Sunday, December 27, 2009

‘He Never Stopped Trying to Help The Vets’

William Green, VFW commander, dies at 66

By Joseph Kellard

It was a minor change among the many William Green brought to the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Long Beach. As its commander from 2000 to 2004, Green began displaying on the walls two framed photo collages of members during their youthful days in combat zones, from Europe to Afghanistan, that became conversation pieces at parties and allowed the vets to brag.

During his term, Green also increased the post’s membership by about 50 percent, and the number of active members more than doubled thanks to his efforts, according to long-time member Ed Grant, who served in the Army in Vietnam and was deployed to the demilitarized zone in Korea in the late 1960s. “Billy reached out to everybody by not trying to make it a private club,” Grant said of Green’s recruiting philosophy.

Joseph Clarino is a Vietnam veteran who was among Green’s recruits. “He was relentless on me to join the VFW,” Clarino recalled. “It took him quite a while but he got me. He convinced me that we could do more things together and get involved in the community.”

Clarino read a eulogy at Green’s funeral at Christopher Jordan’s Funeral Home in Island Park on Monday. Green died last Saturday at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside. He was 66.

Alice Green, his wife of 36 years, said he held strong to his commitment to never turn away a veteran who wanted to join the VFW, and he always stood up for them. “Even before he became commander, he always tried to find out what veterans were and weren’t getting from the Veterans Affairs,” Alice said.

Her husband believed he was right in everything he did, she said, and Grant characterized him as a man who was persistent and insistent in his convictions. “With Billy it was often the my-way-or-the-highway attitude,” Grant said, “and that could create some divisiveness, but he had the strength to keep pushing for things that he wanted.”

One of the most important things Green wanted — and got — was tighter relationships among his members. He brought together members from different age groups and combat theaters, taking them on bus trips to West Point for football games and lunches at German and Italian restaurants from Manhattan to Suffolk County, Grant said.

“Very often there was a dichotomy between the Vietnam vets and World War II vets,” he explained, “and Billy was instrumental in getting everybody together to share the experiences we had.”

The camaraderie regularly inspired a group of 25 or more members to trek to the V.A. Medical Center in Northport to run an annual July barbecue and a Christmas party for disabled veterans, and members attend a half-dozen other functions throughout the year, all of which Green started.

“Billy was a very good and active commander,” said current VFW Commander John Zimmerman. “He was very passionate about being the commander. He just wanted to do a lot for veterans.”

Born on Flag Day, June 14, 1943, Green grew up in Manhattan, where he met Alice. He was drafted in 1963, became a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division and was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. He jumped into the Dominican Republic on a mission to avert a communist takeover there in 1965.

Before the unit returned to Vietnam, Green was discharged, and he joined the reserves, in which he was active until the mid-1980s. He rose to the rank of sergeant and joined the Green Berets.

After he and Alice married in 1973, they had two children, Michael and Jennifer, and moved to Long Beach in 1984. Among Green’s hobbies was skydiving, until an accident sidelined him.

“He was a very giving person,” Alice said. “He loved his family and loved life — definitely. And he never stopped trying to help the veterans until he couldn’t do it anymore. They were his mission in life once he got started on it.”

Green is survived by his wife and children as well as three grandchildren, Michael, Sean and Joseph. He was buried at Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton.

Photo Courtesy Green Family

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