I was stacking hay Monday afternoon on the South 240
when my cel rang. As I stopped the RoadSider, I knew it was a call I both dreaded – and anticipated. It was Bernie
L'Hirondelle, a good friend of Johnny’s who had been by his side in the last days of his time here on Earth. Bernie
told me, “Johnny passed away about a half-hour ago.” I told him thanks for calling, and there was an awkward
pause – on my part – and I realized I was just one on a long list – so I said goodbye and hung up. I started
loading hay, and after loading a few bales, got out of the machine and walked around the field for a bit. Memories were racing
through my mind, and conflicting emotions, such as sorrow at his passing and then getting pissed-off at him ‘cause he
left and flown West. He was my best friend, and damn it, I’m going to miss him.
I am going to expound more in the next few days as I recall and write down the memories of those 43 years. I need to do
this – for my sake…
Some reflections on Johnny ~
I joined the
line at United’s base in Newark, New Jersey, 15 September 1964. During the Welcome Aboard meeting with my flight manager
we talked about my flying experience. When I told him that I soloed in a “Knocker” – Aeronca 7EC, he said,
“I have a 7AC, would you like to fly it?” I said that I would and he told me that it was at Colts Neck Airport;
to meet him there on the following Saturday and he would take a ride with me.
I arrived at Colts Neck in mid-afternoon,
and was delighted to see that it was a grass strip with a small hanger. There was a J-3, C-150,
and a Beech Twin-Bonanza parked near the hanger.
We flew around a bit and then shot a few touch-and-gos. After
we put the airplane away, I walked over to the hanger to look at the Piper Cub J-3, the airplane that I got my first ride
in at the age of three, with my father at the controls of his first airplane.
There was a guy with Ray-Bans standing
near the hanger, and I walked over and introduced myself. And that’s how I met Johnny Greeff. He was a flight instructor
in the J-3 and 150, and flew charters in the Twin-Bonanza. I told him that United was hiring and that he ought to get to
Newark and put in an application. He told me that there was no chance that they would hire him with his experience, so I
told him my experience and to get his butt up there and apply. A couple of weeks later he called me at home to tell me that
United had hired him.
Johnny got on the Line about six-months after I did, his first base was Chicago - ORD. A few months later he transferred
to Los Angeles – LAX. He transitioned to DC-8 S/O and then 737 F/O. I transferred to LAX, 1 January 1966, and John
and I met up again. We spent a lot of time shooting and hunting, mostly shot-gunning rabbits and quail with occasional trap-shooting
for practice. We would spend hours reloading shot shells, and set out to develop a load for short-range that had low recoil.
We did it, and knew exactly when we got the least recoil possible – and that was when we needed a ramrod to push the
sabot and wads out of the barrel. We giggled some over that.
He called me one day and asked me to check him out in my Twin-Beech 18. I met him at VNY – Van Nuys, and after we discussed
all of the myths of Beech 18 ground-handling, we climbed aboard and taxied around the airport – up and back –
then I climbed out and told him to taxi around until he felt comfortable, and then come back and pick me up. He was gone
about a half-hour before he taxied up and gave a wave to join him. We took off and went out to Simi Valley and did some air
work and then back to VNY to shoot some touch-and-goes. We got back to the blocks, and I told him, “Congrats, Johnny,
you’re one of about six guys on this airport that can fly a Twin-Beech.” I don’t know if he ever flew one
again – unless it was on floats.
He called one day – not long after I had checked him out on the Beech – and told me he was moving to SEA –
Seattle. We did not see each other much after that—just around the Line, until he crashed his first SeaBee—actually
the SeaBee crashed him. When I read about it on the bulletin board, I called him while he was still in the hospital, and
it was obvious that he was really hurting; he got busted up real bad. We only talked for a couple of minutes, and then he
said, “If you haven’t got a full-harness in your airplane, I will buy it for you.”
A few weeks after he was out of the hospital, I had a layover in SEA. Rented a car and drove down to his place at Western
Airpark in Yelm. It was dark when I got there, so I wasn’t able to fully grasp the layout of his place. As I was later
to find out – it was – and is - a pilot’s dream. We went to dinner at a local steakhouse, and as we went
to my car, I realized how badly he had been injured, hobbling along on crutches and in a lot of pain. I got a taste of what
he was going through when I got off my Harley—improperly—a few years later. He was off for the better part of
a year going through re-hab.
Click on photos to enlarge...
Funny… I catch my self walking out back to feed the horses, glancing over to my RV
site, and wondering when Johnny’s going to arrive, that he’s running late this year, and then it hits me –
Johnny’s not coming – ever again. Guess I haven’t accepted the fact that he’s gone. Friday ~ 21