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Vai's View: Mission president changed lots of lives

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

For the rest of my mission, we never again got the runaround at the gate.


Since meeting when I was 19 years old, Parry and Pauline Greenwood have been a constant part of my life, to this very day. After my mission, I returned to BYU and they returned shortly thereafter to their home in Draper.

While I was still dating my wife, I took her to meet the Greenwoods for their blessing. After we married, we took our closest friends, like Robbie and Karen Bosco, at the height of our national championship run to have dinner at the Greenwoods. We remained close, even after we left college for the NFL, and when we settled in the East. Our annual trips to Utah always included a visit to the Greenwoods' little Draper home with our children. My sons, as teenagers, sat enraptured as the Greenwoods told stories of me as a young missionary. I sought his advice on the major decisions in my life. He counseled me to take the TV job in Philadelphia rather than one in Phoenix because he recognized the value my high-profile job would have for the Church in a huge metropolitan area where there were only two stakes and no temple. When my son, LJ, married his sweetheart last fall in the Draper Temple, a hush fell over the sealing room when the Greenwoods appeared so regal-like and I couldn't contain my emotions – seeing them seated near LJ's own mission president, Lee and Holly Van Dam.

The Greenwoods' little homestead is more than 100 years old, but it includes a barn and stables for their horses and enough land to ride them. He would often saddle the horses and have the kids ride alongside him. Even as developers were buying up chunks of land and beautiful homes surrounded them in Draper, they kept their little plot, remaining steady as she goes.

You have to be steady if you are in dogfights with Nazi Luftwaffe warplanes over Europe, which is what Parry Greenwood was doing in his early '20s.

In 1944, while flying a mission near occupied Paris, Parry and his wingman flew past a farm with a lone, covered wagon in the middle of an open field. As they passed, Parry noticed an odd glint shining from the wagon, so he signaled to his wingman that he would double back to get a closer look. As he did, the camouflaged covering suddenly came off the wagon revealing a 50-millimeter antiaircraft gun that shot up Parry's plane before he could retaliate. All his wingman could do was watch and return fire, but it was too late.

We learned this story well as missionaries for the obvious lesson of protecting one another and never, ever leaving each other's side under any circumstance.

With his plane badly hit and Parry wounded, he managed to find a nearby field a few miles away where he could land his burning plane and find cover. Too dangerous for his wingman to rescue as the Nazis were already on the move toward his downed plane, Parry somehow landed safely and quickly scuttled his plane as he was trained. He grabbed a pistol and a small survival packet that included a cyanide tablet he was to swallow if captured and headed for cover in the nearby woods as night was falling.

Miraculously, he eluded the Nazi troops searching for him and found his way to a farmhouse in the little village of Com Robert, where the family, as luck would have it, was part of the French resistance. They hid him in the loft of their barn, where the family treated his wounds and cared for him for a couple of months. He was given civilian clothes and the family burned his Air Force uniform to destroy any evidence of his presence. Nazi soldiers regularly came unannounced to the farm searching for the missing American pilot but he kept his distance quietly milking cows in the barn or hiding in the loft.

As his health improved, the French doctor who treated him brought a bicycle for him and the two men rode to the sight of his burned plane where brazenly, he took a photo of Parry sitting on his plane. He was rescued when the Allied Forces liberated Paris in August 1944. For his valor, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Dinstinguished Flying Cross.

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