Keep a Good Book in Your Pocket
by Anita Messina
Frank Greene doesn’t understand why people can’t sit down and calmly discuss their problems until their differences are worked out. Ongoing conflicts trouble him. They especially troubled him when he was Staff Sergeant Greene, 15th Infantry Division, serving in World War II.
He saw conflicts in the North Africa campaign in Sicily, Italy, Southern France and Austria. He was one of an elite group of 180 men trained for reconnaissance missions behind German lines. He couldn’t resist throwing some barbs when German soldiers were captured: “You guys are lousy shots. You’ve been shooting at me for quite a while now, but you keep missing.” In one skirmish Frank was hit, but a providential bit of body armor saved his hide. He always kept a small copy of the New Testament in his breast pocket, and that day the good word “saved my bacon” he said. Shrapnel ripped through the book and just barely pierced his skin. His grandson has that life-saving book in safe keeping along with Frank’s collection of military pictures and memorabilia.
Mostly he recalls his distant memories matter-of-factly or, in a few cases, with some chuckles. But he grows sober remembering a night when his small outfit lost 43 men. “You get to be good friends in that kind of close operation,” Frank said. “You rely on one another and to lose that many friends all at once in one night…” He doesn’t finish the sentence. His eyes look deep back into that tragic night, and he is silent. By time the war was over Frank was one of seven men from his reconnaissance outfit who lived to see their homeland once again. Every day he pays tribute to 173 friends who never went home.
After the war he was hired into the sheriff’s department in Auburn. “You didn’t get any training back then. You just got a badge and were considered ready to go out and arrest people,” he said. Gradually he worked his way through promotions and became Undersheriff for Robert Sponable. “That man, Frank said, “was a great human being.”
Frank was born on Cooper Street in Conquest. He’s moved about some. He’s lived in Victory, Ira, Auburn and in Cato where he operated a gas station for nine years. Now he lives in Port Byron next door to good friends and helpmates Sheila and Marion (“J”) Laird. Other good friends take him to Legion breakfasts or to other community events. But mostly his days are long and endlessly quiet.
Anyone who talks with Frank will glean considerable sage advice from a wise, experienced man. His most fervent words of advice center around Talking Books sent free from the Library of Congress. Postage paid arriving. Postage paid returning. The audiobooks service even furnishes the listening machine. “It’s a godsend for anyone with vision problems,” Frank said, vision problems like his own macular degeneration and glaucoma. He urges everyone who needs visual aid to subscribe to this service. And every time he sees State Senator Nozzolio, he tells him “Whatever you do, don‘t cut funds for Talking Books!” A stack of audio tapes are on the end table near his reading chair. The tapes keep him entertained through long days. The tapes keep him from remembering.