EXETER – “This is terrific.”
That’s how Exeter’s Murray Greene reacted on the evening of Tues., March 23 as the community came out to celebrate the Second World Veteran’s 100th birthday with a drive-by parade past his home.
With the pandemic making a traditional birthday party impossible, the Exeter Legion planned a drive-by parade, which featured the Legion Colour Party, as well as the South Huron Fire Department and dozens of cars which honked their horns and shouted out birthday wishes to Greene as he watched, waved and saluted from his front porch with his daughter Bonnie LaFond.
After the parade both Greene and LaFond said the parade was a special moment for the family.
“It was awesome,” LaFond said, adding that she couldn’t believe the amount of vehicles in the parade.
Family and friends watched the parade from Greene’s front lawn, some of whom came from as far away as Leamington, Toronto and Paris, Ont.
As far as turning 100 goes, Greene said he still feels good and takes every day as it comes.
“God has been very kind to me,” he said.
Greene was recently profiled in the Times-Advance as a ‘Hometown Hero.’ His nominator, Exeter’s Anne Sullivan, described him as “such a nice, true gentleman with a great smile. Just a sweetheart of a man.”
Exeter Legion veterans service officer Bart DeVries said of Greene, “He’s a kind and considerate man. He’s got everyone’s best interest at heart for sure.”
Greene was born in Zone Township near Thamesville and later worked for the Ford Motor Company in Windsor before enlisting in the Canadian Army in 1942. During the war he served in France (including on Juno Beach), Germany, Belgium and Holland. Greene was discharged in 1946 and returned to Canada, eventually moving to Exeter in 1955 with his wife Rhea. Here, they operated Greene’s Variety on Main Street for more than 20 years. Greene was also an Exeter councillor for four years, served as chairman of the public utilities commission for more than 30 years and was president of the Exeter Legion.
Greene and Rhea had two children and were married for more than 70 years until Rhea’s death in 2019.
A few years ago France recognized Greene for his heroism and participation in the liberation of that country by naming him to the National Order of the Legion of Honour, which is the highest French order of merit. Greene received the rank of Chevalier, which is a knighthood in France, and that distinction comes with the title “Sir.”
Exeter Legion president Jon Corbett said he has many happy memories of Greene at Legion meetings, one of the fondest being that Greene was always the first who wanted to adjourn the meetings. To this day Greene’s name is honoured whenever a Legion meeting is adjourned.
Corbett said Exeter has four Second World War veterans still alive and they’re all very important. He described Greene as Exeter’s equivalent of Walter Gretzky, and said he was astonished at the turnout for the parade.
To mark Greene’s centenary, he received certificates from the federal and provincial governments, as well as the Municipality of South Huron. At the end of the parade he received a round of applause and friends and family sang Happy Birthday to him.
- With files from Dan Rolph