Pastor Was Pinch-Hitter For The Duke At Pow Bash

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Successfully pinch-hitting for the legendary John Wayne in front of a crowd of thousands who, even more incredibly, do not go home disappointed might stand out as the singular crowning achievement of a normal life.

But Dr. David Greene, the pastor at Payson's Ponderosa Baptist Church, has hardly lived a normal life.

A chronicle of Greene's unusual personal journey will be recounted shortly. But first ...

The John Wayne story unfolded in El Segundo, Calif., at the welcome-home banquet for the Vietnam POWs as they made their first public appearance after being brought home.

"Every one of them, including John McCain, was there, even the ambulatory guys," Greene recalled. "All of them were flown out by the Pentagon. I had arranged what was at that time the nation's largest military parade ... and I'd made arrangements through General Omar Bradley to have John Wayne be our speaker ... But the day he was to appear, at 4 in the morning, I got a call from Wayne's agent saying, 'The Duke has lost his voice. He can't be there today. He's terribly sorry.'

"So I called General Bradley and said, 'General, we need some help. We've got to find someone to take John Wayne's place. He's not going to be there' ... but we couldn't find anyone on such short notice. So that day, I took his place, speaking off the cuff for 18 minutes with absolutely nothing in writing.

"Afterwards, every single one of those men came up to me, saluted me, and thanked me, including the guys who were ambulatory. And I tell ya, I stood there and bawled like a baby."

To this day, Greene can't retell the story without tears welling up in his eyes, without his rich baritone voice cracking with emotion.

At the time Greene sub-spoke for Wayne, he was not exactly an unknown Southern California quantity himself.

He was in the middle of a 22-year broadcasting career which started in Montana and concluded in Hollywood. During that period, he said, "There wasn't anything in broadcasting I didn't do."

Including radio talk-show hosting. One of his first programs, broadcast on the Helena stations of KCAP and KBLL, was titled, "Your Chance to Speak."

"I got the idea when I heard Joe Pyne, who I felt was too brash," Greene said. "He'd shut people off without letting them finish what they had come to say. The idea was not to express my own views, but to let others express theirs. But that show caused me all sorts of trouble. Some people don't want opposing views presented."

Very often, death threats, threats against his family and police-escorted rides home ensued.

Greene's real interest, however, was not controversy, but sports.

"I wanted to play sports, I grew up with some great sportsmen ... but I was 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds," he said. "There wasn't much chance for me in pro sports. When I'd try out, they'd laugh at me and send me out into the stadium to watch.

"So I looked at the box and thought, 'Well, this has gotta be it. I'm going to have to do something in the box if I'm going to be around sports.'"

The question of what he would do in the box, exactly, was soon given a serendipitous answer.

"I walked into Bagley Electronics in Missoula and said, 'I want to talk to you about advertising on the radio.' The man said, "I won't advertise on the radio unless your station carries Hellgate High School's football games.' So we started carrying the games, and I did my first play-by-play broadcast in Boise, Idaho, at Bora High School."

That led to sports broadcasts for the University of Montana, Utah's Weber State, and Southern California's El Camino Community College, the nation's largest community college. Later, he created and became both executive vice president and general manager of a group of stations, called the Long Beach Radio Network, to cover the entire L.A. Basin.

Greene play-by-played the first football game out of Anaheim Stadium. He handled the first sportscast out of the now-defunct King Dome. He covered hockey and, for one season, volleyball, a popular sport on California's beaches.

Then Greene ended his own career. In 1981. By choice.

"I was doing the music ministry for a church in Manhattan Beach, Calif., when my pastor asked me why I was using the gifts I had just for personal gain and the feathering of others' nests. He felt I ought to use my gifts to do good for people. And that troubled me because I knew that what I had been doing was not done for God's glory."

By that time, his company owned radio and television properties nationwide, and taped 26 TV shows a week for distribution and syndication to all three major networks. Money was flowing into Greene's bank account.

But one week after the chat with his pastor, Greene said, "We left the six-figure world and went into the pastoral world. I knew it was right for me. Jonah is one of the examples in my life; the business world became my whale. I was so into it, and power and prestige and status and yachts and a twin-engine jet.

"And there I was, all of a sudden, in the tiny rural church in the town of Red Lodge, Montana ... because I had been given the opportunity to serve there and to see if I really meant business in my decision to work for God."

As it turned out, Greene did mean business.

Several relocations later, he found himself pastoring at a seniors-only church in Sun City West and that's where he was found by members of Payson's Ponderosa Baptist Church in search of a new pastor.

"When I first saw Payson, I thought, 'Ah! This is it! I want to live in this town when I retire.' So when I got this call, I wondered, 'Does God love us so much that He's let us come here and work?'"

That was two years ago, and the Greenes have been here ever since.

"We're very happy here. I'm not wearing $100 shirts anymore, but I'm feeling really comfortable."

Name: Rev. David R. Greene, M.Div., Ph.D

Occupation: Minister

Employer: Ponderosa Baptist Church

Age: 62

Birthplace: Siloam Springs, AK

Family: Married to wife Jeanne for 43 years; two married daughters, four grandchildren.

Personal motto: Others' needs set my life agenda.

Inspiration: The Holy Bible.

Greatest feat: Having to step in for John Wayne and speak to the POWs upon their return for their first public appearance after appearing at the White House.

My favorite hobby or leisure activity is ... Singing and reading.

The three words that describe me best are ... Willing, enthusiastic and caring.

I don't want to brag, but ... Our home life is the greatest!

The person in history I'd most like to meet is ... President Lincoln.

Luxury defined: Something desirable but costly in many ways.

Dream vacation spot: The south island of New Zealand.

Why Payson? It's our dream place to retire, and that God allowed us the privilege of serving in. There is no place we would rather be at this time in our lives than Payson.

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