Following is an article
I wrote for a Miami Newspaper after the death of a dear friend. (Click on images to
(Click on images to enlarge)
Farewell Gay Greenwood
A hero died this week!
Perhaps not everybody's hero, but certainly mine. Lt. Colonel Gabriel Greenwood, retired. ("Gay" to most of us fortunate to have known him well.) Gay and Betty, his wife of 51 years, were long-time Perrine, Florida residents who touched the lives of many people, including my own. He was what every child growing up in my generation wanted to be. A fighter pilot in WW II, he flew 75 missions in a P-47 Thunderbolt, shot down Messerschmitts over the skies of France and lived to tell some fabulous stories about his adventures. I was too young to be a combatant in WW II, so all I could do was dream.
Gay was a teaching tennis coach who probably taught more tennis players in Dade County Florida to enjoy the sport than any individual I know. Both he and Betty are known by just about anyone local who ever held a racquet. Again, something I would have loved to be, a tennis coach. Unfortunately, my skills limited me to hacking on weekends with a bunch of wannabe tennis players whose greatest skills were complaining about or trying to justify bad line calls. Most of us can't see well enough to really judge anymore, but we go on anyway.
I first met Gay Greenwood about 27 years ago when a bunch of us used to play tennis at the Perrine Florida Public tennis courts. Gay and Betty eventually built their own court where they gave lessons to just about anyone who wanted to play. Perhaps there were no McEnroes, Aggasis, or Everts being trained there, but an awful lot of people who play in South Dade today can credit the Greenwoods for getting them started in the fun sport of tennis.
The Greenwoods raised five children, all of whom turned out just fine (something not so common in today's day and age) and also turned out 12 grandchildren, all of whom would gather at the Greenwood's modest home for every major holiday. I never did figure out where they all slept or ate, but together they were.
Spending time with Gay was something I cherished. Where else could I hear, first hand, those exciting stories about WW II air combat, strafing missions and all the other stuff of my childhood dreams? Gay was fortunate recently to have participated in the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
One of his stories:
While flying over France in the 1940's Gay's P-47 was hit by a shell from a German anti-aircraft battery. The shell passed through his plane, just behind his fuel tank, which if it had been hit would certainly have been the end of Colonel Greenwood. Luckily, only the plane was damaged. He had to fly it back to London for repairs and stay at a London hotel while it was being made ready for combat again. When the repairs were completed he had to check out in a hurry and get back to his job of killing Nazis. Several weeks later a letter caught up to him somewhere in France telling him that he still owed for one night's stay at the hotel. Gay wrote back telling them that he would be in to pay (Approx. $5) on his next return to England. His next return was this last year when he went back for the 50th D-Day anniversary Celebration. Gay found the hotel, still operating after all these years, and brought forth the yellowed bill and offered to bring his account up to date. Naturally, the hotel owners went into a frenzy, finally accepting the payment, gave him a receipt after several photography sessions and sent him on his way. To Gay, he was simply paying an old debt, just the way he had promised. He lived his life that way.
Colonel Greenwood: We salute you. Rest
(Gay was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery)
I only wish that I knew, back when Gay and I would be waiting for our turn on the tennis court and he would begin to tell his fascinating stories, that I would some day be documenting them for a web site. Thankfully he told of these adventures with his children who were able to recount some to me. This is what follows:
During training Gay was known to occasionally take his wife Betty up for rides in his planes. I am not sure whether this was normally allowed but they both enjoyed it and who would complain.
Col. Greenwood was the lead commander on a mission to take out an important German Bridge. He and his two wingmen had their P-47s outfitted with two 500 lb. bombs each and all the ammo that their guns could carry. In his briefing he was told that the Germans would be expecting the attack and had set up a new anti-aircraft device on both ends of the bridge. They were able to fire a crossfire pattern of ten foot, one inch thick cables into the air that could easily rip a plane apart. Greenwood's planes would almost certainly have to fly through this obstacle. On the first attempt, Colonel Greenwood was the only survivor. Both his wingmen perished. Gay got his bombs off but only one hit its mark... not enough to take the bridge out however. When he returned from this mission his commanders sat him down, gave him a shot of bourbon and debriefed him about the flight. After they found out what Greenwood knew about the bridge he was ordered to return once more with two new wingmen. This time they got the job done!
When Gay and Betty went
back to France for the D-Day anniversary, they visited the city, Picauville,
where his squadron was based. When Gay was
serving there, there were two little boys who used to hang around the base to do
errands, shine shoes etc. One was named Pete and his younger brother, whose name
they could not pronounce was called re-Pete. When Gay was telling this story to
a barber in Picauville, the barber asked him to come back to his shop the next
day. When he did, he saw two old men approaching the shop together. You guessed
it! *Pete and re-Pete, fifty years older.
*(Real names.. August and Marcel Josse)
Photos from Col. Greenwood's Scrapbook
(Click on photos to enlarge, then hit back button)
Let me begin by telling you that I (the author) am not a religious person nor do I believe in the occult, astrology, or any of the pseudosciences. Shortly after Gay's departure, a bunch of us were paying our last respects to the Greenwood family at their Florida home. We were gathered on their pool/patio with a screened enclosure. It was a somewhat cold and very windy day.. unusual for Florida. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge and beautiful, totally white dove landed on top of the screened patio. This magnificent bird slowly walked the entire perimeter of the patio and seemed to take time to look at each and every one of us. When it was done, it walked to the peak of the roof of the house, paused, turned back for one last look and then flew away. Gary, Gay's son, said, without a moments hesitation, "That was my dad!" You know what? I thought so too. In a recent E-mail from Gary, he tells me that he "talks with him frequently and asks for his guidance many times." I'll bet the guidance is as good as you can get.
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