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1st Lieutenant Clinton Howard Greene

"We Were Soldiers Once, and Young"

By Perry Giles, Guest Columnist, Waxahachie Daily Light 

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. Iíve been told that my sisters doted on me. I reckon thatís so. 

We lived at 210 W. 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 played ball for the Lions. We won our district in í35. I was number 27. After graduation, I didnít have the money to go to college, so I got a job. Sometimes there was regret about not going to college, but I could not see giving up my job for the uncertainty of the unknown. 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. 

When the war came, I joined the Army Air Force and trained to be a pilot.

I really enjoyed flying and felt as though this was going to be my chance to make something of myself. I trained at Kelly Field and Randolph Field in San Antonio and at Jones Field in Bonham. Also trained at Sedalia, Mo, Westover, Ma, Fort Benning, Ga, and North Carolina. Once while training in Westover, Massachusetts, 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 backÖ 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 name was Clinton H. Greene, so my new friends in the Army called 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. 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. 

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, Florida. 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. I remember thinking that this was a lovely 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 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. The quarters and food there at Bellum, Brazil were not bad. 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 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 nine and one-half 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 lone 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 Ė 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 at some of them that were trying to steal 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, North Africa is a very nice place in 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 absolutely unimaginable. 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.

Iíll sure be glad to get back home. 

On May 22nd we left Ouidja and flew further east, having to leave two planes behind due to hydraulic trouble. We flew on to Berguent. One heckuva place, our new base - one runway north and south, no buildings, no tents, no trees, no nothing. We pitched our tent under the wing of our plane.

At night we took turns walking guard duty around the plane, mine was from 1:45 to 3 oíclock. Blowing sand, hot wind, strange noises: you never knew what was out there in the dark in this place. 

We spent the next several days flying back and forth for supplies and lumber. Had to tear down glider crates for the wood and load as much onto our planes as possible. I know we flew overloaded sometimes, but we had to. We worked hard during the day and slept on the ground at night. No cots here. But I was so tired, I didnít mind anymore. 

On May 25-28, we took a series of trips to Orion, Casablanca, and Ouidja hauling freight, men and towing gliders. Casablanca was the best town that Iíd seen in North Africa, a little bit of civilization in the middle of nowhere. On the 28th I got my first letter in four weeks. I tried to write back but it was too hot to even bat the flies off. 

When I got back from Casablanca, I was sick with tonsillitis and the Doc took me off flying for a few days. What a poor mode of living. Hot Ė sand Ė flies Ė bugs Ė and to have a splitting headache and tonsillitis at the same time. Hardly any drinking water Ė eating in the blazing sun Ė lousy food. Iím just biding my time until we get a combat missionÖ Tomorrow would be payday back at home. I spend more and more time thinking about home now. 

For the next several weeks we had practice missions, paratrooper drops and glider towing. They took away my co-pilot and gave me a younger more inexperienced pilot. His name was Cryer. He is from Clarkwood, Texas. Seems they wanted all these younger guys to fly with a more experienced pilot, as we got closer to the fighting. This guy Cryer turned out to be a real card, he was always doing something that made us laugh. 

Anyway, we got a lot of time together flying practice missions. Our group showed up the best with a superior rating from the paratroopers. Sometimes on these practice missions, the crew and me stayed overnight sleeping in the plane. Once I bought eggs from a local and we boiled them for breakfast. The four of us spent so much time together that we became fairly tight. 

Things started to move pretty fast. We made 10 trips from Berguent to Kairouan, a distance of 680 miles, hauling more supplies, men and gliders. One time we were towing gliders when we ran into some really stinky weather. Three of us had to set down on the muddy landing strip of another squadron because we were almost out of gas. That was a close call. The field was so muddy that we had to wait two days for it to clear up. 

One really bad accident happened during glider practice. Two fellows from the airborne infantry were killed, run over by a glider as it landed. It was the glider that I had been towing. I felt bad, but it was just one of those things, you have to shake it off and go on. We came here to do a job, and it was going to cost us a price, I figured. 

Some days were terribly hot, once it got up to 132 degrees, which melted all our candles. We passed the time by working on our slit trenches, working on our beds and building a makeshift shower made from a pipe and tin cans. It all made me realize how very rich my family was back home. I really enjoyed my letters from back home, but they sure seemed scarce. Iíd like to be in love with a girl back home and return to her someday, but I reckon thereís time for that after the warÖ It was 12 oíclock back at home, and I wondered who was dating the girls that I knew. 

Sometimes morale in our squadron was low, maybe because we havenít proven ourselves as yet in this war effort. As I wrote my Dad in a letter, I feel that this is really the war to end all wars. We the soldiers will not be content to just come home and relax after a dayís work. Itís more than that. This time I guess weíre just damn tired of seeing something pop up every so often. History will make a definite change when this is all over. 

When I was flying my plane, I felt closer to God. I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down on the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot figure how he could look up into the heavens and say there is no God. I just love it up there in amongst the clouds. Itís so clear and beautiful, with just you and God up there.  

