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Gristmill: In Memoriam

Wed, 05/31/2023 - 16:54
Lt. Edwin Greene of the U.S. Naval Reserve, front row center. Front right is Lt. Gerald Ford, future congressman, vice president, and president.

There’s nothing like commemorating those who gave their lives for their country to bring a little village like Sag Harbor back together.

The streetside pauses in the Memorial Day procession were moving, as they always are. The color guard. The clanging of the spent shells as they fall to the tarmac. It’s a chance to stop and think. Maybe of those in your own family who didn’t make it through.

Or barely did. My uncle Bob Greene, exiting his downed Cessna Bird Dog. Roadside it could easily have been the Vietcong coming down the dirt road in the next vehicle; it just so happened to be a group of G.I.s.

While that’s all I know of the episode, the experiences of my grandfather Ed Greene were a little more fleshed out for me, my favorite story finding him knee deep in the waters of the Pacific, laying down cover with a Browning Automatic Rifle as troops took the beach. Or he tried to, anyway. The heavy recoil rocked him back with each report till the rifle was firing uselessly into the sky.

This one I had some background for, in part from a great Richard Yates story, “The B.A.R. Man.” Those guys needed to be built like linebackers to handle the heft.

That was in contrast to other stories that made his experiences sound like something out of “South Pacific.” But I got a kick out of hearing about his buddy and fellow naval officer Gerald Ford. “I couldn’t think of a single bad thing to say about him,” Ed said one of the last times I saw him. “And I knew him well.”

Hey, as flawed as Dick Nixon was, on the plus side you have to admit he was another one who saw World War II combat in the Pacific and didn’t wear it on his sleeve, lord it over anyone, or use it to political advantage. Those were different times, you might say.

You also might simply note the significance of psychology in the course of history, for instance the benefits of participants having clear objectives, an end in sight, and full public support.

Marching high schoolers banging snare drums as the sun hits the flags along Main Street isn’t bad either.

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