In Virginia, bioenergy industry legend and retired Marine Lt. Col. William C. Holmberg has died of complications from cancer. He was 88.
He was the first recipient of the Digest’s Holmberg Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2014, which was subsequently named in his honor and is presented annually at the Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference.
Holmberg was born in Sumas, Washington, and won an appointment to the United States Naval Academy, graduating in the Class of 1951. Electing to join the Marine Corps, Lt. Holmberg was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as a Rifle Platoon Leader in the 1st Marine Division.
In 2001, President George Bush praised Holmberg’s heroism:
Second Lieutenant Bill Holmberg found himself on the Korean Peninsula, faced with the daunting task: to infiltrate his platoon deep behind enemy lines in an area swarming with patrol, to rout a tenacious enemy, to seize and hold their position. And that’s what he did, and that’s what his platoon did. Along the way they came under heavy fire and engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat. Despite severe wounds, Lieutenant Holmberg refused to be evacuated and continued to deliver orders and direct the offensive until the mission was accomplished. And that’s why he wears the Navy Cross. And today, his deeds and the deeds of other heroes from that class echo down through the ages to you.
After leaving the Marine Corps following 21 years of service, he served in the Department of Energy as manager of the Office of Alcohol Fuels from 1979 to 1990, and subsequently worked at the EPA, FEO, and FEA. In 2002 he received the Department of Energy’s Biomass Energy Program Distinguished Service Award. After retiring from the DOE, he served as an aide on Capitol Hill, working for Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Nelson paid tribute to Holmberg in 2002, in the Congressional Record:
“His tireless effort to ensure the promotion of renewable agricultural products has helped out country’s environmental conservation efforts, and Mr. Holmberg’s commitment to solving our Nations; energy challenges will ensure that new and innovative resources and technologies will continue to flourish.”
In 2002, Holmberg became chairman of the Biomass Coordinating Council of the American Council on Renewable Energy and remained as a coordinator of the renowned organization;s biomass efforts until his passing.
He was a founding member of the Sustainable Energy Coalition, which makes major contributions to the Senate and House Renewable and Energy Efficiency Caucus. Bill was a member of core group promoting the annual Energy Expos on the Hill in concert with the SEC and the Senate and House RE & EE Caucus. He was also a key member of the organizing committee of the Environmental and Clean Energy Inaugural Balls since 1989.
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle once paid tribute to Holmberg in these words:
I have known Bill Holmberg ever since I came to Washington as a freshman Congressman more than 20 years ago. I know Bill not as a war hero, but as an indefatigable champion of the environment and as a visionary who understood the potential of renewable fuels for improving air quality and reducing our dependence on imported oil long before they were accepted as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Bill is a true American hero who stands as a model for us all. His selfless commitment to making the world a better place to live has been demonstrated not only on distant battlefields, but also by his daily pursuit of a more secure, environmentally sustainable and just society.
Of the advanced bioeconomy he loved and worked hard for he said that “the U.S. must lead the way in rapidly transitioning to a sustainable use of natural resources. We will initially focus on our transportation system; mostly on the energy used in that system. Again the initial goal is conserving fossil fuels for future generation. There are millions of Americas involved in these biomass oriented areas. Certain sectors are quite profitable and have major political support. Some are just a fledgling idea.What is needed is a powerful system that can attract all involved in an honest, productive and sustainable manner.”
He said that the best lesson he learned from adversity was to “take the best available counsel, and embrace corrective action with diligence. If the problem is organizational, fix it. If it was personal, discuss it with whomever is involved. Work toward a solution. If conditions worsen, work with it until in becomes too harmful, then move on.”
Following news of his passing, longtime renewable energy champion Scott Sklar paid tribute.
“Bill has been my friend for 40 years. We have talked a few times every week for at least 39 years. He is a giant — as a human being, as a friend, and in the clean energy field. My life will be very hollow without my old friend.”
ACORE general counsel Mark Riedy said:
“I had the tremendous and rare privilege of working closely with Bill Holmberg for more than 40 years of his remarkable life of an immense achievements. Bill was a passionate advocate and exceptional leader for all of the biomass industries and the original Director of the DOE Office of Alcohol Fuels. He was a mentor, a true role model, one of my absolute best friends, a wonderful colleague who I fortunately was able to convince to join the Board of the American Council On Renewable Energy during its infancy, and an unwavering pillar of strength in the renewable energy industries. Very few were as hardworking and committed to win as was Bill. The higher the odds, the harder he fought. The renewable energy industries are forever indebted to Bill.
However, Bill Holmberg was much more to those who knew him best. He was not only the true grandfather of and champion for renewable energy, but he was a humble giant of American virtues and values. Unknown to most because he would never discuss his remarkable past, Bill Holmberg was a very highly decorated Marine having graduated as an electrical engineer from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and who then saved a significant number of American lives in fierce battle without regard for his own safety. He was one of America’s very few and true National Heroes. Bill was and always will be an invaluable National Treasure. I do not remember anyone in my life who I truly could say was absolutely irreplaceable—except for Bill Holmberg. We have lost an icon. Rest in peace dear friend.”
Digest editor Jim Lane added:
“I never spent 5 minutes with Bill Holmberg without learning something new about commitment and dedication. I deeply admired his intelligence and courage, and the way he went about getting things done. Despite his illness, he never spoke of himself and his condition, only of the country he loved, his faith in its future, and in the future of renewable energy as a resource for all, for all time.”
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