her work with the IWG, Holmes interviewed more than 400 ex-prisoners of war, their families, American and Japanese military personnel and historians, government and banking officials, and archivists from around the globe to authenticate what happened to prisoners in Japanese hands and why.
She presented her findings before audiences at the National Security Agency Center for Cryptologic History, the National Museum of the Pacific War (Admiral Nimitz Museum), and numerous civic groups, veterans organizations, and classrooms throughout the country. You can watch an interview with Holmes recorded for the Robert H. Jackson center on YouTube.
Holmes was a long time resident of Shelter Island’s Hay Beach and had also lived in Manhattan. She was president of the Hay Beach Property Owners Association (HBPOA) for two separate terms and served as the organization’s unofficial historian. She contributed to Then & Now: The Story of Hay Beach, a publication of the Shelter Island Historical Society and the HBPOA.
In that book, you can see photos of her beloved colonial-era home on Dinah Rock Road, a circa 1775 house that she had transported by barge from Cutchogue. Holmes bought the house in 1968 and a year later hired the Davis Brothers to transport it across the bay to a lot she’d purchased for $7,000.
Holmes was predeceased by her parents and sister. She is survived by her sons, Philip and Theodore. The Shelter Island Funeral Home assisted the family, who received friends on Tuesday, August 25 at the Parish Hall at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Funeral services were held the following morning officiated by the Rev. Charles McCarron. Interment followed at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Editor’s note: This article was adapted from one that first appeared in the Shelter Island Reporter. Their intern Maeve Browne contributed to researching and writing this report. They owe special thanks to Patrick Clifford of the Hay Beach Property Owners Association for bringing this remarkable woman’s story to our attention. Thanks also to Katherine Moore at the Shelter Island Public Library for quickly locating Linda Holmes’ books for us to read.