DECATUR, Ala (WHNT) - Memorial Day is a day to honor the brave men and women who have given their life for our country. This year, there’s a new name on the Morgan County Veterans Memorial in Priceville. It took more than 40 years to get it there.
Three days before Robert Louis Bolan turned 17, his father walked with him to Decatur so he could enlist in the army. He told his dad he’d never regret signing for him because he was going to make a career of serving. He kept his word. The Decatur native served in the Korean War and did four tours of duty in Vietnam.
One of his brothers, Willie Bolan smiled when he said, “He was my idol. Anything he done, I wanted to do the same thing.” Willie remembers the night Robert Louis called home from Fort Carson, Colorado to tell their dad, he was going back to Vietnam. He wanted his son to get out and come home but this soldier couldn’t walk away from the 18 and 19 year old boys he’d just trained. Willie recalled the conversation where Robert Louis told his dad, “I’ve taught them how to live in a jungle, how to fight, how to take lives. He said I do not intend to leave them out there by themselves. I’m going with them.” Choking back tears, Willie said, “It broke my daddy’s heart.” Robert Louis Bolan didn’t come home. He was killed in action.
Master Sgt. Bolan and several others were in a helicopter when the pilot spotted what he thought was an American soldier coming out of the jungle. When they circled around, the soldier was gone. The enemy opened fire with machine guns. Bolan was hit in the neck twice and died before they could return to Fire Base Victory. Nine hours before he was killed, Bolan wrote a letter to his mom and dad saying he was doing fine and he only had 12 days left before he was leaving to come back to the states.
Willie said, “When you give your life to your country, you’ve give all you’ve got. He was my hero.” Willie Bolan was facing his own battle, getting his brother’s name on the Morgan County Veterans Memorial. He said, “It was like kickin’ a can down the road.” Because Robert Louis lived in Maryland with his family, that was his home of record. His birth certificate was the key to unlocking the door to being recognized by the community where he was born and raised.
Willie added, “That’s all we ever wanted was to be able to say my brother was from Morgan County. “ It took Willie, his wife and sister 42 years to bring Robert Louis’ name home. He’ll never forget the first time he saw his brother’s name on the memorial in Priceville. “I couldn’t stand it. It seems like for wanting something so hard and so bad for so long that that missing piece of the puzzle of our family had been put back in place,” Willie told us. “There was joy. There was hurt.” Robert L. Bolan’s name is also on the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington. The 39 year old received more than a dozen valor awards during his last tour.
In his final letter home, he shared that with his family. He also wrote, “Well, guess this will be about the last time I’ll write prior to leaving and you don’t have to answer because it would never get here before I leave. So be careful and hope to see you all soon. Love always, Bobby.” That letter was in his mother and father’s mailbox when they came home from their son’s funeral. And finally, his name is home as well where his memory will live forever.
General Fred Franks calls Robert Louis Bolan his personal hero. They served together in Vietnam. Franks was a major at the time but when he lost a foot to a grenade, he says he remembers lying on the ground and seeing Bolan head straight toward the enemy. He was afraid he’d never see his friend again. Bolan took out three North Vietnamese soldiers with his 45 while capturing their machine gun. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions.