Civilian and veteran epitomize A Veterans’ honor
Barry Brablec, a self-avowed war history buff, has traveled to many historic World War II (WWII) locations, including Normandy in France where the Allies landed on June 6, 1944 to begin the invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during the war. Faye Greene was 18 when he joined the Navy in 1940, before the war had even begun. The two Tecumseh residents, a civilian and a veteran, both bring awareness of veterans’ service to the forefront.
Brablec’s interest in WWII began when he was quite young. “It goes way back to a time when I was four years old and my dad had some P.O.W.s (prisoners of war) working at the farm,” he said. “That kind of got me going, and then it seemed like anything I did in life I was kind of criss-crossing with World War II veterans.”
He began working in 1965 for what was then North Central Airlines, and said the majority of the captains that he flew with as a co-pilot had been WWII pilots. During his career he had the opportunity to hear stories about the war shared during long flights in cramped cockpits. “It made me look at the world with a different viewpoint, to the point that when I retired I started going over to Europe quite a bit, just about every year, and talking to a lot of the civilians,” he said.
“If you talk to a German civilian or a German soldier, and you talk to someone from France or England or even a U.S. soldier, the stories are pretty much the same. It’s really interesting how the average soldier wasn’t political. They were just there doing a job. They didn’t know why and they didn’t like it. But I couldn’t get over how similar the stories were.”
Brablec recommended talking to Greene, who went into the service before WWII and came out after the war. “He saw the entire war. That’s unusual,” he said. “He’s one of the few survivors. There aren’t many left who were in the war.”
“When I graduated and was 18 I joined the Navy because it was hard times in those days,” said Greene. “I said, ‘Well, if I join the Navy I’ll have a place to sleep and enough to eat.’” He signed up for six years, not knowing what was about to happen. That was 80 years ago.
One of his assignments was as a mine-layer, dropping mines in the ocean and using sound to locate them. When it came time for Greene’s discharge from the Navy, a new captain tried to convince him to stay two weeks longer to show recruits how to use the sound gear. He told the captain he’d like to leave on his scheduled date. “He said, ‘That ain’t being patriotic.’ I said, ‘Well sir, if six years in the Navy and going through a war ain’t being patriotic, I don’t know the meaning of it.’” He never heard from the captain again and went home as planned.
Greene grew up near Traverse City, went to high school in Hanover, then moved to the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area after the war until 1955 when he moved to Tecumseh with his wife, Helen. “In high school I admired this girl, but she was so much better than me,” he said. “After I joined the Navy and was waiting to join the Great Lakes training station, a fella told me that Helen found out I joined the Navy and wanted to see me before I went.” He was shocked, but went to her house where they sat on the porch swing and talked, and began their romance.
Two years and three months later Greene’s ship came into San Francisco. He couldn’t leave to come home, so his mother and Helen came to visit. After a couple of days of sightseeing together, he and Helen decided to tie the knot and found a Catholic priest to marry them.
Unfortunately, during her senior year in high school Helen had contracted rheumatic fever, which damaged two of her heart valves. She died in 1965, leaving her husband and three children. Greene carried on and remarried, having three more children with his wife Joanne, who was Helen’s cousin. The two shared a life together until she passed away in 2016.
“I’m a realist. I just take life as it comes,” Greene said. He spent decades hauling gravel for a Redi-Mix concrete plant after saving his money to purchase his own dump truck. He doesn’t say much about his war experience, but looks at it as a practical decision. He was just doing his job.
“I just do what I have to do. When I was in high school I saw all these guys laying around because there just wasn’t any work during the depression,” he said. He was one of the lucky ones who came home from doing his job.
Green will be 99 in December and has an idea why he’s lived so long. “I kind of worked out a deal with our Lord,” he said. “I think the reason I’m staying around is I said I want to stick around until you find a place for me in heaven. He ain’t found a place yet, I guess.”