Remembering Two Edwards from the Bolen Family on Memorial Day
Central New Yorkers know the meaning behind Memorial Day…honoring those who died in combat. But most families probably haven’t experienced that devastation firsthand. twice. Not like the Bolen family. First Lieutenant Edward J. Bolen was a student at Columbia University when he joined the Army Air Corps in February 1943. After training and being stationed in the U.S., he flew his first overseas mission in January 1944. His niece and family historian Mary Ellen Bolen Coon says he piloted a P-47 Thunderbolt, which served as a bomber and gunner. She says her uncle was on his 41st mission over France on November 17th, 1944.
"It was a successful mission," Coon said. "The mission was to take out a German transport train. They took out the engine, several cars, and messed up the train tack. Unfortunately, those types of trains had flatbed cars with the anti-aircraft guns, and my uncle got hit with the flak. He got as far as Etival and that's where he crashed."
She says Bolen’s plane was damaged, and he was injured. His wingman told the family that Bolen was likely trying to avoid crashing into a populated area, and didn’t deploy his parachute in time. He crashed in a flooded field in Etival-Clairfontaine, not far from the German border. He was just 22 years old. Coon says her uncle is credited with saving the small French village, which was a hotbed of resistance.
"The train they took out was on its way to Etival-Clairefontaine to pick up many members of the village and take them to a concentration camp."
But the story of First Lieutenant Bolen doesn’t end there. Seven decades later, a retired French air force major named Jean Loup-Frommer "adopted" a couple of American airmen in an effort to honor their sacrifice to help keep his country from German oppression. Mary Ellen Coon says his project turned up a previously unknown photo of Bolen’s crumpled plane taken by the family of a then-six year-old boy.
"This gentleman here, he's now in his 70's...it's a bittersweet picture because this is where my uncle died," Coon said. "But it's nice to have."
She says the photo and the information gathered by Jean Loup-Frommer became something the family could never imagine…
"The town where he died has honored his memory, erected a permanent memorial, and renamed the town square," Coon said. "Every year they hold a ceremony in his memory."
Every November11th, Veterans Day in America, the town takes down the French flag and flies an American flag on a pole marking the spot where her uncle’s plane went down. She says the family will never stop talking about first lieutenant Edward James Bolen.
"My uncle has 17 nieces and nephews who have never met him...in person," Coon said, her voice shaking with emotion. "But he is alive in our memories and our hearts."
DECADES LATER, ANOTHER EDWARD IS LOST
It was November 10th, 2010 when 25-year-old Army Sgt. Edward H. Bolen of Chittengano was leading a patrol of ten other soldiers in Afghanistan. His aunt Mary Ellen Coon recalls that fateful day:
"They were out on a morning patrol, and their vehicle was shot at," Coon said. "It was an ambush. They got out of the vehicle to take cover. Unfortunately, my nephew was nearest to the roadside bomb when it detonated."
Coon, says her nephew died almost 66 years to the day of his great uncle. It was the younger Bolen’s second tour; his first was in Iraq. He had married a couple of months before he shipped out. Coon says the loss has been devastating…
"Unfortunately, with my nephew's death, I now know what my grandparents went through, what my father and my uncle and my two aunts went through," Coon said, her voice shaking with emotion. "Being his aunt, I know the devastation. You can only imagine it. Only until you experience it, that takes it to a whole different level.
Coon says the family knows the risks all too well; Sgt. Bolen was the fourth generation to serve in the military. The tradition goes back a century.
"Four Edward Bolens have served their country," Coon said. "My grandfather was in World War I. Then my uncle Eddie was in World War II, along with my father and his brother. I have a cousin who's named after Eddie who went to Vietnam twice. Then there's my nephew Eddie. Out of the four Edward Bolens who served their country, only two came home."