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George Harlis Bolling, retired Army colonel who worked in telecommunications, dies

George Harlis Bolling notified officials in Washington about the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in January 1968.
George Harlis Bolling notified officials in Washington about the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in January 1968.

George Harlis Bolling, a retired Army colonel who served in the Signal Corps in Germany, South Korea and Vietnam, died of complications of heart disease Nov. 15 at Frederick Health. A resident of the Lodge at Homewood in Frederick, he was 81.

Born in Kingsport, Tennessee, he was the son of Dr. Harlis Bolling, a physician, and Anna Ruth Honeycutt, a teacher and homemaker. He lived on Cloverbottom Farm and was a 1958 graduate of Sullivan High School. He was president of the student body and governor of the Tennessee 4-H Club.

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He earned a bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt University and was a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

After leaving Vanderbilt and receiving his basic training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, Mr. Bolling was sent to what was then West Germany where he served during the Cold War. He worked in telecommunications.

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He was assigned to Vietnam in the late 1960s.

“People talk about him as a leader and as a man who got things done. He was charming and endearing to people,” said his daughter Bethany Menzies. “He was decisive but also thoughtful in getting the 360-degree view. He was similarly thoughtful about peoples’ feelings in a way you might not expect in a brave, strong military leader.”

She also said:“He was good at bringing up the opposite viewpoint in a way that was not confrontational. He made people think in a generous manner.”

He played a role in a famous Vietnam military offensive in January 1968.

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“He reported about the Tet Offensive to Washington, D.C., that troops were under attack by the Viet Cong,” said his brother, Frank Bolling of Annapolis.

Mr. Bolling was interviewed earlier this year on a Hagerstown television station, WDVM.

“I was the systems control officer for the Defense Communications Agency in Washington, D.C.,” he said in the interview. “That’s the organization that oversees telecommunications around the world, and I was based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base just northeast of Saigon.”

He noticed that warning lights on his control center’s situation board lit up.

“We noticed that the green lights were turning red, and that alarmed my crew of eight enlisted personnel,” he said, recalling that he was speaking on a trans-Pacific telephone cable with Defense Communications in Washington when rockets and mortars were hitting the Tan Son Nhut Air Base.

“Rockets were often fired into the air base, but when you start getting rifle fire, you know the enemy is inside the wire,” he said of the attack that became known as the Tet Offensive.

He served at the Command General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth in 1972. He next spent a year as executive commander of the Signal Battalion in South Korea.

He was then assigned to the Pentagon, and his tour of service there spanned two decades. At this time he earned a master’s degree at the George Washington University.

He went on to be commander of the 57th Signal Battalion at Fort Hood in Texas and was later at the National Defense University.

He left the military as a colonel. Among his military awards were a Bronze Star and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry Unit Citation with Palm.

Mr. Bolling wrote a book, “Aftermath of Antitrust: The Breakup of AT&T.”

He settled in Frederick and became active in the veterans community.

He was a member and past commander of the American Legion Post 171 in Damascus, past president of the Lion’s Club of Thurmont and was past president of the JerMae Homeowners Association in Thurmont.

He was a football fan and avidly followed professional teams that included the Washington Football Team and college teams. He was a traveler and read mysteries and other works of fiction.

He was also a vice president of The Lodge at Homewood, part of the Willow Road Resident’s Association, in Frederick.

Survivors include two daughters, Robyn Bolling of Palmyra, Virginia, and Bethany Menzies of New York City; a son, Michael Bolling of Mechanicsville, Virginia; a brother, Franklin O. Bolling of Annapolis; two grandchildren; and five stepgrandchildren.

His wife of 18 years, Mary F. Bolling, a satellite telecommunications worker, died in 2018. A previous marriage to Gayle Lilley Akers ended in divorce.

He is also survived by two stepdaughters, Renee Davis of Frederick and Michele Kaufman, also of Frederick.

Mr. Bolling will receive full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery at a future date in 2022. The family will gather privately in early December in remembrance.

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