John Greenman flew 22 missions as a World World II bomber pilot, including 16 missions as pilot of the 10-member crew of the B-24 Liberator nicknamed “Roger the Lodger.”
Greenman and crew narrowly avoided death in the waning days of the war in Europe when their bomber was brought down by German air defenses over Linz, Austria, on April 25, 1945 — the last day of missions for the 455th Bombardment Group that was stationed outside of Cerignola, Italy.
All the crew members, including Greenman, were able to parachute to safety, but most were quickly captured and imprisoned by the Germans. Greenman and the others were rescued 10 days later.
Greenman died from natural causes in early July. He was 96.
After the war, the B-24 crew members went their separate ways, many back to their hometowns where they married and raised families, but they remained in regular contact, said Greenman’s daughter, Sarah Greenman Sheehan.
Greenman, a graduate of St. Paul Central High School and the University of Minnesota, returned to St. Paul where he met his wife, Virginia. They wed in 1950 and had four children, were active members of the Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul and enjoyed a summer home on Madeline Island. He began a career in property management at the Lowry Medical Arts Building in St. Paul and later became vice president of properties for Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis. He was a regular bike commuter to both his St. Paul and Minneapolis offices.
On Thanksgiving 1982, Greenman and other bank officials — including Peter Heegaard, then head of the trust department at Northwestern National Bank — were called to the scene of the bank’s Minneapolis headquarters.
A fire had started in the adjacent Donaldson’s department store and quickly spread to the bank building. The bank was closed and largely empty because of the holiday, and fortunate weather and work of firefighters prevented the fire from spreading farther. But the entire block was destroyed in one of the biggest and most expensive fires in the history of downtown Minneapolis.
Heegaard recalled that amid the ruins it was Greenman, calling from a nearby pay phone, who had to inform the bank’s CEO, John Morrison, that his bank was consumed by fire. Morrison, who was enjoying Thanksgiving at his family place in Florida, asked Greenman what he was doing about it. Greenman coolly and calmly responded: “Well, John, we’re working on it.”
“He worked through the evening and the next day, that whole weekend, and by Monday morning he had the bank up and operating, Heegaard said. “It was a remarkable endeavor.”
By Monday morning, Greenman had found an office for everybody in the bank building.
By 1988, Northwestern National Bank, then called Norwest Corp. and now Wells Fargo, had replaced the old 16-story headquarters building with a new 57-story tower designed by the late Cesar Pelli. Greenman oversaw some of the initial planning, but he had retired from Norwest before the new building opened.
Greenman and his wife were avid tennis players and skiers, enjoyed music and sang together in the Bach Society. They also were active in a variety of community and social justice causes, including the Meals on Wheels program where John volunteered until he was 90.
Greenman was preceded in death by his wife and their son, Gregg, and is survived by children Charles, Jeffrey and Sarah. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 27 at Unity Church-Unitarian.