Larry Greco is a longtime resident of Coffee County but before the transplanted Alabamian made his way here he was a young Californian serving his country aboard the U.S.S. Southerland during the Korean War.
Greco grew up in California and in January 1951 – after the onset of the Korean War – decided it was time to follow in his family’s footsteps and join the military. His brother – Andy Greco – and uncle – Louie Vianni – both served in World War II. Greco would go on to become a third class petty officer and lithographer with the Navy himself.
“I guess because my brother and my uncle were in the Navy and I wanted to serve my country,” Greco said of joining the Navy. “I think that was one of the main reasons and I was proud to have served my country. Admittedly, as a young man you don’t have a lot of fears, so I wasn’t afraid to go and do what I needed to do.
“I knew that I had to go because it was just instilled in me that it was my duty.”
Greco served in the U.S. Navy from January of 1951 until November of 1955 and spent much of that time off the coast of North Korea.
“We would go along the coast of North Korea and if there were supply lines that we knew of we would blow up the trains or whatever,” Greco said. “We went up the rivers at night to find installations, too.”
Greco served as a gunner’s mate on the destroyer and was assigned to one of the ship’s 40mm antiaircraft guns.
The U.S.S. Randolph was involved in three battles – and a number of skirmishes – when Greco was aboard the ship. As scary as battles can be, one of the most memorable things, for Greco, was something he can now laugh about.
“We were anchored off the coast of North Korea one day and I was in the chow hall eating when the ship was hit,” Greco remembered. “We were very fortunate that they were bad shots but they did hit us a few times.
“We didn’t have any torpedoes on that ship, so in their place were sacks and sacks of potatoes. We had a direct hit right into our potatoes and we had potatoes thrown just about from one end of that destroyer to the other. It turned them into fried potatoes, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, any kind of potato you can think of.”
His experience in Korea also made him appreciate the American way of life even more.
“We were patrolling and were firing on some of the installations that they had for supply lines and as we were firing into the hillsides at the railways I could see this guy with his oxen plowing a field,” Greco continued. “We were firing right over his head and he never even flinched, just kept on plowing. That was just their way of life and how it was there.
“That makes you say, ‘God, I’m just so proud of our way of life over here.’ That’s one of the moments that really stands out to me most.”
Greco also remembered another attack on the destroyer that was scarier than the others as he couldn’t see or help out during the skirmish.
“The first thing you think is, ‘What the heck is going on’ and then you just run to your duty station or wherever you’re supposed to be,” Greco said. “I was assigned to the 40mm antiaircraft guns but the only gun torrents we could use were enclosed 5-inch twin mounts that we had.
“So, we got outside and then immediately had to go right back inside, which was a scary experience because we couldn’t see what was going on after we went in. All I could hear was the hits to the ship.”
No matter how scary or how dangerous his time in the Navy was, Greco said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I would do it all over again,” he flatly said. “No question about it.”
Following his service in Korea, Greco went to school in Washington D.C. to become a lithographer and even worked in the print shop aboard the ships he served on, which included aircraft carriers U.S.S. Randolph and the gigantic U.S.S. Midway.
In 1955, Greco left the military and went on to continue working for print shops for 20 years. Later on he would work for Lockheed Martin and Photomap in management roles and even owned his own print shop, owned an Italian restaurant and a successful coffee shop.
In 1998, Greco and his wife Charline (Jackson) Greco went to visit some of her family in Alabama and Greco said he immediately wanted to move. The couple sold their business and their house and moved to Alabama in 1999 and have been here ever since.