EDITORíS NOTE: The following feature series profiles Ellis County veterans killed in the line of service to their country during the 20th century.
The features, researched and written by Perry Giles, are read in first-person voice by area students during the annual Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Ceremony as a special way to remember and pay tribute to our friends, classmates and neighbors who gave their lives for our freedom.
ďWe Were Soldiers Once and YoungĒ will appear every Sunday in the Daily Light through Veterans Day.
ē First of two-part series
We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to rememberÖ
My name is Clinton Howard Greene. My family calls me Howard.
I grew up in Ennis and went to war for my country. This is my story.
When I was growing up, my family didnít have a lot. In fact some people would have said that we were poor. I was the youngest of six children, and the only son of Junius and Ada Greene. Iíve been told that my sisters doted on me. I reckon thatís so.
We lived at 210 West Belknap Street and attended the Tabernacle Baptist Church.
My daddy sharecropped and hauled freight, but in his spare time he liked to write poetry. He made sure that I was well mannered and that I made my grades.
My best friend was Jack Hinton. In our overalls, we would sit on the street curb at night talking for hours, planning and dreaming about our future. We knew what it was like to do without those things that many other kids took for granted. Times were hard, but Jack and me had plans to make things better.
In high school, I was elected as the president of my junior and senior classes. I also acted in the junior and senior class plays and played football for the Lions. I really enjoyed athletics and the teamwork aspect of it. We won our district in í35. My number was 27.
After graduation, I didnít have the money to go to college, so I got a job at the Ennis Tag & Salesbook Company. Sometimes there was regret about not going to college, but I could not see giving up my job for the uncertainty of the unknown. After all, I was making good money, for the times.
I guess you could say that I was popular with the girls, but there was this one girl that I really loved. She lived in another town not far from home. We were pretty serious about each other, but her mother had other plans for her. Seems like I didnít fit the requirements.
Later on I moved to Wichita Falls and took a job there with an oil company. When the war came, I joined the Army Air Force there at Sheppard Field, figuring that I needed to be part of all this war effort. My primary pilot training was at Jones Field in Bonham.
Man, I really enjoyed flying and felt as though this was going to be my chance to make something of myself.
I took my basic training at Randolph Field in San Antonio, and completed advanced training at Kelly Field. Then it was on to more training at Sedalia, Mo., Westover, Mass, Fort Benning, Ga., and North Carolina. Once while training in Westover, Mass., I was grounded for buzzing Smith College. I did an 85-degree bank over the school at 200 feet. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but looking back, not too smart.
I was the pilot of a C-47 troop transport plane. My job was to deliver paratroopers to their drop-zone behind enemy lines. This was the most responsibility that anyone had ever placed on my shoulders. A lot of the other pilots sort of looked up to me as a father figure or something, because I was older and had more life experience than most of them. Some of them were just kids.
Back home most everyone called me Howard. In the military, my official name was Clinton H. Greene, so my new friends in the Army started calling me Clint. I liked that name. It had a nice ring to it.
There were times when I was in the lead of 100 planes flying in formation and I was responsible for a whole regiment of paratroopers. I felt as though I was really earning my money and I didnít seem to be satisfied with anything other than the work. Someday, I hope they make this group my baby.
The training was intense. We flew those planes hard, and there were plenty of things that went wrong. I even saw a paratrooper killed when he was hit by another plane. We flew lots of maneuvers, daylight drops, night drops, flying formation and glider towing. We practiced everything over again and again, until we all got it right.
Finally, we were ready. We were the 32nd Troop Carrier Squadron of the 314th Troop Carrier Group. We had trained hard for what seemed like a long time and in the judgment of the Colonel, my squadron was the best. Flying is really getting fine for me.
To pass the time, we played a lot of poker, blackjack and craps. Sometimes I was up in cash, sometimes down, sometimes even. Before we shipped overseas, we had a chance to go to a big band show. There were moments when the orchestra started playing that made me wish for the old dances back home. It made me think of the girl somewhere that is very beautiful. Somewhere, somehow, I hope to meet her someday.
