While the nation mourns Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the highest-ranked American officer killed in combat since 1970, his father is mourning 7-year-old Harry Greene, the boy who kept his faith in the Red Sox despite his parents’ dire predictions.
“That year, they won the pennant, after we had been telling him, ‘Get ready to have them fold,’ because they always did,” 85-year-old Harold F. Greene recalled, merry for a moment, as he sat in the dining room of his Guilderland home Wednesday afternoon.
The image of his son as that hopeful little boy keeps coming to mind, he said.
Maj. Gen. Greene, a 34-year Army veteran, was shot and killed Tuesday in Afghanistan. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the soldier who killed the U.S. two-star general and wounded 15 other people hid in a bathroom with a NATO assault rifle then opened fire when a group of officers from international forces passed by.
Greene had been serving in Afghanistan since January, involved in preparing Afghan forces for the upcoming departure of U.S. coalition troops.
A Guilderland High School and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate, the 55-year-old was scheduled to start a two-week leave Friday.
“He was planning on coming to Guilderland for at least two days. He also had Red Sox tickets for two games. I’d have been going with him,” his father said.
Instead, the elder Greene was preparing to travel to the Dover Air Force Base to meet his son’s body, due to arrive there at 7 a.m. this morning. A small ceremony will be held at the base. Next week, a funeral service will take place at Fort Myer in Virginia followed by burial in Arlington National Cemetery. According to Greene, there probably won’t be a local memorial service.
Greene described his son as a popular kid who “played on sports teams but was never a star.”
Born in Boston, the oldest of three boys, he was in sixth grade when the family moved from Nashua, New Hampshire, to Guilderland. He attended classes at RPI during his senior year of high school. That’s where he became interested in the military, his father said.
The younger Greene joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to fulfill the college’s physical education requirement and found that he enjoyed it.
“He nearly lost his life in the process,” his father noted, recounting a whitewater rafting trip his son took on a rough stretch of the upper Hudson River during ROTC training. The raft flipped and his son was saved by a marine sergeant, Greene recounted.
“That’s probably the closest he came to losing his life prior to when he actually did,” he said, his voice trailing off.
The phone rang several times as he spoke of his son, and the answering machine broadcast messages from reporters asking for interviews. A reporter from Reuters rang the doorbell.
Greene said he hasn’t thought much about the fact that the death of his son has thrust him into the national spotlight.
“I don’t think of it as a historical spotlight. It’s just, a lot of newsprint and radio people have been calling. You might be the 13th or 14th,” he said, as the phone began to ring again.
One of the calls was from his son Jonathan, who was on his way to Guilderland from his home in Trumbull, Connecticut. The two talked about travel arrangements and then Jonathan took a moment to reflect about his slain brother.
“I’m 52 years old and he’s still my hero,” he said.
It was only a week ago that Greene spoke with the son he is now preparing to say goodbye to for good.
If his oldest was worried for his safety in Afghanistan, “he made it a point not to show it,” Greene said.
An Army veteran himself, Greene said he understands the danger associated with being a part of the military and said he’s not bitter about his son’s death.
“Anger doesn’t do any good. It doesn’t make you feel better and it doesn’t help them,” he explained.
Greene spoke with pride about his son’s service in the Army, quoting bits from his evaluations. He described his son as an independent officer who was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs — one who inspired those who served under him.
But brightest in his mind was his son as a little boy.
“I think in terms of the baby I have already described, the little kid who didn’t give up on the Red Sox even though the rest of us knew better,” he said.
Close to tears, the elder Greene thought for a moment about what he would say if he could talk to his son one more time. He came up with two words: “Well done.”
There has been no claim of responsibility in Tuesday’s shooting that killed Greene and wounded at least 15 others, including a German general and two Afghan generals at Marshal Fahim National Defense University, west of the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The soldier who opened fire — and was subsequently killed in a shootout — was named Rafiqullah, was in his early 20s and joined the Afghan army more than two years ago, an Afghan military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. A second Afghan military official corroborated his account.
His motives were not immediately known, the officials said. He came from a district in Paktia province known to harbor fighters from the Haqqani network, which has strong links to the Taliban and conducts attacks against U.S. forces. There also were indications that Rafiqullah had a dispute with his own superiors before the shooting and opened fire because of it, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss information not yet made public.