Navy veteran recalls the second tragedy at Pearl Harbor

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Paul Greenwell, a Navy veteran, who lives at National Church Residences Lincoln Village in Columbus.

By LANCE CRANMER                                                                   lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

COLUMBUS – Paul Greenwell has no shortage of stories about his time in the Navy.

Diving in Connecticut’s Thames River wearing a homemade helmet constructed out of a five-gallon bucket … time spent on Midway Island in the Pacific watching the rising tide swallow up half of the base airport’s runway for a few hours each day … making a 320-foot dive while in deep sea diving school in Washington D.C. … and so many more.

But it’s the one that almost no one knows about that really brings out the passion in his voice.

“I’ll tell you something that is not in history books,” Greenwell said with a knowing grin as he sat in the community room at National Church Residences Lincoln Village on the west side of Columbus, Ohio. “May 21, 1944 was the second tragedy of Pearl Harbor.”

Known today as the “West Loch disaster,” the incident was kept a classified secret by the United States government for nearly two decades. Details of the disaster were released in 1960, but by then, enough time had passed that it failed to draw much public attention.

“There were 10 LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) loading ammunition at night, at dusk,” Greenwell said.

Although the government never announced an official cause, it is believed that the initial explosion happened when a mortar round on LST-353 detonated during an unloading operation.

The explosion rocked several of the ships, which were being packed with ammunitions in advance of an upcoming mission. Fire quickly spread from ship-to-ship as Sailors and Marines scrambled to get to safety.

“When I got there they were just raising (LST-480),” Greenwell said. “They sent us in, about 12 to 14 divers. We welded patches onto the ship to try and make it water tight.”

As a 2nd Class Diver, Greenwell had extensive experience diving to patch ships that had been damaged.

“One of my jobs was to crawl inside the torpedo tube and slide down inside it to see if there were any nicks,” he said.

This time, the situation was far more dire.

“(Many) lives were lost when those ships went down,” he said. “They were swimming through the burning oil on top of the water.”

As Greenwell and his fellow divers worked frantically to repair the sinking LST 480, he remembers the moment that changed everything.

“I was using a cutting torch on the bulkhead of the ship. I cut into an oil line,” he said. “The two didn’t mix. It exploded.”

Greenwell said a buddy of his was coming out of one of the ship’s hatches with his arms up in the air when the explosion happened.

“He wound up on the tank deck,” he said. “I blew up about 50 foot through the water. I was bleeding bad.”

An injured Greenwell made his way to safety and was examined by a doctor.

“The doctor said I had a slight concussion and I had a perforated ear drum,” he said. “The doctor said I’d get a Purple Heart. I never did get that. It’s OK. I didn’t want one.”

Officially it is said that 163 naval personnel died that day. Other sources have estimated the overall death total to be as high as 392 with an additional 400 wounded – including Greenwell.

A little more than a year later – the day before Thanksgiving 1945, in fact – Greenwell’s three-year Navy career was over and he returned to his job as a lake patrol officer on Illinois’ Lake Decatur before moving on to a bigger career.

“I worked for the federal government for 28 years as an industrial engineer,” he said.

He spent 22 years in active ministry as a pastor and finally became a counsellor at Reynoldsburg High School near Columbus before retiring to Lincoln Village.

“I always wanted to be a diver,” he said, looking back on his military career. “I weighed 119 pounds and the suit weighed 190.”

During his time in the Navy, Greenwell said that he “worked on every submarine in the Pacific fleet.”

Years after his retirement, he toured a decommissioned sub that was on display in Alabama.

“When I was in Mobile on that sub, they had pictures of the old crew members on display,” he said. “I recognized some of the faces.”

Korean War vet overcomes racism, finds life’s true calling

US ARMY - GEORGE McCREE COLOR PICTURE

By LANCE CRANMER                                         lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org

In honor of Black History Month, National Church Residences put out the call to our thousands of employees and residents to share their amazing stories of success and overcoming adversity. This story came to us from Tonya Dillard, Property Manager at Pecan Villa, in Ruston, Louisiana, about one of her residents, George McCree.

“He is noble, quiet spirited, he won’t volunteer anything, but he shares with those he cares for, and I am honored to be one of those people,” said Dillard. “He speaks volumes without many words. He is humble and the most respectful person I have ever encountered.”

George Arco McCree joined the Army in 1949 as an 18-year-old man living in Los Angeles. Sent to Ft. Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, for training, McCree found himself in an all-black platoon. However, as McCree noticed, all of his commanding officers were white.

McCree completed his eight-week basic training at Ft. Jackson and was rewarded with a 14-day leave. Once that was done, McCree was shipped out – headed for the Korean War.

“Corporal McCree saw many, many unspeakable things. Things that he continues to deal with to this day,” said Dillard. “Yet he shared with me that the young 18-year-old boy was now a real man, who had the opportunity to fight with all colors, creeds and religions without a second thought.”

McCree served his country in Korea for three years before returning home.

“Mr. McCree explained that, ‘color seemed insignificant,’ except for one consistency, ‘all the officers were Caucasian.’ There was no way that he would be an officer,” Dillard said. “He shared that, ‘I saw a lot of death and had to do a lot to survive.’ This still impacts him to this day. His duty was to fight – for his country and his life, with his fellow soldiers, with no regard for color, race or religion.”

When McCree arrived back in the United States, he was stationed at Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

“It was there where his service in battle seemed to almost have no value,” he told Dillard. “It was the color of his skin that would determine his new war.”

In the still-segregated South, McCree went from fighting alongside his fellow Americans for a unified cause, to fighting for equal rights as an African-American man.

“Mr. McCree, for the first time, encountered the KKK, racist comments and bold racism daily, until it finally affected his rank,” said Dillard. “A decorated Corporal Sergeant, Mr. McCree was placed in the dark stockades for defending himself against a racist/bigot taunting him and he was demoted from Corporal to Buck Private. Yet he survived, and he stood strong and continues to stand strong. It didn’t break him.”

Following his time in the stockades, McCree eventually returned to his duties as a Drill Sergeant until his honorable discharge in 1956.

After leaving the military, McCree struggled for a time to find the right career path before finding a good job at Providence Hospital as a janitor.

“But that’s not where the story ends,” said Dillard. “Mr. McCree discovered that he had a desire to do even more, so he went to school and became a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant).”

In 1964, McCree fell in love with a woman named Patsy Ann, and two years later they were married. In the years that followed, the couple was blessed with two children, a daughter named Gwen and a son named Larry – who has since made the McCrees grandparents.

As McCree’s life flourished, his career did as well. He continued his education, first becoming a Licensed Vocational Nurse and then a Registered Nurse as a graduate of San Francisco State.

In 1984, the McCrees made the decision to move to Louisiana.

“As he has told me often, a smart man will follow his wife,” said Dillard. “So that’s what he did. Upon moving to Louisiana, he worked at North Louisiana Regional Medical Center for years in the ICU/CCU and on the floor.”

Dillard said that McCree believes that working in the medical field was his calling from God. He continued working as a health care provider until it was time for him to retire.

“Eventually, the strain of days past started to wear on Mr. McCree. The Korean War and the pain of his military service continued to plague him,” Dillard said. “With the support of his loving wife, he decided to call Pecan Villa home in 1997 and has been a family member ever since.

“Every morning he greets me with a smile and a, ‘Good Morning!’ What a blessing he is. Behind that smile, no one would know all the pain that he has endured or that he deals with on a daily basis. But it is evident that God gives him and extra dose of Grace to share that quiet spirit with us daily.”

(Cranmer is the Media/Public Relations Specialist for National Church Residences. Contact him at lcranmer@nationalchurchresidences.org)

‘Thank you’ dinner for veterans

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Veterans were recognized at four Columbus-area National Church Residences Permanent Supportive Housing communities this Sunday as a special thank you to our residents who served in the military. Huntington Bank hosted more than 150 residents for a Veterans Dinner. Huntington Bank has been a long-standing partner with National Church Residences both financially and philanthropically, and for the second year the Veterans Day dinner has been a corporate-wide event.

“Thank you to all veterans in the community who have served our country,” said Douglas Howard, vice president, commercial banking, Huntington Bank. “We’re honored to enjoy an evening with National Church Residences thanking veterans.”

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Huntington Bank staff joined residents at Commons at Buckingham, Commons at Grant, Commons at Livingston and Commons at Third to enjoy dinner, fellowship and an evening of bingo and board games.

“I enjoy when Huntington volunteers come to the Commons at Livingston because they take the time to talk with me and they know me by name which makes them feel like friends,” said Lora Collins, Commons at Livingston veteran resident.

National Church Residences and Huntington Bank are both committed to supporting veterans. National Church Residences provides permanent supportive housing communities for veterans in a safe, affordable community coupled with supportive services tailored to meet each individual’s needs. Huntington Bank is committed to volunteerism and supports veterans through many local programs and services in the local communities they serve.

Thank you to all veterans for your bravery and dedication to the United States of America!