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Archive for February, 2015

John Greening: A Veteran in the Spotlight by Andrea Hoffman

Handmade variation on the Type B-1 Summer Flying cap worn by Senior Airman John A. Greening.

Handmade variation on the Type B-1 Summer Flying cap worn by Senior Airman John A. Greening.

This handmade variation on the Type B-1 Summer Flying cap was worn by the donor, Senior Airman John A. Greening, while he was based in Okinawa, Japan during the Korean War.  The painted portions record his service on the brim, including bombs representing the 28 missions he flew over Korea between December of 1952 and spring of 1953.

Greening–a native of Michigan who later moved to Madison, Wisconsin–had an early interest in aircraft that was fed in earnest as a young teen during the second World War.  When the Korean War broke and President Truman declared a State of Emergency, he decided he would rather avoid induction and instead voluntarily join the Air Force.  A lifelong asthmatic, Greening believed he would never survive in a foxhole.  He figured he would quickly be rejected by the Air Force, avoid the draft and return to work.  If by some chance he passed, he at least had an interest in aviation.  He was surprised when the Air Force accepted him, and even more so when he passed the subsequent physical.  There was a sense of relief he was not as medically bad off as he had been led to believe his whole life.  His new found health likewise awarded him a new sense of freedom.

Greening’s enthusiasm showed immediately.  After his technical training at both Lowry and Randolph Air Force Bases stateside, he was eager to be in the thick of it.  He passed at the chance his rank afforded him to be the combat crew’s Center Fire Control, instead requesting to be a waist gunner and thus part of the flight crew.  Since he believed he may not make it home again, he concluded it was better to at least do something he considered exciting with whatever time remained.

John Greening (center front)--seen in his yet-unpainted cap--poses with his crew in front of their B-29 in Okinawa.  Photograph dated December 31, 1952.

John Greening (center front)–seen in his yet-unpainted cap–poses with his crew in front of
their B-29 in Okinawa. Photograph dated December 31, 1952.

The crew he trained with was eventually assigned to the 20th Air Force headquartered in Guam.  He served with the 19th Bombardment Group, 93rd Bomb Squadron, and arrived at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa during December of 1952.  It was here they hired a local Japanese servant they referred to as their “cabin boy,” a former pilot himself who never had a chance to fly before World War II ended.  The Japanese gentleman left Greening with an exceptional memento when he hand embellished this cap for him, including painting “OKINAWA” across the back as a reminder of the several months he spent there.

Despite his prediction, Greening survived his missions and came home in 1953, although not without experiencing some harrowing situations first.  Greening made sure that this cap along with nearly 30 other objects, his photo albums, papers and oral history became part of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s permanent collection to preserve his notable story.  You can learn more about Greening’s archival and object collections by visiting the WVM website at http://bit.ly/1EGgza7.

Out of the Ordinary by Russ Horton

Three letters from three eras (left to right);  Andrew Brady with his letter from 2004, Kenneth Zerwekh with his letter from 1945, and Charles Stuvengen with his letter from 1918.

Three letters from three eras (left to right); Andrew Brady with his letter from 2004, Kenneth Zerwekh with his letter from 1945, and Charles Stuvengen with his letter from 1918.

There are still service members who, for a variety of reasons, write the occasional letter with pen and paper. Sometimes, they even choose to write letters because they have something out of the ordinary on which to write. Andrew Brady, a Poynette native who served with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines in Iraq during the early years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, donated  to WVM over one hundred emails that he exchanged with his family during his overseas service. He also donated one physical letter that he wrote to his brother, Joseph. This letter is interesting for two reasons. One is that he clearly felt more free to write about his real experiences with his brother than with his parents, writing to him about being shot at often with the instruction, “Don’t tell Mom, I know how she would worry.” The other interesting aspect of the letter is that it is written on a piece of cardboard from an MRE box. Because he also wrote emails to Joseph, it is clear that he chose to physically write this letter because of the uniqueness of the medium.

Hardtack message from George C. Youmans.

Hardtack message to George C. Youmans.

Brady’s MRE box letter is one of many in the WVM collections that demonstrate the imagination of Wisconsin veterans in using materials at hand to write home to family and friends. One of the most unique examples of this came from a Janesville soldier who was serving in Company A, 1st Wisconsin Infantry Regiment during the Spanish-American War. The 1st Wisconsin spent the duration of the short conflict at Camp Cuba Libre, near Jacksonville, Florida. This unidentified soldier decided to send a souvenir home to his friend, George C. Youmans, so he wrote on, addressed, and stamped a piece of hardtack and sent it through the mail without any packaging. Amazingly, or perhaps not so amazingly given hardtack’s reputation, the piece survived its postal journey from Florida to Wisconsin intact. Stationed at Love Field in Dallas, Texas during World War I, Sergeant Charles Stuvengen of the 277th Aero Squadron, an Orfordville native, used a piece of canvas from one of his unit’s airplanes to write to his sister. Touching upon one of the dangers of flying planes in World War I, he wrote, “I suppose you’ll be wondering what kind of paper this is. This is what covers the framework of an airplane. I got it off a wrecked ship. Touch a match to it and you’ll see how fast it burns.” He added, “All the fellows in camp have been getting this stuff and writing letters on it.” Madison resident Kenneth Zerwekh, an officer in the 3546th Ordnance Medium Automotive Maintenance Company, wrote dozens of letters home to his wife, Evie, on traditional paper, postcards, and V-mail during his World War II service in Europe. On June 20, 1945, though, he chose a different medium to write to his wife. With the defense, “As this is the only paper available—and the property of Lt. Davidson—I hope you will excuse the reverse side especially,” he continued the letter on the back of a Vargas pin-up girl calendar page. Zerwekh used nine of the calendar pages to write letters to Evie, and although the collection includes her return correspondence, she made no mention of her husband’s unique stationery. The above examples demonstrate the desire of Wisconsin veterans throughout history to stay connected to the home front while also showing off some of the new things with which they were coming into contact. Along with the thousands of other letters, diaries, photographs, and other materials preserved at WVM, they help keep the stories of Wisconsin veterans alive.  Learn more about the WVM’s archival collections at http://bit.ly/1xsHf5E

The Wisconsin Veterans Museum is an educational activity of the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs