Fielding Louis Greaves
Lieutenant Colonel – U.S. Army,
Assistant Executive of Battery A, Field Artillery
World War II
Fielding Greaves was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1923. He was the son of a WWI veteran, who was called back into active duty when WWII rolled around, and served in the Pentagon. Serving in the Army within the Army field artillery, Greaves followed in his father’s footsteps and kept track of the firing missions and caring for guns. Serving as a Second Lieutenant, Greaves recalls humorously one defining moment of his career: “There was one gorgeous moment during the ceremony on the plain at West Point when we were officially being commissioned. For one moment amongst my 500 classmates, I was the lowest ranking Second Lieutenant in the United States Army until the next man below me on the totem pole of educational grades took that place and then it moved on down the line”.
Greaves, a wonderfully diligent man, remembers his first night in combat. He had just landed in Marseilles with his troops a few nights before. After cleaning up the guns and other equipment that had been greased for transport, Greaves with his unit drove towards the front line. They took their positions at in the line about dusk, and the Germans, situated behind a hill just beyond the front line, knew a new unit was in the area. Thus, they launched a heavy attack on Greaves’ unit. The range that Greaves was shooting kept getting smaller as the German’s approached. “I think they got within about a thousand yards of us before they were pushed back and everything went back to normal.”
Greaves also worked as a forward observer, replacing his injured friend Paul Connell. Greaves had three different pilots, all very unique in their mannerisms in the air, as well as in their behavior: “One was a young man about my age who was just so so. Run of the mill good pilot. Another one was a real daredevil – Hal Snider, who was the best pilot, and then there was an older man who was a former schoolteacher who was a pilot, and he was probably ten years older than we were, and he was ultra-cautious. He had only one maneuver when he saw machine gun fire coming up or way off in the distance. The only thing he knew how to do was to drop the nose of the plane straight for the ground. That was the cautious pilot. But Hal Snider, the pilot who was the good one, he was a daredevil driving a jeep on the ground and was absolutely marvelous in the air. At one time, we got hit by rifle fire was coming down through the fog until we could see the tops of the threes, and then we realized that there were soldiers below, taking a smoke break and lying down on the ground or leaning against a tree chatting with each other walking around. They suddenly grabbed their guns and started pointing them at us and it turned out we were a little bit off course. Hal immediately started an evasive maneuver turning to the right. We’re down about 400 feet off the ground. We’re in the turn when the left rudder cable snapped. It snapped by being hit by a bullet. We both thought my God are we being hit and we just don’t feel it yet? But immediately, Hal realized that it was the cable, and he told me to look for the loose end of it, and I found it quickly, and he had to reach over and grab the backend of the cable end, so he’s steering the plane with his right hand on the stick and his right foot on the pedal again, and his left hand holding the cable. He would give me commands as to how to operate the throttle so we could get to the base and land safely. That was the only hairy thing I experienced in the war. I had a very calm, quiet war actually.” His only injury occurred in Germany, on a flight of icy steps, a badly sprained ankle.
Greaves did not only have fascinating experiences in the air, rather his entire life seems driven by some miracle of chance. Starting his movie career as a passerby in a scene in Rome, Greaves was soon asked to be in several movies as the “American business man”. Even more enchanting is the story of how he met his wife of sixty-seven years, their anniversary on D-Day. Set up on a blind date, with his friend and cousin, his particular match went home sick while the other man had to walk the area for punishment tours. He then stumbled upon his friend’s date: “I met Jean up by the swimming pool just by happenstance actually. It was not intentional. I didn’t know she would still be there, and she was at loose-ends and just about to leave, because she didn’t know anybody up there, and I asked her if she would go to the hop with me that night and the rest is history.”
As for advice for younger generations, Greaves advises that “education is the most important damn thing in life. You should let it continue to grow throughout life. Never lose your interest in learning something new.” He is certainly someone who practices what he preaches, never backing down to try something new. With the spirit of an eager teenager, he mentioned a humorous anecdote that he learned along his journey: “A writer and two friends went to the recruiting office of the Navy to sign up to join. The first one comes up to the recruiting sergeant in the Navy, and the sergeant asked him, “what do you?” He replies, “I’m a mechanic. I can fix any automobile you’ve ever made.” “ We always got need for mechanics. We’ll put you in the engineering department, and you’ll have plenty of work to do.” The second guy comes up. “What do you do?” “I’m a radio repairman.” “We’ve got a job for you too.” Then the author comes up. “What do you?” “ I’m a writer.” “A writer? Jesus Christ. What do we do with a writer in the Navy? I don’t know what we’ll do, but we’ll find something for you.” Well, when they get through and the war was over the engineer who can take any car apart and put it back together again – he’s still an engineer. And this communications guy, well he has the advantage, now he’s working in television. And the writer? He was the Lieutenant Commander in the Navy. The Press Officer for the entire Pacific Fleet, so that’s a lesson for the future. Remember, life is a wonderful experience and the best job you ever get is learning to enjoy it.”
Interview by Kiersten Hosie on July 20, 2011.