Arts and Entertainment

Transformed by war and art

Karen Driscoll sold writing supplies at Paper Products – the store she and husband Andy Driscoll owned from 1980 to 1992 – but she never thought of writing herself until she inherited a box of her uncle’s memorabilia.

Colonel C. Ross Greening was a decorated World War II pilot who flew a B-25 in the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo and escaped from Italian and German POW camps.

Driscoll was 15 when Greening died, and knew the family lore of her uncle’s exploits – but not that his wife, Dorothy Greening, had transcribed his stories.

Forty years later, Driscoll found the manuscript.

“I thought, ‘This doesn’t need an author; this needs an editor,’” Driscoll said. “Ross was a good storyteller.”

The five-year process of editing the manuscript saw changes in Driscoll’s posthumous relationship to Greening.

“Through it all, I was learning to know and love this man, my uncle,” Driscoll said, “as I followed his evolution as a human being.”

At the opening of World War II, Greening had just graduated from Western State College in Pullman with a degree in art.

From the outset, Greening recorded his experiences in journals he filled with written observations and art. Then he joined the Air Force and became a “flyboy.”

“He started the war as a hot-shot hero type, shooting at juicy targets with the airman’s distance from human pain,” Driscoll said. “Then he was shot down over Italy and captured.

“They drove him right through the place he had just bombed. He had to see, for example, small children crushed in a house he had destroyed, and it changed him.”

Art for morale

Held in an Italian prison camp for 11 weeks, he escaped and was hidden for six months by Italian villagers. Recaptured at last, Greening was sent to a German prison camp, where he was the senior officer.

Appalled at the degradation of the camp – men who fought shoulder to shoulder now stealing food from each other – Greening used art to raise morale.

He taught the men to paint and sculpt. He inspired them to put on plays and to write poetry.

“Ross started a one-man arts-and-crafts revival,” Driscoll said. They were practically taking the barracks apart to make art.”

The men produced more than 5,000 art objects they managed to hide from the Nazis, pieces that toured the U.S. after the war as the “POW Exposition.”

Greening himself lived for only 10 years after WWII, dieing from an ailment he contracted in the camps.

Since the edited version of Greening’s manuscript was published last year, the book has sold well. “It’s amazing the amount of interest now,” Driscoll said.

“And it’s good, because these stories should be remembered.”

* * * * *

Karen Driscoll reads from “Not As Briefed: From the Doolittle Raid to a German Stalag,” by her uncle Col. C. Ross Greening 7:30 p.m. June 6 at Eagle Harbor Books.

Call 842-3132 for information.

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