On July the 4th, we were making coffee when a formation of 68 B-17 bombers flew over. It was like a sign. What an awesome and beautiful sight! I knew that the invasion of southern Europe was coming soon and I knew that we were ready to go. We were trained and we were ready. 

A few days later they managed for our squadron to have ice cream and beer. Our planes were to be ready by 8 oíclock. Briefing to follow. Looks as though tonight may be the big night or the start of itÖ LaterÖ Nope.

It wasnít, so I took 12 of our pilots up to get them acquainted with the locality at night. There wasnít much time now and I did everything that I could think of to have the guys ready. We came in that night and had hard-boiled eggs and bacon. 

While sleeping on my lumpy straw mattress that night, I dreamed of that beautiful girl. A girl that loved me, someone that I would go home to. Iím sorry that I never met a girl like that. 

In the morning, the G.I.ís got me up. General Patton was invading Sicily tonight. He wants us to drop the 82nd Airborne behind enemy lines near Gela to help his Seventh Armyís advance inland. A little nervous, I went to the plane to demonstrate the use of the life raft to the paratroopers. These boys from the 82nd were fresh off of months of fighting in Algeria and Tunisia. Now the Nazis in Sicily were in for itÖ This was it. 

I came back and loafed around waiting for the briefing. Paced back and forth some. Reckon the big push is tonight for sure. Iíve spent 18 months training for this and Iím ready. There is no doubt of our success and Iím confident of the paratrooper drop. The chance is inevitable, but the thought doesnít enter my mind that we wonít get back, so Iím not preparing a pretty speech for it would sound foolish. 

For some reason, I donít know, I decided to leave my dog-tags along with my diary. This simple record of my daily experiences and thoughts had given me pleasure in the writing of it. If for any reason I didnít come back, there were instructions in my belongings to mail the diary to my mother. 

Our mission was to drop the 82nd Airborne just before midnight, four miles inland in front of the 1st Divisionís beachhead. The ďBig Red OneĒ was depending on us. I walked out of the mission briefing knowing that the entire invasion might depend on us getting this right. This was no time for me to get nervous. Iíve got to do my part. 

That evening the weather conditions began to deteriorate as a strong wind began to blow. A war wind was blowing. One hundred and forty-four C-47ís towing the gliders took off before us. They carried the British paratroopers. We took off one hour later carrying the 82nd Airborne Division in two hundred and twenty-six C-47ís. It was quite a sight to see so many planes with so many men flying off in harmís way.  

Down below, the Allied armada steamed toward the island in a fierce 40-mile-per-hour gale. The sea was so whipped up that it endangered some of the smaller craft. The situation with us in the air grew even worse, but there was no turning back. 

There was a scant quarter moon that hung low in the sky. Such little light as the moon did provide didnít help a lot. There was radio silence, so we had to fly by visual checkpoints and try and hold the formation together. The wind began to blow much harder. This along with the difficult route and almost total darkness caused some of the group to become disoriented. Some of the group missed the Malta checkpoint. Some of our planes began to straggle after one another in mixed formations as we all desperately tried to stay on course. 

This wasnít working out as I had hoped. Things were starting to go wrong. I was worried. Not for myself... I did not want to mess this up. I didnít want to let down any of the guys. Everybody and everything was depending on us. 

As we approached our drop zone, we came upon a surreal scene. There was a heavy pall of smoke over the water and over the land. Earlier missions by our heavy bombers had started fires and smoke that obscured the drop zones. Tracer bullets began to lace the sky. After those first shots were fired, the heavens erupted. 

We were right on course, right where we were supposed to be. Red light! Get the paratroopers ready, was my primary concernÖ Stand up! Hook up! Equipment check! My plane started taking hits. Bullets were walking across the wings. We struggled with the controls. 

Almost there, we held on as long as we could. I could see some of our other planes on fire and going down. We took more hits. You could hear the bullets tearing through our plane. There was a fire. I thought she was about to break up. We were losing control. Green light! Green light! Get the troopers out! We had to get the troopers out. 

Cryer and I fought to save the plane. We got the troopers out, all except one. He must have been woundedÖ But for us, the crew, there was no time. No time for us to get out. We rode the plane down, fighting to regain control all the way. The four of us that had trained together, lived together, and laughed together, we rode it down together. Rode it into the ground. 

It was July 10, 1943. I was 24 years old. 

That future that I had planned for, I gave it up for you. 

Remember us, for we were soldiers once, and young.

Biography of Clinton Howard Greene

"We Were Soldiers Once, and Young" by Perry Giles, Guest Columnist, Waxahachie Daily Light: The above article appeared in the Waxahachie Daily Light on Sunday, September 5, 2004. 

Note: The Gela landings in the center of the Western Task Force sector turned out to be the most bitterly contested. 

The air drop behind enemy lines was the first large scale drop for the Allies, and the first time any army had dropped at night.

First Division was under the command of Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was the assistant division commander, and the eldest son of the twenty-sixth President of the United States, and later in the war in Europe, at the age of 57, he was the only general to hit the beaches in the initial assault wave at Normandy on June 6, 1944. He performed magnificently, and was recommended for the Medal of Honor. It was posthumously awarded following his death on July 12, 1944 from a heart attack while on active duty.  

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