This past Thursday, on September 11th, Eugene Polinsky turned ninety four.
Last Thursday, while we snacked on ginger cookies and ginger ale, I was lucky enough to sit down with Gene on his sprawling front porch, across from the Hudson in Grandview, New York. He spoke of many things including his upcoming trip to visit his sister-in-law in Dublin, his new friends in Belgium and his hope to see ninety seven year old John G. Morris in France. As a young photo-editor for Life magazine, John G. Morris was based in London and assigned to oversee the photographic reportage of World War II. Most notably, he coordinated the dramatic photojournalistic coverage of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, including the iconic photographs of the landing made for Life by Robert Capa.
Gene along with seven other men, flew “special operations” in B-24s, clandestine night operations from a then secret base in England known only as Station 179 (Harrington). The base was located about ten miles west of Kettering, Northamptonshire. They shared the base with two other bomb groups. Polinsky was a navigator in this Air Force special operations group; the 492nd/801st Bomb Group known as the “Carpetbaggers.”
A book was written about his crew in 2005. That year he met people who were on the ground, who were part of the underground and part of the reception committee that he had never met before. It made a huge impact on his life. He now feels a community with these men that he never experienced. “I cannot get over the range of gratitude the Belgians feel toward Americans. It really overwhelms me. They took us to visit cemeteries, I went to Bastogne, Ardennes — they took me all over.
Gene was invited to a reception in Belgium and has gone back every year. He is the only survivor of his crew.
“My daughter says that there are buildings named after the people I know,” he laughed.
Gene has a long story (he said he only told me one fraction of it) about being an actor, writer, producer, director, father and husband.
“I became friendly with Lee Strasberg after the war and got involved with the American Theater Wing. I was a very good actor and a medium director,” he said.
Currently he writes theater reviews and has written reviews since college. He goes into Manhattan at least two to three times a week to see a show. Broadway, in the Park, Off Broadway — you name it, he has seen it. He writes under the pseudonym name Eugene Paul.
Gene met his wife and very much the love of his life in college in 1937. “When I sat down in class, Mary Post was sitting right next to me.” he smiled. They had four children and much to his genetic luck his great, great grandfather lived to be 107. “I will definitely shoot past 100,” he said.
I asked him his secret to a long and productive life. Did you drink or smoke or do anything ‘bad’ I asked?
“Of course!!,” he laughed. “But that was quite a long time ago.”
“The best show I have seen this year was Twelfth Night. If you went early, you could watch the actors get dressed and in makeup right on the stage!” he said
The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of King Lear, starring Tony Award winner John Lithgow and Academy Award nominee Annette Bening he felt was beyond fantastic. He said if you have not seen Once The Musical, run – don’t walk.
“Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and the Angry Itch…what can I say? He blew my mind. I could not believe what this man can do. I am convinced he can do anything.”
Gene also spoke very highly of the Westchester Premier Theater, and goes there often for a show and a delicious prime rib. He admitted that he goes everywhere and sees everything except for one theater on White Street that is up three flights.
“Come back,” he said “and I will tell you all kinds of war stories.”
Just try to keep me away.
I met Gene Polinsky shortly after this blogpost at the 2014 reunion of his U.S. Army Air Force military unit, the 801st/492nd Bombardment Group – The Carpetbaggers. Gene is a thoughtful, delightful person. For a man of great accomplishment, he expressed more interest in my writing career than his heroic service to our country. His humility was refreshing.
Gene eloquently described to me the full range of emotions experienced by the bomb crew as they flew night time special operation missions. My late father, also a Carpetbagger, had often tried to explain the experience to me. Regrettably, I dismissed him as a braggart.
Through Gene’s patience in answering a myriad of my questions, I rediscovered my father’s heroic nature.
What a wonderful story. I am so happy to hear this and have already passed the note on to Gene.