Vet's memorabilia perfect for the 4th

From left, Dr. Ron Powell, retired CSM Charlie Bolling Jr., Dwight Dyess, and Randy Jones show off some of the mementoes the veterans gave Bolling from Ft. Bliss.
Staff Writer

For a soldier, little mementoes can mean a lifetime.

Command Sgt. Maj. Charlie Bolling Jr. lost all of his.
Over time, he's been able to get some of them back.

Tuesday, just in time for July 4, the decorated Army veteran got a few extra pieces back, including one snippet he'd never even seen before.

Bolling's story is a long winding one that took him from picking cotton as the child of a sharecropper in rural Alabama to a high school diploma in Ohio to the Army to help support his mother and siblings to the front lines of Korea and Vietnam as an artilleryman.

He was severely wounded and earned a Purple Heart, among other medals, and returned for another tour in Vietnam, watching men die around him in places like Con Thien and assaults like the Tet Offensive.
Just like Korea, he survived Vietnam, too, leaving the war front in 1971.

His experience in battle on different sizes of artillery took him to Ft. Bliss, Texas, where in December 1976, he was promoted to Command Sergeant Major at the Basic Combat Training Brigade, a key post training the next generation of artillerymen.

The Army sent out a press release noting Bolling's promotion.

He didn't even know much less ever see it, until Tuesday.
"Would you look at that, excellent," he said as he a group of friends marveled over whether the press release was typed on an old-fashioned manual typewriter or what in 1976 would have been a relatively new electric typewriter.
He retired from the Army in 1979 after 26 years, six months and 18 days.

Through it all, he'd been section chief and squad leader, platoon sergeant and first sergeant, the senior instructor on the sound ranging course at Ft. Sill, Okla., and command sergeant major for the 3rd Armored Cavalry.

He was what veterans call "the real deal."
But finding civilian life difficult after all those years, Bolling jumped at the chance to help write the training manual for first sergeants.

He then returned to Ft. Bliss as a training manager teaching soldiers from the United Arab Emirates handle air-defense systems.

He spent 14 years there doing that before retiring for good and moving with his wife, a Mississippi native, to Bay St. Louis, less than a mile from the beach. He opened an appliance repair business.

The next winding road came on Aug. 29, 2005, when the eye of Hurricane Katrina swept ashore near his home, wiping it and his business out.

The Bollings fled the coast with little more than the things on their back and landed in West Point.
It's been home ever since.

He was able to apply through the Army to get duplicates of many, but not all, of his military awards that were swept away by Katrina. And the honors have been many -- the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf cluster, the Purple Heart, and the Army Commendation medal with two Oak Leaf clusters -- not to mention numerous service honors.

It didn't take long for the military community here to find him.

"He walked into the bank one day and he had a hat on. I said, 'How you doing sergeant major?' and then realized he had a crest on it and said, 'Hello command master sergeant," recalled retired Army Col. Dwight Dyess, who was president of BancorpSouth in West Point at the time. "That brought a big smile from him."

Dyess, who spent 29 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve, including 10 years in Special Forces, commanded the 1st Battalion, 155th Infantry, which is the oldest military unit in the state's history.
Although Dyess retired as president of BancorpSouth in West Point last year, he's remained close with Bolling and his wife.

Last month, Dyess was at Ft. Bliss to help send off the 3,500 members of the Mississippi National Guard's 155th Armored Brigade.

They'd been training there since this spring in preparation for a nine-month deployment in Kuwait.

Dyess stopped by the museum on the base and got them to pull a cop[y of the press release about Bolling's promotion, the center of the 84-year-old's big smile over lunch.
He also got a red polo shirt -- the color of the artillery -- from the Sergeant Major's Academy at Ft. Bliss, Bolling's old stomping grounds.

And he picked up a Commander's Coin from Maj. General Robert T. White, the head of the First Armored Division at the base.

"I knew these would be things special to you. We wanted to get you the shirt today so you an wear it tomorrow," Dyess told Bolling during Tuesday's lunch.

"I sure will," Bolling responded as two other decorated veterans, West Point City Manager Randy Jones, a retired Army aviation warrant officer who took part in the missions that inspired the movie 'Black Hawk Down' about Somalia, and Dr. Ron Powell, a retired Army colonel who served with the 155th in Iraq in 2005, was State Surgeon for the Mississippi Army National Guard and ironically, played a major role in humanitarian efforts on the Gulf Coast following Katrina.
"I wondered what this was all about having lunch and everything," Bolling added as the group shared his memories. "This sure is special."