Cleveland Plain Dealer
August 8, 2011
By: Brian Albreigt
Dick Greiner once took a photo of the man who set the world on fire.
It wasn’t a great picture. But Greiner, an American exchange student visiting Germany in 1938, only had seconds — after pushing to the front of a frenzied crowd shouting “Sieg Heil” — to snap a few quick shots of the man standing in the shadows outside a hotel doorway.
Little did Greiner suspect that in a few short years, after joining the U.S. Navy during World War II, he might wish he’d used a gun instead of a camera when he shot Adolf Hitler.
Greiner, 90, of Orange, still has the photo and the old Zeiss camera he used to take that photo.
They’re part of the souvenirs of his war years when he served on U.S. destroyers in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, enduring attacks from German submarines and dive bombers as well as Japanese kamikaze aircraft.
After graduating from Rocky River High School in 1938, Greiner attended Northwestern University, where he enrolled in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps.
Two weeks after receiving a liberal arts degree in 1942, he was at sea aboard the destroyer USS Mayo, escorting a convoy carrying supplies to British troops battling the Germans in North Africa.
Greiner was on the ship’s bridge when he heard a huge explosion. “I looked out and a big geyser of water went up in the air and one of the ships in the convoy was hit by a torpedo,” as he later wrote in his unpublished memoirs.
Greiner’s destroyer picked up survivors of the sinking ship and dropped depth charges in an attempt to kill the sub, with unknown results.
The day left a vivid impression on the young officer who posed bravely in photos with a fledgling mustache and pipe. “I was kind of overwhelmed,” Greiner recalled. “I wasn’t expecting it and then all of a sudden it’s there, it happened, it’s unbelievable.”
Similar moments would follow as Greiner’s service took him to the U.S. invasion of North Africa, and then Salerno, Italy, where he bitterly witnessed the results of a German air attack that sank an Allied hospital ship.
“Draw your own conclusion as to the type of enemy we are fighting,” Greiner wrote in a letter home. “Yes, I have much to talk about if I ever feel like talking when this damn thing is over with.”
At the subsequent invasion of Anzio, Italy, Greiner was serving as communications officer aboard the USS Plunkett when the destroyer was hit by German bombers, killing 23 crewmen. Greiner said that after viewing the carnage on deck, the reality of war struck home: “We were really in it.”
He got a look at the not-so-lethal side of war while waiting in Oran, Algeria, for the ship to be repaired and possible reassignment. He and other officers set up a club for visiting convoy escort crews, stocking it with liquor imported from the U.S. at $12 a case, and enjoyed the company from a nearby nurses’ quarters.
Greiner, however, soon got restless and requested a change of duty. He was sent to serve aboard the USS Shea, a destroyer headed out to the Pacific for the invasion of Okinawa.
There, the Navy suffered its heaviest losses of the war, primarily due to the onslaught of hundreds of Japanese suicide aircraft.
Greiner wrote about the strain of enduring these attacks, day after day: “They exploded right in front of us. Finally, after a month of this duty, we were getting to a point where we thought, ‘Am I going to live through tomorrow? How am I going to get out of this?’ It was just unbelievable.”
Greiner and his shipmates were amazed by the fanaticism of their enemy. He recalled that when they tried to rescue a downed Japanese pilot from the water, the man pulled a pistol and started shooting at the ship. The sailors quickly granted the pilot’s death-wish.
Kamikazes included the Ohka or “Baka” aircraft — essentially a one-man, rocket-powered flying bomb.
On May 4, 1945, an Ohka moving at more than 500 mph sliced into Greiner’s ship like a laser through a tin can, hitting the starboard side and tearing through the ship’s guts before exploding on the other side.
The blast bruised Greiner black and blue on one leg, from groin to knee, and shrapnel buried into his arm — fragments that would slowly surface years later in little metal memories.
Fires raged for nearly two hours before being brought under control. The suicide plane killed 35 crewmen, wounded 91 more, in the last action Greiner would see.
“Harry Truman saved my life,” Greiner said, referring to the then-president’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, ending the war.
Greiner returned home, developed an interest in sailing, worked as president of Dodd Camera and Video from 1956-1988, and mellowed.
Near the end of the war Greiner had written a letter home, talking about the “new” atomic bomb. “It should end the war very shortly but I hope they wipe out the Japs first — kill every one of them” he wrote.
