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Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, right, presents an American flag to Susan Myers, widow of Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, alongside son 1st Lt. Matthew Greene, left, during the Aug. 14 funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery , Va. (Saul Loeb / AFP)
ARLINGTON, VA. — Amid military ritual afforded a war casualty of high rank — this one the first general officer killed in a combat zone since the Vietnam War — Army Maj. Gen. Harold “Harry” Greene was laid to rest Thursday. He was buried among 876 others lost to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and aligned in symmetrical rows at Arlington National Cemetery.
Ceremonial trappings at the graveside service attended by several hundred contained privileges of rank: 13 howitzers firing one after the other from a nearby hillside, a riderless horse following the caisson and the Army “Pershing’s Own” Band marching out front.
But the marble stone that will eventually mark his grave — 42-inches long by 13-inches wide by 4-inches deep — will be identical to all the others accumulating from the two wars around his grave in Arlington Cemetery’s Section 60.
From a short distance, the two-star general’s grave will be impossible to pick out from all the others.
More then 6,800 have died in the conflicts, about a third of them in Afghanistan. Greene was killed by an Afghan soldier in a so-called “insider” shooting Aug. 5 as he and other U.S. and coalition officers toured an Afghan military academy. The soldier hid in a bathroom and opened fire with a machine gun, and was killed during the attack.
Not a combat commander, Greene was a logistical support expert and was helping the Afghan army develop better ways to acquire and provide resources for troops — a crucial mission given the U.S. military goal of withdrawing from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Thursday, after the cannon grew silent, seven riflemen fired 21 shots in three volleys over the grave and a bugler played “Taps,” Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, presented four flags to Greene’s family.
A red banner with two stars, reflecting Greene’s general officer rank, blew gently in an afternoon breeze over the grave.
Odierno sharply saluted the folded flag that had draped the coffin, took it in his arms and walked over to Greene’s widow, retired Army Col. Susan Myers. Lowering his 6-foot-6 frame in an awkward bend at the knees so that his eyes were level with hers, Odierno handed her the flag and expressed a nation’s gratitude for the sacrifice of her husband in Afghanistan.
He repeated the ritual three more times with three other folded flags, each of which was touched to the casket before Odierno saluted and delivered one to Greene’s son, Matthew, a 1st lieutenant in the Army; another to his daughter, Amelia; and a third to the slain general’s father, Harold.
The elder Greene, who needed assistance to reach the graveside, leaned forward to catch the words the chief of staff was saying.
As the ceremony ended, each family member carried a rose to lay on the casket. Matthew Greene knelt down to kiss the container bearing his father’s remains. His grandfather, when it was his turn to place the rose, raised his hand in a salute.
The day before, at a memorial at the Pentagon, Odierno had described Greene’s death as “a reminder to all Americans about ... the risk(s) our men and women knowingly take.” He eulogized the two-star general as “more than a soldier. He was a great man, a caring father, a devoted husband and loyal friend.”
Earlier in the day, Myers had issued a statement: “We are grateful for the outpouring of love and support in this time of great loss to our family.”
With 30,000 American troops still serving in Afghanistan, military leaders say the risks of casualties has not gone away. “When you’re over there, you completely feel like nobody knows you’re over there and America has forgotten that it is a war zone and we have soldiers in harm’s way every day,” says Lt. Col. Juanita Chang, an Army spokeswoman.
“It is still a dangerous place over there,” said Army Col. Kenneth Rodgers, Greene’s chief of staff in Afghanistan. Rodgers accompanied Greene’s casket back to the United States from Afghanistan.
“It was the longest, loneliest, saddest journey I’ve ever taken. But it was one that I was honored to do because I just wanted to bring him home,” Rodgers said.
He remembers his last moments with Greene on the morning of the shooting. Rodgers didn’t accompany him on the academy tour, but, before that, they met with other staffers for a quick discussion about ongoing projects to support Afghan troops.
“It was a typical thing. We had a lot going on and we did a quick session ... where we were all kicking ideas around,” Rodgers recalled. “Then he was out the door.”