As World War II was coming to an end, the little boys who lived in the apartment building at 3900 Greystone Avenue, across the street from Fieldston School and Brust Park, were fighting a war of their own.
In the woods on the other side of Manhattan College Parkway, they brandished toy pistols or sticks that they imagined into rifles to battle the Germans.
Two decades later, one of those boys found himself in a real war, flying a Marine helicopter in Vietnam. Now he’s written a book about it.
Arnold Reiner always wanted to fly. Even at PS 81, his classmates knew that what made him an indifferent student was not the absence of brainpower but the absence of interest in mundane schoolwork. His head was in the sky.
By the time he was a teenager, as he recalls in 46 Driver: a Marines Corps Helicopter Pilot’s Vietnam Memoir, he was flying Piper Cubs out of the little Stormville Airport on the Dutchess-Putnam County border.
After high school, still uninterested in academics, he drove a truck and worked the night shift at the Anaconda Copper factory in Hastings-on-Hudson until he realized that he was heading for a dead end. So he enrolled at the University of Bridgeport and enlisted in the Marine aviation officer program.
Gung ho he was not. He candidly told the recruiting officer that he hoped his wings would lead to what he really wanted to do — fly for a commercial airline. The recruiter was not entirely happy, but he “had a quota to fill and I had a dream, so we satisfied each other’s needs,” Capt. Reiner writes.
To his enduring surprise, college provided more than the certificate he needed to become an officer. “Today, Shakespeare’s characters come alive by different names in newspaper headlines,” he writes, “and I’m grateful that I can stroll through the Metropolitan Museum of Art and better understand and appreciate what is there.”
By the time he graduated in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson had begun to pour troops into Vietnam. Instead of flying jet transports as he had hoped to, Capt. Reiner was shunted to helicopter school.