CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Harry Greenwood was born in Philadelphia in August 1920. His father was an alcoholic, who was divorced by his mother when Greenwood was a small child. Greenwood stated that he was raised by his mother and older sister. Following the divorce, the family moved to Washington and lived there for a year, but then returned east, to Red Bank, New Jersey, where they finally settled.
With the outbreak of World War II, Greenwood’s mother found work with the Bendix Corporation, while he worked in a local bank after graduating from Red Bank High School, where he was class president, in 1939. He recalled that the war produced a cooperative effort among civilians, which was manifested in the local population’s acceptance of food and gasoline rationing. He stated that gasoline restrictions led to the increased use of bicycles over cars.
Greenwood was drafted into the army in September, 1942. He was not unhappy with this, as he wished to serve, although he knew that he had poor eyesight. In order to insure he would pass the induction eye test with his vision limitations, Greenwood actually memorized the eye chart while undergoing his physical examination at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He passed the test, scored high in mechanical aptitude testing, was assigned to the Army Air Corps and sent to Atlantic City, New Jersey for basic training. Following that, he was ordered to Lincoln, Nebraska for aircraft maintenance training. While at Lincoln, he learned all the mechanical details of the Pratt & Whitney engine used in the P47 fighter plane, including how to assemble and disassemble it. After three weeks of training he was assigned to the 365th Fighter Group, then stationed at Langley Field, near Richmond, Virginia.
The 365th was soon sent overseas. Greenwood left New York aboard the Queen Elizabeth, a pre-war luxury liner converted to a troopship carrying 15,000 soldiers. The ship sailed in a zigzag pattern across the Atlantic to avoid submarines until it reached Scotland on December 23, 1942. After receiving coffee and donuts from Salvation Army personnel on the dock, Greenwood and his fellow soldiers traveled to an air base in England. He recalled that the base was attacked by German bombers the previous night and that ten Americans had been killed. Greenwood and his comrades arrived in England before their aircraft. When the planes were eventually delivered he was assigned to the 365th’s 387th Fighter Squadron, which consisted of twenty-four P-47 Thunderbolt fighter bombers. The planes were soon flying daytime missions to the French coast and, later on, as far away as the Scandinavian countries. Early missions were hampered by both German attacks and the P-47’s limited fuel capacity, the latter problem solved by the addition of belly tanks, which gave the fighters considerably longer range capability.
Greenwood became the aircraft mechanic crew chief of a P-47, the largest fighter produced to that date. The P47, with its air cooled radial engine and rugged construction, contributed significantly to the allied war effort by acting in the role of fighter escort to the B-17 and B-24 bomber raids over occupied Europe. Greenwood recalled that his group lost many pilots shot down over France and that one was rescued by members of the French Resistance, who gave him medical assistance, food and shelter. Greenwood stated that he enjoyed his job as crew chief, noting that he worked with a crew of six men, including a photographer who maintained the gun sight cameras used to record the effects of firing the P-47’s four .50 caliber machine guns, as well as armorers and assistant mechanics. He and his crew were, he recalled, kept quite busy repairing and/or replacing aircraft parts. When time permitted, Greenwood visited London, where he remarked on observing the destruction from German bombing and people crowding into the underground transportation system.
In raids over occupied Europe, US aircraft bombed enemy oil refineries, trains and factories, and then bombed and strafed bridges and airfields in preparation for the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944. Greenwood recalled the massive buildup of supplies prior to D-Day, including black and white paint, used to provide visible striping to help distinguish US from German planes. He recalled that his own plane flew seven missions over the English Channel during the D-Day invasion, and that several planes from the squadron were shot down during the operation. The P-47, however, with its air cooled engine, sturdy construction and heavy armament, including machine guns, bombs and rockets, proved deadly to the enemy. Greenwood recalled that film from the P-47 gun sight cameras revealed the damage the squadron inflicted on the Germans.
As the allies advanced towards the German border, Greenwood’s unit moved to France and then Belgium, where he remembered that he and other soldiers were invited by a local family to dinner, which featured a goose the family had raised itself. The Belgians suffered much during the war, and he was advised that Germans had rounded up Belgian boys, made them dig a trench and then shot them, using the trench as a mass grave.
While Greenwood’s squadron was in Belgium, the Germans counterattacked in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. He remembered that extremely cold and cloudy weather plagued mission planning, since bombers had to fly over the clouds seeking a break to observe the target area. As skies cleared the tide turned, and the allies won the battle. In the ensuing months the Germans began to wear down, and the war ended the following May. Greenwood remembered that as he entered Germany, the civilians appeared downcast about losing the war, and behaved “coolly” to the American soldiers. He visited a concentration camp and observed the overall horrors of such a place, including skeletons still in the ovens.
While in the service, Greenwood sent his pay home, and his mother saved it for him. On his return to civilian life he was able to buy a car with the money. She also saved all of his letters, which he donated to the New Jersey National Guard Militia Museum. In the years after the war, he was a member of the crew on a friend’s sailboat, which gave him many pleasurable memories. He also traveled widely. On a subsequent trip to Europe, years after the war, Greenwood visited and was impressed with the Notre Dame and Cologne cathedrals. He also visited Britain and Central America.
Harry Greenwood said he was glad he had served in World War II and had performed his assigned mission well. His unit received a Presidential Unit Citation for its contribution during the battle of the Bulge. In closing, he read aloud a poem he wrote about his crew, and then showed photos of them and him in front of a captured German plane and waiting on a Belgian dock to board a ship returning to the United States.
Greenwood once thought World War II would indeed be the war to end all wars, but came to realize, in the wake of Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East conflicts, that this was not to be. When asked, he said he thought young people should be more patriotic and not take their freedom for granted.
Harry I. Greenwood died peacefully on November 27, 2014.