VA NY Harbor Health Care System
Monday, February 6, 2012Born on December 6, 1920 in Wichita Falls, Texas, during the oil fires that the movie “Boom Town” was based on, Morris “Mike” Greenstein has lots of stories.
“We lived in a tent and the tent had burned down in the fire,” he says. “The doctor didn’t want to come out there to help my mother (who was in labor), but my father made him – at gunpoint.”
His father, Joseph L. Greenstein, was an oil field worker and strong man who earned the title Strongest Man in the World and the nickname “The Mighty Atom.”
“Before I could walk, my father had me chinning myself,” recalls Mike, who receives care at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, Brooklyn Campus, and now lives in the Rockaways. “My father had all of us – 10 kids - doing extraordinary feats.”
An aircraft mechanic with Manhattan Aviation Trades when World War II broke out, Mike entered the Air Force in 1942. He first served as an instructor in North Carolina to teach troops how to fix planes.
As word got out that he was the very capable son of the world’s strongest man, he began putting his other talents to good use.
“I used to travel around and do shows for the special services. I would do stage shows for U.S. Bond drives,” he says. “In Colorado Springs, I pulled a truck down the main street with my teeth.
“Every chance I got to do bond drives and special service shows, I did them,” recalls the 91-year-old, with a bright smile. “I enjoyed doing them. I felt proud that I was able to raise money for the bond drives and also to entertain the troops - I travelled from camp to camp. It made me feel good. I guess it was a little selfish too - the pats on the back made me feel good.”
During those appearances, Mike’s challenges included bending a one-inch steel bar over the bridge of his nose, pulling four soldiers inside a convertible that was tied to his hair, and holding a 586- pound barbell with his teeth (a world record in 1943 that has never been duplicated, he says).
So how did he do it? “It’s mind control,” he explains. “You tense your body into believing that you are more powerful than the object.”
Dubbed The Strongest Man in the Air Force, he left the service in 1946. He worked for TWA for many years and then managed a supermarket until his retirement in 1985.
Now, he’s a fixture at the Brooklyn VA. He has crafted and donated several glass wall hangings that now grace the corridors of the Brooklyn facility. In addition, his strong man achievements on behalf of the Air Force have been documented in countless newspaper clippings and magazines. When you see him in the hall, just ask him about it. He’ll be happy to share them with you.