First Lt. Matthew Greene, 25
Lost his dad in 2014
Major Gen. Harold Greene, 55
Died Aug. 5, 2014
First Lt. Matthew Greene stood before the open casket that held the body of his warrior father, the man who’d long been Matt’s inspiration. Major Gen. Harold Greene, 55, was laid out at a Northern Virginia funeral home in a full Army service uniform: a dark blue jacket and navy blue pants with two gold stripes denoting his status as a general.
Matt wanted to gaze at his father one last time before the man everyone called “Harry” was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The two-star general had just become the highest-ranking U.S. service member killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam War, shot Aug. 5 by an Afghan soldier at a local military academy.
Matt, 26, a West Point graduate who followed his father into the military, was in disbelief.
“I thought I was ready for it that day,” he said later. “But when I saw the hearse, it was a painful reminder of what we were there to do.”
Matt grew up surrounded by soldiers, with two parents who met in the Army and were pursuing accomplished military careers. His mom, Susan Myers, is a retired Army colonel who taught leadership and management at the U.S. Army War College. His dad rose to become the deputy commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
Like so many military kids, Matt and his sister, Amelia, 22, moved around, living in Southern California, Missouri, Pennsylvania. For Matt, Little League helped ease the transition to a new place. His dad often coached his teams.
Baseball was a bond between them. When they went to professional games, Greene always had his son keep a scorecard. “He’d always ask me, ‘What would you do as the manager now?’ ” Matt recalled. “He’d take something we were just watching and make it a thinking problem.”
“I thought I was ready for it that day. But when I saw the hearse, it was a painful reminder of what we were there to do.”
Matt, who’s now based at Fort Hood in Texas, said his dad never pressured him to join the Army. But Matt always admired the way soldiers carried themselves and worked as a team. He loved listening to his father talk about his job: deciding what tanks, rifles, computers and other equipment were needed for war and how to marshal them.
It was Matt’s father who comforted him when West Point rejected him. It was his father who celebrated when he got into the elite military academy on his second try. It was his father who told him how proud he was when Matt made it through his grueling plebe year and again when Matt earned a computer science degree in 2012. It was his father who presided over his son’s promotion from second lieutenant to first lieutenant in 2013, less than a year before his death.
“He said, ‘This is a charge from the Army and from the people of the United States saying you have shown the diligence and performance required of a leader,’ ” Matt said, “ ‘and now we’re going to ask more of you, and we’re going to expect more from you.’ ”
The Greenes wouldn’t reunite at a military ceremony again until the day of the general’s funeral at Fort Myer and his burial at Arlington. Among the mourners: then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff. Matt could barely talk to them or anyone else.
On a sunny August afternoon, the boyish lieutenant stood in front of a pack of mourners at Arlington, watching as a riderless horse with boots backward in the stirrups led a solemn procession past rows of gleaming white headstones. Matt saluted as his father’s casket was removed from the horse-drawn caisson. Then the Greenes made their way to Section 60, where the general would be interred next to hundreds of rank-and-file soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Flags were folded and presented to the family. A cannon salute shook the air. Then a bugler sounded taps as Matt fought back tears, squeezing his mother’s hand to maintain his composure.
He didn’t notice the huge crowd behind him or the clutch of photographers snapping photos. He just stared at the closed casket, and, before he turned to walk away, he knelt down and placed his hand and a rose on top.