Today, one of his nine children lives in Japan and is married to a Japanese woman whom Griener praised as “such a wonderful mother, just fabulous.”
Some things, however, haven’t changed since the war. There’s still a lingering sense of having done his duty — nothing more, nothing less — in a brutal and unforgiving conflict.
As he wrote home: “The glory and glamour of battle which one reads in history books, etc., is not so colorful. It is just a dirty, tough job with no bands playing and no flags waving or people cheering.”
And as he recently noted regarding his service: “I didn’t form any heavy conclusions other than war was hell, and awful, and we just can’t seem to stop it.”
Direct link to the article: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2010/08/post_327.html
Born in Cleveland in 1920, Greiner grew up in Lakewood and Rocky River, the son of Louis and Eva Reed Greiner and brother of Janet Ehle (Jay).
In 1937, while attending Rocky River High, Greiner traveled as an exchange student to Nazi-controlled Germany. On a visit to Nuremberg, he had a close-up encounter with Adolph Hitler, who was leaving his hotel for a rally. Greiner shot a picture of Hitler with his camera, which Hitler’s guards later tried to confiscate. Little did Greiner know that within five years he would be fighting Hitler at sea.
After high school, Greiner attended Northwestern University in Chicago, where he participated in one of the Navy’s early ROTC programs. Within weeks of his graduation and commission as a Navy lieutenant in June 1942, he was on board a destroyer in the North Atlantic. Greiner performed convoy duty in the Atlantic, saw action at Salerno and Anzio, Italy, and later fought in the Pacific. In May 1945, at the Battle of Okinawa, a kamikaze struck Greiner’s destroyer while he stood on the ship’s bridge, injuring him but killing all those around him. Greiner received a Purple Heart for wounds received that day. After recovering, Greiner returned to duty and was on board a destroyer in the Panama Canal headed back to fight in Japan in August 1945 when the atomic bombs fell and the war ended.
Following the war, Greiner returned to his Northern Ohio roots, entering into business at Dodd Camera with his father, who had worked for the company since 1910.
In 1946 Greiner married the former Jacquelyn Hogan (deceased) of Greenwich, Connecticut and raised nine children in Shaker Heights.
Greiner took over from his father as president of Dodd Camera in 1956 and began to expand the scope and size of the business. When he retired in 1988, Dodd Camera was the oldest and largest dealer of photographic equipment in Northern Ohio.
In his retirement, he traveled extensively in Europe, South America, and Asia and loved sailing Lake Erie, reading, gardening, skiing, attending the theater and Cleveland Orchestra concerts, and spending time with his large family. Following the 1997 death of his wife Jacquelyn, he married the former Jean Sterner Sheetz of Shaker Heights in 2000.
Greiner was a founding member of St. Dominic Church in Shaker Heights, actively worked with the Cleveland Rotary, and served on the board at Myers University, now Chancellor University, in Cleveland. A descendant of early colonial and Western Reserve settlers, he was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. He was also a member of numerous photographic trade groups, won the photo dealer of the year, and other Cleveland organizations, including Blue Coats, Rowfant Club, Union Club, and the Skating Club.
In addition to his wife, Jean, Mr. Greiner leaves nine children: Richard Jr. (Mary Ann), William (Kathy), Jacquelyn Finn (Timothy), Lisa, Peter (Wendy Frados), Victoria Fox (Larry), Charles (Jackie), Maria Allen (Stuart), John (Aki), twenty grandchildren and one great-grandchild. He was stepfather to Chris Wasson (Paul), Becky Briggs (Steve), Laura Bryan (Stuart), Sarah Lavell (Pat), Connie Searby (Ned) and step-grandfather to seventeen.
The family prefers that those who wish may make contributions in his name to The Church of St. Dominic, 19000 Van Aken Blvd., Shaker Hts., OH 44122, The Foundation Fighting Blindness, 7168 Columbia Gateway Dr. #100, Columbia, MD 21046 or The Cleveland Rotary Foundation, 1122 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Saturday, March 10, at 10 AM at The Church of St. Dominic, 19000 Van Aken Blvd., (at Norwood Rd.) in Shaker Hts. Burial at Lake View Cemetery will follow the Mass.
Friends may call at Brown-Forward , 17022 Chagrin Blvd., Shaker Hts., OH on Friday March 9th from 2 to 4 PM and 6 to 8 PM.