Vai's View: Mission president changed lots of lives

Published: Monday, Dec. 6 2010 10:15 a.m. MST

Editor's note: This is the sixth article in the "Missions and football" series.

Parry Greenwood looks like a brigadier general from central casting. Tall, handsome, never a hair out of place, and always immaculately dressed.

After Parry and Pauline Greenwood retired from the Air Force in the early '80s, they immediately applied to serve a mission, something Parry didn't get to do as a young man because of World War II.

They were initially sent to the New York, New York City Mission as Public Affairs Missionaries, a perfect call where the Greenwoods would entertain United Nations Ambassadors and use his influence as a military commander.

The Greenwoods loved the big city as they were world travelers and their calling was tailor made for them. But a couple who had been serving in Africa and reassigned to head the South Dakota Rapid City Mission in the summer of 1982, suddenly fell ill overseas. The domino effect resulted in the Greenwoods getting a call from Elder Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles requesting they leave the Big Apple for the Plains.

That domino effect created a buzz among the missionaries of the SDRCM, as we were learning that our new mission president was a brigadier general in the Air Force who was once the commanding officer of the Utah Air National Guard. Of course, we feared that we would have to march single file into zone conference and snap a salute toward the stand as we passed, while singing "Onward Christian Soldiers."

We were pleasantly surprised in our initial meeting with President and Sister Greenwood, how warm and gentle they were. They completely disarmed us with their meekness and humility.

I only saw him get upset once.

My companion and I were responsible for Ellsworth Air Force Base just outside of Rapid City. We could only enter the base if we were invited by our military members who resided on the base, and because our Air Force members were such good missionaries we went there often. It was a simple procedure. The member would call the guard's gate and put our names on a list and when we arrived, the guards simply asked for our IDs and in we went. Only, it never went that smoothly.

The guards were typically our age, give or take a year. Quite often, when we arrived, they'd give us the runaround that our names weren't on the list or they that never heard of our member/military family. Most times, I would see our names on the list, but still they'd hassle us. Clearly, it was because we were missionaries.

When President Greenwood overheard us talking about it, he asked me when our next appointment was. I replied we had one that same evening at 7 p.m. He said, "Push it back to 8 p.m. and pick me up at the mission home at 6 p.m."

"Yes, sir!"

When we arrived at 5:55 p.m., we were surprised to see our mission president standing at the door in full military uniform – his lapel was covered with colorful pins and medals and his hat tucked under his arm like a football helmet. He asked me to drive his personal car.

We knew he meant business.

On the way, he informed us he had already contacted the base commander, who was a colonel. He was expecting us at 7 p.m., so we'd have plenty of time for our 8 p.m. appointment.

When we arrived at the guard's gate, the same two privates who hassled us were there, but unbeknownst to me, President Greenwood's car had a sticker on the window that declared his rank. We barely even slowed through the gate as the privates snapped salutes at our passing car.

At the colonel's home, we were received warmly and President Greenwood received an assurance that as long as we continued to follow Air Force policy, we would never again be hassled at the gate.

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