By Susan Loden
NEW SMYRNA BEACH - Jack Bolt, double ace American hero of World War II in the infamous Black Sheep Squadron and in the Korean War, has been honored by his second hometown, New Smyrna Beach. The city named its airport Jack Bolt Field, on Feb. 22.
As a fighter pilot, Jack Bolt had six confirmed shoot-downs of enemy planes in both wars. This earned him rare status as one of only seven American double ace pilots in these wars. Flying with the U.S. Air Force, he was the only U.S. Marine Corps ace fighter pilot in the Korean War.
History shows Jack Bolt flew 94 missions in WW II, and was credited with six kills of Japanese fighter pilots. In defiance of orders, he launched a solo attack on a convoy of barges and troop ships, sinking several. This earned the wrath of his Black Sheep Squadron commander, the legendary "Pappy" Boyington. Pacific Fleet Commander William Halsey Jr., however, praised Jack Bolt as "a one-man war on Japanese shipping."
In life, Jack Bolt was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and two U.S. Air Force Air medals. He was awarded the Navy Cross "for extraordinary heroism" when, in 1953, while running out of fuel, he attacked four enemy planes and downed two of them.
Jack Bolt died of acute leukemia, at 83, in Tampa, after evacuating out of the path of approaching Hurricane Frances in September 2004. It took a hurricane, his son said, to uproot his father from New Smyrna Beach.
Mr. Bolt loved and was known and loved in two hometowns, New Smyrna Beach and Sanford, in Seminole County.
New Smyrna Beach Mayor James Vandergrifft, at the airfield dedication, recounted Jack Bolt's remark, "The only thing (we) thought about (in battle) was shooting down enemy aircraft." On the home front, however, Mr. Vandergrifft and other friends, family and admirers described Jack Bolt as a "natural, low-key, fun person and a quiet, humble hero."
The day before Jack Bolt evacuated to Tampa in 2004, never to return to New Smyrna Beach, city manager Frank Roberts said he told him, "He didn't need to be recognized. Not just for him." Any recognition, Jack Bolt said, should include everyone who has served or who will serve the country.
Mr. Roberts said each Black Sheep ace pilot, in wartime, was assigned an individual ace from a deck of cards. Jack Bolt was the "ace of diamonds," and Mr. Roberts presented Bob Bolt with his father's original card from a deck still held by one of the few surviving Black Sheep.
Fishing buddy Jack Ascherl, of New Smyrna Beach, called Jack Bolt, "Courageous, tenacious and clever, with a single-mindedness of purpose. He would see a target and go get it.Jack was mild-mannered, polite, courteous - a true gentleman .He was the most remarkable, most unforgettable person I've ever known. We honor ourselves when we honor him."
The son of Jack and Dottie Bolt, Bob Bolt, a Tampa attorney, told Hometown News what his father instilled in him: "Single-mindedness and determination are way up there. The ability to never look back if things didn't go your way. Always look forward and do better. That attitude was his greatest contribution to me."
Mr. Bolt told the crowd at the dedication, "Dad had so many friends in New Smyrna. This beach was our beach. When you are Sanford Celery-Feds, you love New Smyrna Beach."
Many Sanford friends and family of the Bolts attended the dedication. Sanford, the hometown of Dottie Bolt, Jack Bolt's wife of 60 years, was at one time a tiny farm town known as "Celery City." Sanford sports teams of that era were dubbed "Celery-Feds."
Bolt roots are in Sanford, on the west bank of the St. Johns River, where Mr. Jack Bolt grew up hunting and fishing during the Great Depression. He was born in South Carolina, but Sanford was his first hometown. It's where Jack and Dottie Bolt raised their son and daughter, Barbara Bolt, now of Tampa.
After he retired from military service as lieutenant colonel in 1962, Mr. Bolt returned to the University of Florida to earn his law degree. At age 47, he was his son's classmate. He became associate dean of the law school there, before moving to New Smyrna Beach to specialize in real estate law. For 13 years, before he retired in 1991, he was attorney for the city's utility commission.
"For 34 years, he lived here in the same condo," said Mr. Bolt. "He was there till the very end. He loved and respected this town."
Mr. Bolt also honored his mother in a separate ceremony Feb. 22. The Dorothy "Dottie" Bolt Gazebo was dedicated at the Eva Knutson DeBerry Garden Center, due west of Jack Bolt Field.
At that dedication, Mr. Bolt remarked on his parents' shared passion for plants. His mother survived his father by one year. Mrs. Bolt was remembered as one who enjoyed getting her hands dirty in the garden, and who tended the grave of stranger, because there was no one else to do it.
Mr. Bolt's daughters, Blair Bolt Carter, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and law student, and Kristen Bolt, a Harvard graduate and journalist, honored their grandparents at the garden center by singing a favorite song of each. They had learned the songs as children, with coaching from their grandfather.
Mr. Ascherl, who often went with Jack Bolt deep into mangrove thickets in southeast Volusia County to net fish for mullet, said Dottie Bolt was her husband's partner for his most renowned fishing adventure.
The couple was in a small craft under the Tampa Bay Bridge, when, around 1950, Jack Bolt dived into the water with a spear in pursuit of a the giant fish that he guessed to be there.
On the way down, he passed a large fish, but went deeper, seeking a bigger catch. Five other fish he spotted didn't measure up to the first, so he speared the first fish. As he struggled with the thrashing giant near the small boat that held his wife, Mr. Ascherl said, Jack Bolt gouged his thumbs into its eyes to stun the fish.
When he and his wife docked with the monolithic grouper, it weighed in at 404 pounds. It was a world record, broken within two weeks by a Hawaiian fisherman with a 412-pound catch. The Bolt's feat was documented in magazines of the day, with photos showing the fish dwarfing the couple.
In later years, children replaced Mrs. Bolt when her husband went out in a canoe to cast for mullet. "He said, 'She's getting to be a sissy,' in her 70s," said relative Gaddy Jones. Mr. Jones and his wife, Marty, who is Mrs. Bolt's cousin, traveled from Shreveport, La., for the dedication ceremonies.
Mr. Ascherl recounted that Jack Bolt once told him, "One day, Dottie's going to call and tell you, 'Jack's in trouble.'
You're going to come down here (to his favorite fishing spot in the mangroves) and find me collapsed over the biggest pile of mullet you've ever seen."
If Jack Bolt knew the New Smyrna Beach Airport was renamed in his honor, Mr. Vandergrifft said, he would say, "'I don't deserve this' He was such an easy-going humble guy."