After 70 years apart, two brothers reunite in Chattanooga

After 70 years apart, two brothers reunite in Chattanooga

August 5th, 2014 by Shelly Bradbury in Local Regional News

Frank and John "Pop" Holland talk Monday about being separated at an early age and then finding each other after 70 years.

Photo by Logan Foll/Times Free Press.

Frank Holland isn't a big traveler.

He's 84 years old, and he's not up on all the new regulations. He hasn't really traveled since his wife died in 2006.

But that changed 12 days ago. With the help of an airport-savvy friend, Frank Holland boarded a cross-country flight from California to Atlanta. He rented a car and the pair drove to Chattanooga, to a sleepy old suburb near Hamilton Place mall.

Frank had found his brother.

The brother he hadn't seen since they were school kids. The brother he had tried to find before, but never could. The brother who had lived with him in a children's home for six years until they had been separated. The brother he had been missing for 70 years.

When Frank Holland arrived at the house, his nephew pointed downstairs. Your brother is sleeping, he told Frank.

Frank stepped slowly down the stairs, anxious.


This 70-year separation was not the first time John Holland Jr., 84, and Frank Holland, 83, had been kept apart. They grew up during the Great Depression, and in the struggle to care for them their parents split up.

Frank went with their mother, John with their father.

Frank and his mother took the bus as far as they could toward Florida, then hitchhiked the rest of the way to Miami. John jumped from boxcar to boxcar with his dad. The boys were young, and the memories of the time are tough, and fleeting.

Frank and his mother eventually ended up in Akron, Ohio.

"We drifted to Akron, and that's where she deserted me," Frank said matter-of-factly. She left him in the care of another woman, promising to pay her for the work. But the money never came, and the woman dropped Frank off at a children's home.

Somehow, Frank's father found out where he was. He made sure Frank was transferred to Belmont County Children's Home in Ohio -- where he had left John.

When Frank arrived, he was sick with whooping cough and was isolated from the other children, stuck in the nursing department. But soon after he arrived, John sneaked up to the fourth floor to Frank's room.

"Francis, is that you?" John said from the doorway.

"Junior, is that you?" Frank replied.

Frank was 7 years old; John was 8.

Frank lived at the home until he was 13, when an aunt was able to take him in. John lived there until he turned 18 and joined the Navy. John never told his wife or five kids about his childhood.

"From the time we got in the hall and got separated, I try to block it out," John said. "All but Frank."


Frank's search for John started in earnest this spring.

He mentioned to a nurse during a doctor's appointment that he had no family left -- his wife had died and they never had children. And he had lost his brother, he told her.

The nurse connected him to a co-worker, Kaiser Permanente lab assistant Gabi Albrecht, who once worked as a private investigator. Albrecht started with what facts Frank could remember, and eventually ended up with a list of addresses and numbers.

She started calling down the list. The seventh number rang to Chattanooga.

Her next call was to Frank. She told him to sit down.

"I found your brother," she told Frank.

He started to cry. He still tears up just thinking about that moment.

"I was overjoyed," he said. "It was a miracle."

He spent the next two months planning the trip to Tennessee through phone calls to his nephew. After so many years, the thought of reuniting was thrilling, and daunting.


Frank reached the bottom of the stairs to find John sleeping in a chair. He walked quietly to his older brother and knelt in front of him. He put his hands on John's legs and gently, gently woke him up.

The brothers embraced.

"I cried," Frank said, then shoots a glance at John. "I cry at anything anyway. He had tears in his eyes too; I'm not going to let him get away with calling me a baby."

Their meeting in the basement was the start of a two-week trip. Frank met the nieces and nephews he never knew he had. John's family learned about his past and realized how it had shaped John. They spent a few days in Pigeon Forge, just talking.

"Seventy years," John said, "is a long time to wait."

Frank's fears of fitting in with his brother's family -- his family -- melted.

"When I walked in, I felt like it was an old coat, my favorite coat," he said, choking up. "This was home. It was different and it felt good and warm."

He took a breath and whispered.

"And it still does."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas.