When U.S. Army Major General Harold Greene was shot and killed at a training facility in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2014, he was the highest ranking U.S. officer to be killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam War.
The two-star general’s death made headlines around the country and his funeral was broadcast live on C-SPAN. During his time in service, Greene had a storied career, earning him the Legion of Merit award as well as the Meritorious Service Medal. The decorated general was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.
But Greene had one title in his life that meant more than anything else: Dad, to Matthew and Amelia Greene. In honor of Memorial Day, they shared their story with TODAY.
People who knew him in the Army would say that they could hear him coming down the hallway just because he was so loud, and he made sure to stop off in everybody’s office and check on them. He had this uncanny ability to remember details about people and I think it was because he genuinely cared.
You could always ask him about the last Red Sox or Patriots or Celtics or Bruins game, and he would not only know the details, but if the Boston team had lost, he’d have a reason for why his team got hosed.
He could talk to anyone about anything, but he always had this incredibly positive attitude that I think made for a great work environment for everybody. Everywhere he went with his job, people would tell us, "Hey, it’s great working for your dad."
He was one of the most energetic, fun-loving people I’ve ever met. He had such an intense love of life. I always thought that was really inspiring and something I wanted to copy, just because everybody that he was around always had such a good time with him.
When we were kids, he was the coach of all of our soccer teams, and when the Boy Scouts would go camping, he would take my brother and me. He was very involved and loved spending time with family.
There was always that thought in the back of our minds: “What happens if they call him?”
Pops had always referenced the Thomas Jefferson quote: “The trees of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots from time to time in the name of freedom and democracy,” but explained it in a way that assured us that every tool would be exercised before we went to war. But everybody thinks that their family members are going to be all right; you never think it’s going to be your blood that waters those seeds.
When my dad told me he was deploying to Afghanistan, I was a senior in college at the time. He called me as I was on the way home from a yoga class. I remember feeling completely shocked and being upset, thinking he would miss my college graduation, which actually he did make it to. It was the last time I ever saw him in person.
We had this sense of comfort, which was ill-placed, I guess — he was going, but he was going to be very protected. We really thought a little too comfortably about him being protected, because it wasn’t like he was going to be out on a combat outpost getting into gunfights.
I was about a month and a half into my first job working in sales for a chemical trader, and I’d gotten invited to this kind of impressive meeting for being so new at the company.
We were halfway through the meeting and my CEO stood up and walked out. About five minutes later, they came and pulled out the general manager. I was alone, 22 years old, in this meeting with two suppliers who were seasoned veterans of the chemical industry, and I had no idea what to say. I was so confused.
Five minutes later, they came and pulled me out of the meeting, too, and said they wanted me to go to the CEO’s office. All I could think at the time was, “OK, I must have said something really stupid. I’m getting fired right now.” I wish that I had gotten fired instead, honestly.
I walked into the CEO’s office. He’s sitting on his couch, not behind his desk, and I’m like, “This is weird.”
He asked me to sit on the couch with him, and then he put his arm around me. Now I’m thinking, “OK, I’m not getting fired. This guy’s making a move on me.”
He reached for his cell phone and simply said, “Your mom wants to talk to you.” In that moment, I already knew what was happening, but my brain couldn’t conceptualize it. I remember putting the phone up to my ear and my mom said “Amelia, I’m so sorry.” And I started screaming at the top of my lungs. I dropped the phone.
I was thinking, “Who is screaming like that? This is scary. Who’s screaming like that?” And it took me a couple of seconds to realize that I was the one screaming. It was such a visceral reaction. My boss put the phone back up to my ear and I was yelling at my mom: “You’re lying. I don’t believe you. He promised he would come home.”
I had just completed the Basic Officer leadership course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and the packers were coming to load up the truck to head to our new duty station at Fort Hood, Texas.
My wife, Kasandra, and I were staying at the hotel on post and we had seen some news stories about a senior official killed in Afghanistan and we didn’t really think anything.
It was around 9:30 a.m. and my phone started ringing. It was Mom. I was talking to the packers at the time, so I didn’t answer. Then she called my wife and we both looked at each other. Something was up. Kasandra answers and I’m still talking to the packers, but I’m keeping an eye on Kasandra and she immediately starts saying, “I can’t understand; you have to calm down. What do you need? What’s wrong?” At that point, I think I knew. It feels like your guts are being ripped out. Kasandra is looking like she’s in a panic and she says, “All right, hold on. I’ll get him for you, hold on.” She hands me the phone. My mom couldn’t formulate sentences for a second. Then she said, “They got him.” I said, “I don’t know what you mean.” She said, “They shot him.” I knew what she meant, but I think I just needed to hear it.
“They shot Dad and killed him.” I went hysterical. Just inconsolable.
When we were at Dover Air Force Base for the dignified transfer, when his body was returned to the U.S., I remember standing there with my mom, brother and sister-in-law, thinking, “I cannot come back here. I cannot do this again.” I cannot handle that.
Knowing Matt is in the Army and that we’re still in war times, knowing that Matt could be deployed at any time, definitely makes it hard. I guess it was just a really hard lesson that nothing is guaranteed.
The next two weeks were a whirlwind of events: the dignified transfer at Dover, a ceremony at the Pentagon, a memorial ceremony at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. We spent I don’t know how many days at my mom’s house with people sending all sorts of food.
It was almost like going through the motions leading up to his burial at Arlington. I remember sitting on the bus going to the funeral. I think getting on that bus really drove something home for me, because I immediately looked at my mother and said, “I don’t want to do this.” I had another breakdown right there on the bus.
I got through my dad’s eulogy and we started the walk from the chapel at Fort Meyer down the hill to Section 60 at Arlington. I think that was probably the first time I looked back as we were walking, and there was just a sea of people walking behind us down the hill. I had an emotional moment, because you walk probably about a quarter to a half mile down the hill, and the amount of people that came was unreal. I think that was a testament to the person my dad was and everything that he stood for.
A lot of people said, “I don’t know what I would do if my dad died.” In that moment, I was like, “I don’t know what I’m doing right now.” There’s no playbook for this. So, yes, me neither.
For me it was just about taking it day by day. Some days I’d cry hysterically on the way to work, and other days were better. I think about my dad fondly. There are still days that it’s really hard. But we think about the memory he left behind, and that helps.
These interviews have been edited and condensed.