Have you ever wondered why midnight on New Year’s Eve is always marked by the same old Scottish song about remembering old friends, especially those we have forgotten?
Eventually, we all long to see someone from our past, often someone who left their mark while just passing through. Perhaps that universal longing is what makes the song so enduring.
This was the case for Dunwoody resident Holly Hawkins – or more accurately for her father, Jimmy Bolding, from rural Bells, Tenn., a town so small most residents still don’t have internet.
The story started in June of 1969, when at age 19, Bolding was drafted and sent to Ft. Campbell, Ga.
In 1969, the Vietnam War was tearing the country apart. In the previous year, it had taken the lives of 16,899 Americans. The antiwar movement was at its peak. Though President Nixon had taken office vowing to end the war, his strategy was to expand and intensify the fighting to pressure the North Vietnamese to talk peace. Though American casualties were on the decline, the year ended with 11,780 deaths.
The war had already brought tragedy to Bolding’s family with the death of his older brother in 1967. His mother was overwhelmed by the specter of sending another son to war.
Bolding reported to Ft. Campbell with a black cloud over his head. Too far from Bells to go home on weekends, he was lonely. With pay of only $3 a day, he couldn’t afford much entertainment either.
In 1970, the cloud lifted when he was transferred to Ft. Benning and met Mike Kilgore, a soldier from Marietta. Both self-described “farm boys,” they became fast friends. Mike had a sense of normalcy about him as he was already married to Carol and went home with her most weekends.
Even more, Mike was a happy guy and a storyteller.
“He was a funny guy,” said Bolding, “and he liked to carry on like the rest of us.”
The happiness was short lived because that year Mike was sent to Vietnam, and Bolding was told he too would have to go. After he called home to tell his parents, his mother wrote to Ed Jones, her U.S. Congressman, pleading that her son Jimmy be spared because she had already lost one son over there.
Nobody in the family knows exactly what happened, but Bolding’s order to go never came through, and he served out the rest of his time at Ft. Benning. Mike, however, was still in Vietnam, and the two friends wrote back and forth.
But adult life has a way of changing things. Bolding went back to Tennessee, where he became a construction supervisor.
“I went to work on the river,” he said, “building riverbanks for the Army Corps of Engineers, moving 17-ton granite rocks to make jetties in ship channels on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.”
Mike came back to Georgia and spent his career working for Southern Railway. Bolding married. Leading parallel lives, both men spent much time away from home because of their work. In time, they lost touch with each other.
But Jimmy Bolding never forgot his funny, cheerful friend. And that brings us back to Dunwoody.
“Through the years, he’s asked me to help find Mike,” said Holly. “He always said, ‘I sure would like to know if he’s alive and how his life turned out.’ I always told him I would find him.”
Holly did the searching because Bolding has no internet access.
“He’s never been on the internet,” said Holly, who for years searched for “Mike” Kilgore on the internet. The result was lists of names and phone numbers and countless phone calls, never to the right Mike.
Then one night, after years of searching, she searched “Michael” instead of “Mike,” and up popped Michael Kilgore and his wife, Carol, in Suwanee. She called her father to give him the news.
“I was so excited I was jumping up and down,” she said. “My dad, who never gets excited, said, ‘Really? Really? You really found him?’”
She called Mike and talked – or rather he talked – for 45 minutes.
“I can see why my dad liked him. He was very entertaining,” she said.
Finally, the two old friends had their long-awaited phone call.
“I really didn’t think it would happen,” Bolding said.
They plan to meet the next time Bolding visits Dunwoody. I wonder what they were thinking on New Year’s Eve when the old song played.