A vintage bi-plane
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons
If you've ever been down Greenwich Avenue near the Board of Education building, you may have noticed a unique statue and memorial to Colonel Raynal C. Bolling. It's the only monument dedicated to a single town resident. Colonel Bolling has the unique (and dubious) distinction of being the first officer of his rank to be killed in action in World War I. The life-size statue was sculpted by Edward Clark Potter and cast in bronze by the Gorham factory of Rhode Island. (Potter sculpted the lions in front of the New York Public Library.) It's made from Indiana limestone. On the front, it has an image of a combat aircraft in low relief as well as the name "Bolling" under the statue. On the back is the following inscription:
Raynal C. Bolling
Born September 1, 1877
Foresaw his Nation's call to Arms
And left a brilliant career
To prepare himself for service
In the World War
Colonel of Aviation
American Expeditionary Forces
He laid the foundation
For Our Aerial Warfare in France
He fell in action near Amiens
March 26, 1918
In the Vanguard
Of the Thousands of Americans
Who gave all for their Country
Raynal C. Bolling was born in Arkansas in 1877. He attended the Penn Charter School in 1896. He graduated from Harvard in 1900 and Harvard Law School in 1902. After graduating from law school, he joined a law firm in Manhattan. The following year he became General Solicitor for US Steel. Bolling was a very successful businessman. He married Anna Tucker Phillips and had five children - four daughters and one son. In the early 1900s, he had the Greyledge estate built on Doubling Road. A 14,000 square foot mansion sat on 100 acres. The structure was reinforced with steel - like a skyscraper. There were many bathrooms and bedrooms with large closets. It was one of the first houses with an elevator! The basement contained a giant shooting range as well as a "private" men's club. In 1911, his family moved to Greenwich and remained until the 1960s. He was one of the founding members and a president of the Greenwich Riding Association, which later became the Greenwich Riding and Trails Association. Bolling was fortunate enough to have the money and interest to take flying lessons. This would prove to shape his future in the military.
Bolling enlisted on April 3, 1917, the day after President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. The colonel was assigned to the US Army Signal Corps and became the Assistant Chief of Air Service. He believed aircraft could play an important role in war. Colonel Bolling was chosen to draft a bill for Congress authorizing the air service. The Secretary of War sent him on a mission to Europe to study aircraft so that the US could decide which aircraft and equipment to manufacture. While serving in France, he created an entire air combat arm of the American Expeditionary Forces. It was said that Bolling was dismayed with the lack of efficiency and the slowness of the military bureaucracy. He felt this adversely affected the war effort.
Ironically, despite being an airplane pilot during the war, he died on the ground! In March of 1918, near the end of the war, Germany made a push along the Somme River in France. Bolling liked to cross over enemy lines to view operations. On March 26, Bolling and a driver were riding near the front when they were ambushed by German soldiers. One version claims that the driver was wounded, but Bolling refused to abandon him. They took refuge in a shell hole. Bolling supposedly shielded the driver with his body. Another version claims they ended up in separate holes. The result was the same. Unfortunately, they were caught in a machine gun cross-fire and only had the Colonel's handgun. Bolling was killed in action. The driver became a POW.
In 1918, Bolling was posthumously awarded the Legion of Honor and the Distinguished Service medal. An airbase in Washington DC was named Bolling Air Force Base. Several monuments were built in his honor, including the one in Greenwich. Money was solicited from town citizens for the monument. It was unveiled in 1922. The sculpture and stone base weighed 500 pounds. Approximately $15,000 was raised in 1977 to clean and repair the monument.
The Greyledge estate was not so fortunate. After many years of occupancy by the Bollings, after the 1960s the estate passed from person to person. In 2001, Spencer and Shari Lampert bought the house for $7.6 million. In 2004, it was put on the market for $8 million, but nobody "bit". Despite public outcry, Greyledge was demolished in 2006 to make way for a new mansion. A great historic house was gone forever.
Colonel Bolling has been labeled a pioneer in the field of military aviation. He was instrumental in the creation of the United States Air Force. He left his family and a promising law career to serve his country. Bolling did everything his country asked him to do. He even sacrificed his life. His memorial is a tribute to all soldiers who came before him, and those who have followed.
SOURCE: Greenwich Time (Hearst)