VA Southeast Network (VISN7)
Carey Bolt: A Life of Service
“I’m just a nobody, who knows everybody,” says Carey Bolt, a retired U.S. Army sergeant first class, and the Laurens County, South Carolina Veterans Service Officer (VSO).
A South Carolina country boy from Hickory Tavern, raised around the world, moving from place to place every few years as his father received orders to a new duty station. Bolt’s story was written long before his birth, as he came from a long line of men who served their country.
Less than a month after graduating high school, Bolt enlisted in the Army carrying the tradition of familial service to its third generation.
“Bootcamp was easy, it was like I was back at the house,” laughed Bolt. “There were boys in there crying, and I was just thinking ‘Damn, this is like my daddy.’ This is something that I’d seen all my life.”
When asked what it was like to wear the uniform his father used to wear, Bolt said: “It gave me more clarity about the man my father was. I felt a lot of pride wearing the uniform.”
Over the course of the next 22 years, some of Bolt’s tours of duty included: Presidential Honor Guard, serving under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan; recruiting duty in Boston; a tour in East Germany, bordering the Soviet Union during the Cold War; instructor duty at Ft. Benning, Georgia; and a tour as a special forces recruiter for U.S. bases across Europe.
After retiring in 1996, Bolt served his local community for the next five years as a police officer where he helped restructure their community service program for the county and took a focus to helping young kids who were going down the wrong path.
“Through the years, I’ve met kids who still remember me,” said Bolt. “I saw it as when I helped out those young kids, I was saving them from the wolves of their future, the penitentiary, things like that. I looked at them like they were my kids. A little compassion could make a big difference in their lives.”
While serving as a cop, Bolt forged many friendships. One of those being Barney Blackwell, the VSO for Laurens County, South Carolina. When Blackwell was preparing to step away from his VSO position, he asked Bolt if he wanted to interview for the opening.
Bolt interviewed for the position and when asked why he thought he could perform the duties of the job he responded, “I’ve lived [the military] as a kid, and I lived it as a soldier, if you can find somebody better than that, give them the job.”
In 2004 Bolt was appointed as the VSO for Laurens County, a position he still holds today. By his second year as the Laurens VSO, Bolt had forged strong bonds with the local veterans in the community, most of them being Vietnam and World War II vets.
“I got to looking at the discharges of some of the men I worked with, and I have got to tell you something, these men were like the Rambos of their time,” said Bolt. “These men came back from their time [in service], went to work and never looked back. It was just another part of their life.”
Bolt recalls that the man who first inspired him to start the Hall of Heroes was a man named W.R. Garrett, who was known as a local farmer in the community. Garrett was awarded a Silver Star and three Bronze Stars for acts of heroism and bravery during his service in WWII.
“It killed me that people only knew that man as a damn farmer,” said Bolt. “It was wrong, mind-boggling, that people didn’t know the awesome things that this man did.”
These veterans only being recognized as farmers, neighbors, or shop owners didn’t sit right with Bolt. He wanted to ensure that these veterans received the recognition that they deserved. This is when Bolt started the Laurens County Hall of Heroes, a way of recognizing veterans around the local communities, that includes a ceremony awarding the new inductees with plaques, shadow boxes, and an outpouring of love from friends, family members, and complete strangers.
The Hall of Heroes doesn’t require a veteran to have performed heroic duties, Bolt wanted to highlight veterans who impacted their local community as well.
Bolt initially thought the Hall of Heroes would be a one-off event. He envisioned the inaugural event, which inducted seven veterans, would draw a small crowd of 50-60 people. However, on the day of the induction Bolt says nearly 500 people attended the event.
“When I saw the crowd that was there to honor those men, I could not believe it,” said Bolt.
After three years, Bolt’s Hall of Heroes has expanded to Greenwood County as well. In total, Bolt’s efforts have ensured that several hundred veterans around the surrounding communities have been recognized for the sacrifices and contributions to the nation and local communities.
Along with the Halls of Heroes in Greenwood and Laurens, Bolt also established a military museum in Greenwood. The museum is operated by veteran volunteers and has thousands of pieces of memorabilia ranging from guns and knives, to uniforms, photos, and newspaper articles, all donated by local veterans.
Now approaching retirement, Bolt is preparing to move on to the next stage of his life, and says he is ready to focus on being a grandfather to his 3 grandchildren.
When asked about his legacy, Bolt responded: “The things I’ve done, I did so because they needed to be done, and I just hope that I did a good enough job for the people I served. All I want when I walk away is to know that I laid down the cornerstone that will allow the successor to be take things to new heights.
For a man who claims to be a nobody, Bolt’s impact can be seen and felt across multiple South Carolina counties. Ask him about any veteran in the Hall of Heroes, and he’ll tell you their story. Bolt far exceeded his duties as a VSO and provided recognition to forgotten men and women.
To see the members of the Greenwood and Laurens Hall of Heroes, visit the Laurens County Courthouse and the military museum in Greenwood.
Learn more about how VA is improving Veterans experience at va.gov/ve.