“For the most part, I’ve had a good life,” said Dick Greene of Bryan.
In February, Greene will turn 100 years old, and he recently spoke to The Bryan Times to reflect on a few of those 100 years.
His youth was much like the lives of others growing up in rural Williams County, and experience and interests gained at that time would come to be useful as he grew into adulthood. Out of high school, his interests took him to study engineering in Chicago.
As a young adult, he met and married the love of his life, Margaret, the daughter of a Montpelier banker. Together, they had two daughters, four grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
In building his family, Greene also built a good life through employment and business ownership. “In 1965, I started a business of my own,” he said, “called Precision Metal Form. I was a fabricator. Had a shop here for over 20 years, and then I sold it.”
In addition, Greene grew to become a fixture in community life and church life.
“I was president of the Bryan Area Outreach Food Bank for 35 years; sang in the choir; was president of Orchard Hills Country Club for four years; and, I loved to ice fish.
“Margaret and I would always have bluegills to eat for the winter months. I used to give them away, take them to Methodist Men’s breakfast on Wednesday morning and pass out bluegills,” Greene said with a laugh.
The basis of Greene’s good life came from his upbringing, but he credits three years in the United States Navy during World War II as having an impact that led him forward as he built his life following the war.
“I think I was kind of slow, kind of backward in high school,” he said. “I think the military made me a little more forward ... I think more talkative.”
His time in the Navy also, he said, broadened his understanding of the world and lead to lifelong friendships with those he served with during the war.
Greene joined the Navy in 1942. At the time, he was attending the School of Engineering at Northwestern University north of Chicago.
Anticipating a draft notice, Greene enlisted in the Navy, and after boot camp in Norfolk, Virginia, was assigned to the Second Special SeaBee Battalion — soon thereafter, he was headed to the South Pacific.
Greene said he joined the SeaBees after he saw a recruiting sign that said, “Land or Sea.”
“I didn’t want to drown,” he said, “I took land.”
While a youth, Greene became familiar with Morse Code as he and his brother tagged along with his father to work at the railroad key in Melbern.
Knowing Morse Code, Greene joined the SeaBees as a signalman.
With the Second Special Battalion of the SeaBees, Greene supported Navy war operations in Noumea, New Caledonia; Guadalcanal; and Guam.
The Second Special Battalion of the SeaBees was composed of stevedores and longshoremen who were badly needed to break a bottleneck in the unloading of ships in combat zones. As a signalman, Greene helped break the bottlenecks from the beach, where he communicated via arch lamp to ships offshore.
“I carried on conversations all the time,” he said. “We had probably 50-75 ships at Guadalcanal waiting to be unloaded.”
During his time with the SeaBees, Greene said he didn’t feel much in danger, as his unit’s work came after the Second Marine Division secured the island — specifically, Guadalcanal and Guam. “We came in and set up all the equipment. That was our business,” he said.
However, that doesn’t belie the fact that vigilance in these “secured” zones was still necessary.
“We lost a few men to land minds, hand grenades and infiltrators at night looking for food. They’d get through once in a while and kill one of our boys,” said Greene. “I don’t know, I was lucky. I had a brother (Bob) who served on the battleship New Jersey. And, he was lucky.”
While his duty was in support of active combatants, Greene remembers the battalion’s movement at sea from one island to another, and the concern that went with the trip.
“We knew there were subs in the area,” said Greene. He said he slept on deck during the transit and recalls depth charges being dropped from light-cruisers and destroyers throughout the transit.
While in the South Pacific, Greene saw the aftermath of the battle of Guadalcanal in many ways. One that sticks with him is Iron Bottom Bay, where dozens of Japanese Ships rest following an attack by U.S. Naval air forces.
“That was a hell of a battle, boy. There were a lot of ships lost, a lot of ships,” said Greene.
Coming away from the war years, Greene recalls some of those who didn’t come back.
“The U.S. came on strong and a lot of boys gave up their lives,” said Greene. “That’s the bad part. I’ll think about that once in a while.
“I had a friend over there, he was a second cousin of mine, and he was killed early in the war on an aircraft carrier. And, I had a cousin that was on an aircraft carrier when the Japs bombed Hawaii. But the ship escaped damage (the carriers were not at Pearl Harbor during the attack).”
After reflecting on his time in service, Greene said, “I never talked much about it — not even to my family. It was just a period of my life with three years taken out of my life. That’s the way I looked at it for a long time, but I got over that. I served my time and was lucky to come home.
“I was proud to serve in the Navy,” said Greene.