HBO Taps Local Vet for Help on Series
Some say Richard Greer knows more about the Pacific theater of World War II than the Pentagon does.
That's because the 92-year-old Southern Pines resident was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps during some of the most intense fighting in the Pacific - including the grueling six-month campaign on Guadalcanal.
Greer has kept such detailed records of the events that HBO asked him to assist with its highly anticipated miniseries "The Pacific," which debuts March 14.
The 10-part series, from executive producers Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Gary Goetzman, is a similar concept to the critically acclaimed series "Band of Brothers," which followed the U.S. Army's combat in the European theater. "The Pacific" focuses on the story of three Marines.
"The Pacific was so damn vast," Greer says, adding that he never dreamed the war there could be portrayed as well as it was in "Band of Brothers."
Since 2004, Greer has been a volunteer consultant for the series. In that capacity, he gave advice by phone as it was developed and has provided six hours' worth of interviews. He has also shared his priceless collection of photographs from his tour of duty.
A Virginia native, Greer graduated from high school in the midst of the Great Depression. Money was so scarce he asked a banker for a loan and went to business school. Greer was working in -textiles when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He enlisted with the Marines at 8 a.m. the next day.
It was a quick transition from civilian to military life.
Greer recalls completing basic training at Parris Island, S.C., by February 1942. Part of the 7th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division, he shipped off to the Pacific theater in April.
"The Japanese were all the way down to Guadalcanal," he says, "and one more step down into Samoa, and they would have had Australia blocked - the lifeline would have been cut off.
"Well, we beat them to Samoa, my regiment, and we built defenses in Samoa and then our division came on in July across the country and went down to New Zealand and up and attacked Guadalcanal on the 6th of August, '42."
The Guadalcanal campaign lasted six months. Greer was there for five of them, and describes it as "a bitch." While every battle was difficult, in this case, Japanese forces relentlessly bombarded the American troops day and night for weeks.
"Both countries threw everything they had at it," he says. "Forty-nine capital ships were sunk in and around it in that six months, more than all that's in the world today. Battleships, carriers, cruisers, destroyers, transports - anything that you could name.
"Both sides had to have it. Whoever got it was going to control Australia because of the airfield."
Greer says the American forces just eventually wore the Japanese down. It wasn't until the New Year that they got replacements from the Army.
"That was like getting apple pie from home," he says. "We had been there a long, long time."
Greer lost almost 50 pounds during the campaign - he started out about 190 pounds and left at 140. He said there were plenty of Marines who weighed less than that.
He was wounded when an artillery round exploded near him. Shrapnel struck him on the ankle, and he suffered from a concussion. Despite that, he says he didn't miss any time. His Purple Heart is displayed in the "Marine Room" of his house.
He says he contracted malaria on Guadalcanal and had it for 40 years. He had an attack while in Africa in the 1980s - his temperature spiked to 106 degrees - and wasn't cured until he received an IV of quinine.
After Guadalcanal, Greer went to New Guinea and then on to New Britain for that "stinkin' thing in Cape Gloucester." He just missed out on the Battle of Peleliu, one of the bloodiest of the war.
"I had a lot of good friends that didn't make it through Peleliu," he says.
A glimpse at some of the many photographs Richard Greer took during WW II, including several of John Basilone. Basilone is featured in the upcoming HBO miniseries "The Pacific."
Greer served in the Pacific until 1944, when he transferred back to Norfolk and did administrative work for about 13 months. He said his business background was an asset.
A self-described "pack rat," Greer kept almost 100 photos from his service. He also has countless original newspaper clippings from the time.
He says he didn't "break them out" for 50 years. He has since furnished them to HBO, Marine magazines, the Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Va., a library in New Jersey - almost everybody that needed them, he says.
Taking photos during the war was a "dad-gummed hard mental decision" for Greer, because he says he could either take the little money he earned and go see a good-looking woman, or he could spend it on film.
"I said, 'Hell's bells, somebody ought to be taking some pictures,'" Greer says. "So now and then, I'd give up a liberty, buy film, and take pictures and have them developed, and I carried them inside my pack, all in the war. I put them in a trunk and put it in the attic when I came home and saved them 50 years.
"It was a hard decision. I could have been out there with some good-looking ladies."
One of the three Marines the miniseries follows is Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, who was one of Greer's good friends. He is well represented in Greer's photographs.
Known among his buddies as "Manila John" because of the time he spent in the Philippines, Basilone received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Guadalcanal campaign.
'Just One of the Boys'
Basilone was instrumental in repelling Japanese attacks on Oct. 24-25, 1942, despite the fact that he and his fellow Marines were vastly outnumbered.
"It was crazy the way they fought, and they'd fight to the death," Greer says of the Japanese.
Basilone's gallantry made him an American hero. Though most Medal of Honor winners don't return to action, Basilone signed up for another tour of duty, only to be killed on the bloody battlefields of Iwo Jima. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
"He was just a regular guy," Greer says. "He was just one of the boys, and we all got along. John and I just happened to be good friends, and we made some liberties together, had a lot of time together."
Guadalcanal produced perhaps the most priceless artifact Greer has - the first draft of the Medal of Honor recommendation for Basilone that he transcribed. Basilone's signature is at the bottom.
"There were a lot of other guys that were just as big of heroes," he says. "Picking heroes is a hard thing to do."
While Greer has a lot of memories of his time in the Pacific, one stands out in particular.
"Melbourne [Australia], and all of the beautiful women!" he says with a laugh. "You want to know the best one, and I'll give it to you!"
His worst memory was Guadalcanal, because it just went on and on, all day and all night.
Consulting comes naturally to Greer, who worked on five continents in his professional life. Before that, he worked in furniture manufacturing for 35 years immediately following the war.
Greer says the creators of "The Pacific" found him after people he knew told them he had such a vast knowledge of the subject.
"Guys they kept talking to said, 'Ask Greer, he knows. He kept every damn thing in his head, and he wrote it all down, and he was first sergeant most of the time,'" he says. "They finally called me, and they asked me a few things, and they checked it out with the Pentagon and came back and said, 'You know more than the Pentagon on this.'
"I said, 'Everything the Pentagon's got, I wrote.'"
Greer says HBO came to his home to conduct the interview, and they shot for six straight hours. He says he hardly needed to be prompted at all.
"I didn't know about the camera, so I just ignored it," he said. "So it came across real natural."
Greer has a red carpet invitation for a special premiere in New Orleans at the National World War II Museum on March 2. His daughter is accompanying him, and he's expecting to have a big time.
He says, "I've had a great life, I've had a wonderful time."
Contact John Krahnert III at (910) 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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