By Christopher Shields
The nation has begun to welcome its troops home from Iraq as our involvement there is ending after almost nine years. As we pause to honor these men and women for their great service, did you know that nearly 100 years ago Greenwich resident Raynal C. Bolling helped prepare our military for a new age of warfare?
Born in Arkansas in 1877, Bolling attended Harvard where he earned his law degree in 1902. At first, his goal was to enter political life. However it appears that once exposed to ward politics in New York City, he decided this path did not suit his personality or work style.
Bolling took a position with the United States Steel Corporation and within 10 years was named General Solicitor at the age of thirty six. During his tenure at U.S. Steel, he worked diligently to advance the cause of worker safety in an industry that was notoriously hazardous. His accomplishments as the head of the Safety Committee included the development of safety standards for new machinery, a program of regular safety inspections at mills and improved signage at work sites to educate and warn of dangers.
A few years after their marriage in 1907, Bolling and his wife Anna arrived in Greenwich and commissioned an architect in the firm of Carrère & Hastings to design a new home for their growing family. They moved into magnificent Greyledge estate on Doubling Road when it was completed in 1915 and formed many happy memories there with their four children.
In keeping with his adventurous nature, Bolling took an interest in flying and became a pilot. He recognized the important role that aircraft would play in the coming conflict and was concerned about the United States’ level of preparedness in this arena. Bolling organized the first National Guard flying unit and helped recruit and train some of this country’s earliest fighter pilots. He enlisted in the U.S. Army several days before the United States officially entered the First World War and was appointed as the Assistant Chief of Air Service, Lines of Communication. In this role, his responsibilities included determining the types of engines and planes to be manufactured and used by the Allies.
Bolling was quickly promoted to Colonel and began preparations to assume tactical command of American air units scheduled to deploy on the British front. He was killed in France on March 26, 1918 while on an inspection tour. Bolling was defending himself and his unarmed chauffeur during a German ambush near the front lines near Amiens. He was the first high-ranking air service officer killed on the battlefield in World War I.
Bolling Air Force Base (known today as Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling) in Washington, D.C. was named in recognition of his many contributions to the war effort. Closer to home, a statue honoring Bolling is located on Greenwich Avenue across from the World War I memorial.
The archives at the Greenwich Historical Society holds the Col. Raynal C. Bolling Papers, which contain primary source material documenting some of his Air Service work during the war, related printed material and a limited number of family papers. The archives are open to the public on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by appointment.
Christopher Shields is Archivist at the Greenwich Historical Society, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob, CT 06807.