e stood at water's edge. Ice formed on the banks of the river, and snow blew across the frozen ground. Sergeant Greene stared at the two flat bottom john boats in the water, then glanced out and watched the frigid wind whipping across the water's surface. He looked at me, shook his head, and said "Let's do it." It had turned out to be an unusually cold winter for North Carolina, and I wasn't ready for that kind of comment.
My mind wandered back several days when the "boss" called us into the office for a mission brief. A major exercise was coming up, and insertion/extraction sites were needed for advanced force operational elements. Over the next few days we poured over maps, tidal charts, and weather forecasts, concluding that a water insertion would provide the best chance of operational success.
I jerked back to reality when I saw Sgt. Greene and his son, who was soon-to-be a Marine, and there because we were using the cover of "fishers," climbing into the boats. I reminded Sgt. Greene that it was below freezing; the water temperature was 39 degrees; winds were gusting to 25; white caps were on the Neuse River; and, I certainly didn't see any other "fishers." He grinned, rolled his eyes, and said, "OK, is there a problem?"
I begrudgingly climbed into my boat, started the engine, and headed into the choppy Neuse. After two hours of fighting the wind, cold, and water, we had found several sites which would support the advance force elements. At the last site, Sgt. Greene cracked a smile, nodded his head, and made the best comment I had heard all day; "Let's head home Marine."
I don't know whether it was hyperthermia setting in, or my mind just wandering because we were headed home, but it suddenly dawned on me that I had heard a faint yell. I turned around and all I saw was Sgt. Greene's empty boat, about a hundred yards away. I frantically gave the engine full throttle and raced back towards the empty boat. Oblivious to the icy wind, and the white caps crashing into my boat, I quickly scanned the area. There he was, in the water, about 75 yards away, and in trouble.
By the time I reached him his lips were already blue. I grabbed him by the collar of his life jacket, trying to drag him into the boat, but he resisted. Our eyes locked and through chattering teeth he said, "Get my son first, I'll try and hang onto the side." Fortunately, Harrison, Jr. was young, and in superb condition, so it was an easy task getting him into my boat. When we grabbed Sgt. Greene's arms, he told us, "you two will have to do all the work, I have no feeling in my arms or legs." After finally getting him into the boat, we hooked a line to the now empty boat and once again started back.
Seeing Sgt. Greene laying in the bottom of the boat, soaking wet, and with uncontrollable shakes, I knew we were in a race against time. Being the Marine that he is, Sgt. Greene continued to offer advice, and make suggestions, and not once did he complain about his ever worsening condition; Being the father that he is, Sgt. Greene constantly checked on his son, and on several occasions tried to take off some of his own wet clothes in an effort to provide a little more protection to his son.
Well, we made it back, and after several hours the color was coming back into Sgt. Greene's cheeks (blue being replaced by pink!!).
I saw a different side of Sgt. Greene that day; the Sgt. Greene who was a true Marine, and the Sgt. Greene who was a loving father.
Editor's note: If I were a betting man, I'd bet that the real hero of this story was Lieutenant Stan Glass.