Born in 1941 in Sandersville, Georgia, William R. Holmes attended the Georgia Institute of Technology, graduating in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Textile Engineering and a commission as a second lieutenant of Ordnance. Early assignments included operations officer of the 510th Ordnance Company and commander, 96th Ordnance Company, both special weapons custodial units in Europe. In 1968-1969, he commanded the 630th Ordnance Company, one of three companies operating the Qui Nhon Ammunition Depot in South Vietnam, and then the 188th Ordnance Company, which provided ammunition support to the Central Highlands.
Upon returning from Vietnam, completing the Ordnance Officer Advanced Course, receiving a Master of Science in Management Technology from American University, and graduating from the Command and General Staff College, he served in a series of important positions in the ammunition and special weapons fields. While assigned to the U. S. Army Armament Command, he played a key role in the formation of the Nuclear Project Office and contributed to the Army's 8-inch artillery nuclear projectile programs, as well as the Pershing and Lance missile programs.
He also served in the Theater Nuclear Forces Division in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Program Analysis and Evaluation, where he reviewed nuclear weapons plans and programs for all Services. He commanded the Hawthorne Ammunition Depot in Nevada, and the Seneca Army Depot in New York. In 1989, he was promoted to brigadier general and command of the Picatinny Arsenal.
In June 1992, Brigadier General Holmes assumed duties as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Ammunition at Army Materiel Command and concurrently as Deputy for Ammunition for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development and Acquisition. Here he was instrumental in strengthening the Army's ammunition production and management programs. He retired from the Army in 1996.