Defense Secretary Robert Gates gathered with mourners in a tiny northeast Tennessee community Wednesday to bury Army Spc. Fred Greene, one of 13 people killed in the massacre at Fort Hood.
Gates sat behind the 29-year-old combat engineer's wife, two young daughters and parents as a chaplain and a company commander led a graveside service near Mountain City. It was followed by a 21-gun salute and the playing of taps by a lone bugler, next to the rural Baptist church where Greene once sung in the choir.
"Fred will always be with us," said Capt. James Pence, who commands the 510th Engineer Co., 20th Battalion, 36th Brigade based at Fort Hood in Texas. "He will be with us when we patrol the dangerous roads in Afghanistan in defense of our great nation. His courage and commitment will be with us as we face the difficult trials ahead."
Greene, who enlisted in 2008 in the hopes he'd find a better life outside of his rural community, was posthumously promoted. He was among 13 killed and more than 30 wounded in the shooting spree on Nov. 5 when authorities say Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, opened fire.
Gates had met with his family last week when he attended the Fort Hood memorial. Afterward, Greene's father called the secretary and asked if he was available to attend his son's funeral, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
He had been concerned that his presence would be an intrusion or distraction, concerns eased by the family's invitation, Morrell said. Gates did not speak during the 45-minute service, attended by about 200 relatives, friends and members of the veterans' motorcycle group, the Patriot Guard Riders.
Greene's wife and parents refused interviews, but issued a statement saying, "Please continue to pray for us and the others affected by this tragedy _ we are still grieving, and healing will take time but there is comfort in knowing Fred is at rest."
Friends recalled that Greene was a quiet man who cared for his grandmother before she died some years ago. "He was one of those guys where the waters run deep _ he had a lot to him, inside him," said family member Michael Bevilacqua of Bolder, Colo.
"Everybody thought the world of him up there at the school," said Banian Banner, a classmate at Johnson County High School.
After high school, Greene worked for a local lumber company designing roof trusses, said Raymond Arney, a cousin. "He was a good boy, smart and worked hard."
After marrying Cristie Wilson about three years ago and adopting her two daughters, Haley and Allison, Greene decided to join the Army to find a better life outside the hollows of this community of 2,500 near the North Carolina and Virginia lines.
"It is a little hard to get out of Johnson County. This county is poor," said Mountain City lawyer K.D. Johnson, who moved here about 10 years ago from southern California. "And he got out. He got training. He was making a good life. And it is gone."
Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS lead to say that 13 people were killed, not 13 soldiers.)