On May 7, 1943 we flew to Morrison Field in West Palm Beach, Fla. There we got last minute instructions for our trip to North Africa. This was it! Now I was really going to war. We left the states three days later and flew to Puerto Rico. On the way we flew over a convoy of eight ships and also flew over Cuba. We saw some beautiful coral beds, showing through the shallow water, colored in many shades of green and blue, even some schools of fish were visible. I remember thinking that this was such a pretty spot and someday Iíd like to bring my future wife here.
After stopping over in Puerto Rico for one night, we flew on past the Grenada Islands and on to Trinidad, flying through some instrument weather along the way. We stayed the night at Trinidad, where they treated us to some ice cream and cake. Man, it was good! But I canít figure how people live in a place like this Ė a mountain sticking out of the sea.
The next day it was on to Brazil. We had to fly instruments through a rainstorm and we passed near to Devilís Island. Flying over the mouth of the Amazon took us nearly an hour. We saw lots of wild animals and the river was awfully muddy. This place is practically all one big jungle. Iíve read books about this place but never figured that Iíd ever see it for myself.
The quarters and food there at Bellum, Brazil were not bad at all. I had to do my letter writing in bed with my flashlight. Our beds were draped with mosquito nets, tropical style, out of necessity.
From there it was on east over the Atlantic toward Ascension Island. We passed over two warships, a light cruiser and a destroyer. Those fighting ships were going the same way we were, going in harmís way. The guy in the lead of our formation was just real poor. He messed the whole formation up and was not in position for the entire trip. I wish that they would put me in charge of this group.
Fifteen hundred miles and 9Ĺ hours later we finally made it, Ascension Island, a volcanic rock in the middle of the ocean. The runway was literally carved through a mountain. We learned of an A-20 pilot that had just come in on one engine and had to crash land in the water. He had cheated death only to be caught and swept out to sea by an undertow while swimming in.
This place, I found to be almost unlivable. We slept five guys to a tent. The highest mountain was 750 feet, on which grew a lonely looking scrubby tree. The waves seemed quiet enough, only rollers until they dashed themselves against the rocks, trying madly to destroy the only bit of land for over a thousand miles. What a lonely spot this was. One night they treated us to a movie in which a guy kissed a girl, and the boys almost went wild.
From there we flew on eastward to Decar, North Africa, another nine hours of flying. Flew in at 10,000 feet to stay on top of the dust-filled atmosphere. When we landed, I ran into some friends that I had trained with back at Kelly Field in San Antonio. Awfully hazy and nasty weather here. It was plenty hot and there was a 45 mile-per-hour wind blowing, cutting particles of sand.
The next day we flew on further east and landed near an Arab village in the middle of the desert. North Africa, what a place! Our barracks were deserted hovels of the French Foreign Legion situated on a hill overlooking an oasis. We had cloth cots and everything was OK, I reckon, considering thereís a war on. Iíll bet that these C.C.C. blankets never were expected to see service in an African desert.
The natives begged us for gum and cigarettes. There were shots fired in the air when some of them tried stealing our equipment. That night I lost $35 in a poker game, and that about evens me up in gambling so far. The stars are very bright with a lovely moon, plus a 50 mile-per-hour sandy wind. All in all, I would have to say that North Africa is a very nice place from which to appreciate the U.S.A.
A story of some obscure adventure novel suddenly became reality for me. The change from Ennis, Texas to a town like Marrakech. This place is beyond imagination! Only seeing is believing. The meat markets are overcast with flies, no ice, nothing but filth. The choice buy of the day was camel guts, goat guts, slices of tail, hoofs and other crap that they make glue out of back home. I canít see how humans can live as these people do. Ö Iíll sure be glad to get back home.
(To be concluded next Sunday)
Perry Giles serves as co-chair of the Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Committee. The 2011 countywide tribute to veterans is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Waxahachie Civic Center followed by a wreath presentation at the Ellis County Veterans Memorial located in front of the center.