It seemed like a very normal afternoon in Lyman, South Carolina, a small southern town in upstate. The closest metropolis was Spartanburg, which wasn’t all that much of a metropolis. Lyman was a place where most everyone worked at Pacific Mills, drank Coca-Colas at the local drug store and worshipped at the Methodist or Baptist church. Everyone who lived there was practically family, and Lyman is where my people came from.
And for two weeks in the autumn of 1943, the people of Lyman, South Carolina, would embrace my family through one of the more difficult periods of World War II.
The date was Oct. 14, 1943. The seasonal change was well underway and the leaves in South Carolina’s upstate were ablaze with shades of amber, yellow and orange. Football is a religion in the South, and Lyman was no different. And it had faithful practitioners in my great uncles — Gene and Louie Bolin — the youngest of eight children. My uncles were just teenagers then, and when the school bell rang that October afternoon, they bolted outside and raced to the football field.
It wasn’t long until an unfamiliar car drove up alongside the field and out stepped the Rev. Wallace Fridy, the town’s Methodist minister. He walked over to Gene and Louie and told them to get in the car. He had news to share with them from overseas — their older brother had been shot down and was missing in action.
Second Lt. Brunson Bolin was known and loved by everyone in Lyman. Brunson was a horribly formal name, so his brothers and sisters opted, instead, to call him Bunny. The name stuck and folks around town became endeared to the boy with dark, wavy hair and blue eyes who hardly ever said a word. Bunny distinguished himself in sports, from basketball to baseball, and when war broke out, he was determined to join the fray along with his two brothers — Don — who flew B-24s in the South Pacific — and "Chico" — a fighting Devil Dog who would eventually be wounded at Iwo Jima.
Bunny was just 18 years old when he volunteered — deciding to join what was then known as the Army Air Force. Within months he was training to be a pilot. Bunny flew a B-17 — known as the Flying Fortress. His was named the Lazy Baby.
The air war over Germany was brutal. American bombers were flying so far into the country, they weren’t able to have fighter escorts. Many never made it back home. Bunny was on his seventh mission, flying as a co-pilot. The mission was to take out a ball-bearing factory on the infamous Schweinfurt Raid. They had just dropped their bombs when the plane was attacked. The left board engine was on fire, communication systems were shot and the navigator was mortally wounded. The situation looked grim and the pilot ordered everyone to bail out.
The letter came to my great-grandparents by standard telegram — from the Defense Department. Bunny was declared missing in action. The town and our family were shaken by the news. Rev. Fridy penned a loving prayer that appeared on the front page of The Advocate, Lyman’s newspaper. It read in part:
"O merciful God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for him reported missing in action we would pray. His life was so fine and clean; his nature so friendly and lovable; his ideals so lofty and noble. It is hard for us to believe that he is gone, for surely great plans were Thine for his life."
The prayer petitioned the Almighty to spare Bunny’s life — and two weeks later our family received word of a mixed blessing. Bunny was, indeed, alive, but he had been captured by the Germans.
With the plane in distress, Bunny had jumped from the bomb bay — he slammed into one of the doors, breaking most of his ribs. As he tumbled toward the earth, Bunny stretched back and noticed holes popping up inside his parachute. He looked down to find a group of German farmers taking shots at him. The only thing that saved his life was a German Army corporal who got to him before the farmers did. And in the middle of a huge hay field, Bunny Bolin from Lyman, South Carolina, was captured. He would spend the next 18 months as a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft III in what was then known as Sagan, Poland.
After the war, Uncle Bunny returned to Lyman, where the townspeople gave him hero’s welcome. He was awarded a Purple Heart and the Air Medal for his service to our nation. He married Hazel, a girl who lived down the street. She said whenever you saw Bunny in that uniform, you just thought he was the best looking boy you’d ever seen in your life. They’ve been married for 59 years, raising three children and eight grandchildren. After the war, he took a job with Delta Air Lines — where he served for years with distinction. And today, dozens of years after his incarceration in a prisoner of war camp, Bunny lives in Tyrone, Georgia. He is, in my estimation, an American hero.
We are a free nation because of people like Brunson Bolin — men and women who’ve answered freedom’s call to defend this land against those who despise and reject the belief that all men are created equal. And on this Veteran’s Day, we honor their sacrifice. We give thanks for those among us willing to take up arms and shed their blood so that this nation may live in peace.
And we also honor American mothers who’ve given their sons and daughters to Liberty’s cause. Your sacrifice has been great.
This Veteran’s Day, I hope you take a moment and thank those who are serving our nation. Perhaps you could visit a V.A. hospital or offer a prayer on behalf of our soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you see a Marine walking down the street, go and shake that person’s hand. Or if you find a group of soldiers eating in a restaurant, why not pick up the tab?
The cost of freedom, my fellow Americans, is great. Today, may we all remember the price.
Todd Starnes may be reached at email@example.com