On a sun-soaked, tropical island made of coral in the East China Sea, the volume of mail arriving at a U.S. military base this time of year snowballs.

So as officials from Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base coped with this year’s influx of cards, letters and packages for service members and their families, a San Antonio man saw it as his duty to assist.

“They needed ‘Holliday’ help,” said Navy Yeoman 2nd Class Isaac Holliday. 

A month ago, Holliday began working part of his day in the Navy’s post office at Kadena. The Air Force has the job of sorting the mail for tens of thousands of Marines, airmen, soldiers and civil servants stationed on the island, plus their spouses and children. 

The volume of mail doubles this time of year.

He will be there until after Christmas, sorting and stuffing mail, and “pitching yellow cards” into the boxes to let recipients know they have a package to pick up. 

Holliday joined the Navy soon after graduating from San Antonio’s Harmony Science Academy and since 2019 has been stationed on Okinawa as a sailor assigned to a command that supports fleet operations. 

A childhood spent in Military City USA influenced his career choice. “I think I just fell in love with the military background and how people sacrifice their lives to serve our country and I found that really admirable,” Holliday said. 

The inspiration came from his mother. “My mom and I [had] a hard life,” he said of residing in subsidized housing before his mother pursued higher education and became a registered nurse. 

“That showed me that even when you’re stuck … with hard work and dedication, you can work your way up,” he said. But college would not be his path — at first. 

Grandmother Lucy Ortiz holds up two photos of Holliday from his childhood. This will be Holliday’s second holiday apart from his family. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

At 19, Holliday went for training with the Navy in Chicago, Florida and Mississippi before being shipped overseas to Okinawa, 7,500 miles from home. “I’m a big Texas person,” he said. “My first time ever really going anywhere [out of state] was through the military.”

But it changed his life, Holliday said. He soon overcame his initial anxiety, embracing the travel opportunities and culture he was experiencing and the new people he met. 

In November, he married another service member who is from California and stationed in Sasebo, Japan. The couple decided not to travel home for Christmas due to the cost. They plan to spend the holiday in Tokyo instead.

Holliday gets his last name from his grandfather, who changed his surname from Garcia after being adopted as a child by a man named Eugene Holliday. “We always had this great saying — every day with me is like a holiday,” he said. 

This year will be his second holiday spent apart from his parents, Misty Mata-Espinoza and Samuel Holliday of San Antonio, his grandmother Lucy Ortiz and three siblings, who are 15, 13 and 6 years old. 

That first Christmas was more lonely than he could have imagined. 

“I was able to go back home [to San Antonio] last year during the November timeframe, but I had to come back because of COVID,” Holliday said.

Back in Okinawa, he remained in quarantine for 18 days. “I had to get COVID-tested on Christmas and then I was stuck in the room until after New Year’s,” he said. “The first Christmas by myself in a room. But that’s the type of sacrifices that we make.”

It is much less of a sacrifice to help out with the holiday mail — more a labor of love. Handing out the packages is the most rewarding of all the tasks, Holliday said. 

“It’s a lot of work for sure, a lot of muscle as well … to move all these boxes and everything,” he said. “But I think the best part about it is when people get to come and get their packages and seeing the smile on their face whenever they have packages and seeing that joy.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.