Hollie Alonzo Wilkes passed away peacefully Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010, after a brief stay at Ollie Steele Burden Nursing Home in Baton Rouge. He was 88, a member of St. Patrick's Catholic Church and a Son of the American Revolution (SAR). He was born in Angie on June 25, 1922, and raised around the Pearl River after his family relocated to the area from St. Francisville. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940 after completing high school. Receiving training in aircraft maintenance and quickly attaining rank of master sergeant, he served in World War II in the South Atlantic and European theaters, as a master mechanic and maintenance crew chief for the 449th B-24 Liberator Heavy Bomber Group. While stationed in Italy, his 449th Wing played a major role in support of the Allied invasion of Europe, flying many high-risk missions over Germany and the occupied territories while incurring many casualties. He was awarded a battlefield commission to lieutenant in 1945, and earned many commendations and medals, including the Bronze Star. After World War II, he remained in the military and moved to the newly formed U.S. Air Force. The Air Force selected him to receive further education and he subsequently attended Ohio State University and Oklahoma State University, earning a degree with honors in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State in 1959. He went on to perform critical research and development in communications for the Air Force, working as a lead design engineer and group leader in producing the NORAD Early Warning Complex in addition to command and control systems for the Air Force Strategic Air Command. He also led a research and development team, including scientists from MIT's Lincoln Laboratories that produced the first communication satellites. He completed his military career at the USAF Headquarters at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as a U.S. Air Force Director of Research and Development, retiring in 1968 at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., and began a second career in the private sector, working as an executive for engineering firms that provided research and development, hardware and manufacturing production services for satellite and aerospace communications. Finally retiring in 1982, he moved to Biloxi, Miss., and spent his time playing golf, traveling with his wife, Exie, throughout Europe and the U.S., engaging in a favorite pastime of investing in the stock market and enjoying the company of his children and grandchildren. In a special project, he proudly commemorated the 449th Bomber Group by commissioning artist James Dietz to execute an oil painting called "Maximum Effort," a historically accurate depiction of his squadron in Grottaglie, Italy, in 1944. The painting is displayed at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he returned to Louisiana to live in Baton Rouge near his family. A loving husband, father, dedicated citizen and patriot who lived for his family and his country, he will be dearly missed by all who knew him. Mr. Wilkes was preceded in death by his father, Holly A. Wilkes, who was killed while on duty as a sheriff just before Hollie was born; his mother, Addie Ball; and siblings, AlIine, Pauline, William (who died as an infant,) Samuel, Monroe and Kerry. He is survived by his beloved wife of 65 years, Exie Hutson Wilkes; son, Timothy, his wife, Linda, and their children, Laura Lampin, of Baton Rouge, Kendra Cole, of Tampa, Brian Wilkes, his wife, Doreen, and their children, Delaney and Reegan, of Redding, Calif., son, Angus, his wife, Sheridan, and their children, Lindsay Celeste Wilkes, of Chicago, Matthew Rembert Wilkes, of Austin, Texas, and Keith Hutson Wilkes, of New Orleans. Visitation at Resthaven Funeral Home, 11817 Jefferson Highway, on Monday, Dec. 6, from 10 a.m. until service at 11 a.m., conducted by the Rev. Gerard Martin. Burial with full military honors will be at Resthaven Gardens of Memory. The family would like to express special thanks to Hospice nurse David Waite and to all the caring staff at The Carpenter House of St. Joseph Hospice and Ollie Steele Burden Manor Nursing Home. Please visit the online guestbook at www.resthavenbatonrouge.com
Published by The Advocate on Dec. 5, 2010.