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1st Lieutenant Clinton Howard Greene
"We Were Soldiers Once, and Young"
By Perry Giles, Guest Columnist, Waxahachie Daily Light
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
was July 10, 1943. I was 24 years old.
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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