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On POW/MIA day, a son remembers

Sep. 21, 2012 - 08:16AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 21, 2012 - 08:16AM  |  
Dave Greer of Harrison, Ohio, on Sept. 17 displays a photo of him with his father in 1943 or 1944. His father, Marcus Dane, went missing in action on July 27, 1945, when the Air Force flight officer went down on a routine flight somewhere between Xinjin, China, and Rupsi, India.
Dave Greer of Harrison, Ohio, on Sept. 17 displays a photo of him with his father in 1943 or 1944. His father, Marcus Dane, went missing in action on July 27, 1945, when the Air Force flight officer went down on a routine flight somewhere between Xinjin, China, and Rupsi, India. (Amanda Davidson / Gannett / The Cincinnati Enquire)
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About POW/MIA day

The National POW/MIA Recognition Day, established by Congress in 1979, takes place annually in the United States on the third Friday in September. The day of observance honors prisoners of war and members of the military missing in action.
Defense Department statistics list a total of 83,417 GIs missing in action: 73,681 from World War II, 7,947 from the Korean War, 126 from Cold War actions, 1,657 from the Vietnam War and six from the war with Iraq and related conflicts.
The National POW/MIA Recognition Day is not a federal public holiday, but it is one of six days when the POW/MIA flag can be flown at military bases and federal buildings. (Newt Heisley, a World War II veteran and commercial artist, designed the flag for a New Jersey firm. The black-and-white banner shows the phrase, "you are not forgotten," as well as the head-bowed profile of his son, Jeffrey, a former Marine.)
The other five days the POW/MIA flag can be flown at armed forces bases and government buildings are: Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.

CINCINNATI — He remembers two men in uniform coming to the front door. They wanted to talk to his mom about his dad.

Marcus David Greer was a little guy back in 1945, just 4 years old. Known as Dave to his family in Bridgetown, he would play airman by wearing the wool overseas cap his father gave him before going off to fly B-24s in World War II.

The two men didn't stay long. But the memory of their visit lingers.

"After they left," Greer said, holding tightly to a snapshot of his dad, "it seemed like she cried for a week."

He sensed something was wrong. But his mother kept it to herself.

As far as he knew, his dad was fighting in Asia. As far as he knows, 67 years later, his dad is still there, missing in action.

On Friday, as America observes National POW/MIA Recognition Day, Greer will pause as he always does when something reminds him of his father. Then he will remember Marcus Dane Greer, the thin, 5-foot-7 farmer's son with blue eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion, the man he called Dad, the man who went to war and disappeared.

Greer and his wife, Judy, don't formally mark this day of observance. They don't need a congressionally mandated day to remember.

The Harrison man has spent a lifetime hoping, remembering and dreaming. He used to hope that one day he would see his dad come walking down the street, home at last. Now, he remembers the time they spent together and dreams of someday finding out how he vanished into thin air.

"Dave's dream is to find his dad. When a show comes on the television about MIAs from World War II, he's glued to the TV," said Judy Greer as she sat next to her husband at their kitchen table. Letters, reports and citations about Flight Officer Marcus D. Greer and how he came to be missing in action on July 27, 1945, and declared dead a year and a day later, covered the table. The papers have yellowed. But the pain remains.

"It ... would ... be nice," Greer began. He paused. His face turned ruddy, as an Army Air Forces doctor described his dad's complexion when he enlisted on Dec. 8, 1942, a day and a year after Pearl Harbor.

"It would be nice," he began again, measuring his words between wiping his 71-year-old blue eyes, "just to find his plane."

The B-24 and its crew of five took off from an airfield in present-day Xinjin, China, at 10:10 a.m. on July 27, 1945. Twenty-five-year-old Marcus Dane Greer sat in the co-pilot's seat.

The plane was returning to Rupsi, India. The B-24 regularly made the 1,000-mile round-trip flight, hauling fuel, over what Allied pilots dubbed, "the Hump," the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains connecting India, Burma and China.

The men on that B-24 battled three enemies: the weather, the Japanese and military stupidity.

Weather conditions near the world's tallest mountains produce unpredictable, lethal storms. Japanese fighter planes patrolled the area and shot bombers out of the sky. B-24s flying the Hump were routinely patched together. Spare parts were scarce. Repairs were made with parts salvaged from crashed planes.

Two months after Greer's plane took off, a letter from the Army landed in the mailbox at the red-brick Bridgetown home Dave Greer shared with his grandparents, his mom, Irene, and his baby sister. Patricia Greer was born just 24 days before her dad's plane went missing.

The letter noted the plane's route over "very rugged and mountainous" terrain. "No trace of the plane or crew has been found as yet," the letter continued. Then it offered some hope: "On occasions we have had crews go down in that vicinity and eventually show up after a period of a month or two. They are usually brought out by friendly Chinese."

While waiting for news, Dave's mom reminded him of the last walk they took as a family. He can still recall the day:

The airman was on leave after graduating from flight school in the summer of 1944. They walked from the house in Bridgetown to the little, square-mile town of Cheviot on Cincinnati's west side. He remembers passing the old Liesgang feed store, open fields, two car dealerships and three drugstores with soda fountains before reaching their destination, a movie theater in the heart of town.

The theater is now a parking lot. The businesses are gone. Nursing homes fill the open fields. His mom died in 2011. The only person left from that walk is Dave.

"I can remember playing hide and seek all the way," he said. "I'd run ahead and hide behind the telephone poles. Dad would laugh."

Dave started school in 1946. He went to Bridgetown School, directly across the street. "You'd come out the steps of our house and go straight ahead, right into the school's front door," he said. Every day before dashing from his house, he would glance at the fireplace mantel holding his dad's photo.

Every morning, he walked up the school's steps and past a bronze monument to the dad who never returned. The monument — later relocated to the school yard after a street widening — holds the names of Bridgetown's World War II GIs. A smaller plaque occupies the center of the honor roll. That carries six names and the words, "those who made the supreme sacrifice." The first name on the list: "Greer, Marcus D."

Dave Greer did not mention the plaque at first as he talked in his kitchen. He did not say that he had to walk by it every school day from kindergarten through the eighth grade. He did recall meeting "other boys at school with an uncle or a dad who did not come home. But," he added, "they were found!"

Classmates would speculate about his dad. "They would say: ‘Maybe the natives found him and he's living in a grass hut.' You know how boys will be," Greer said with a chuckle. "There's always a dark-tanned woman in these stories. And the story always goes that he's got it made and doesn't want to come back."

Dave Greer hoped for years that his dad would come home. But those hopes were dashed on Veterans Day 1948. During ceremonies at a Price Hill VFW hall, he received his father's medals and a folded American flag.

"That's when I finally realized," he said, "he wouldn't be back."

Not long after that, Dave's mom remarried. Less than a decade later, he joined the Air Force right out of high school.

After becoming an airman like his dad, Dave returned home and found work as a machinist. Once more, he followed his dad's footsteps. Before the war, Marcus Dane Greer worked for a local machine tool company.

Following his marriage to Judy, Dave kept his dad's memory alive by naming their son, Marcus David Greer. The younger Marcus has continued the tradition with his son.

"It's an honorable name," Dave Greer said.

"You have to remember," Judy Greer said.

Dave Greer always remembers. Some nights, when he sits in his living room, something will jog a distant memory.

He'll recall that summertime walk with his mom and dad to see a movie. He'll remember playing hide and seek behind every telephone pole with a dad who laughed and loved him, a dad who remains a mystery among the missing.

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