Hundreds turn out in honor of fallen Mississippi soldier

Published 12:31 am Monday, January 21, 2008

GAUTIER (AP) — Hundreds of mourners on Saturday overflowed First Baptist Church of Gautier and despite cold, foul weather, lined U.S. 90 in tribute to Army Maj. Michael Lee Green, who was killed Jan. 7 in Afghanistan.

The 36-year-old native of this city died when the Humvee he was in struck a roadside bomb and exploded.

Green wasn’t scheduled for missions that day, but volunteered — one of his fellow soldiers had recently become a father, another was recently married.

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‘‘It’s sort of like when you read stories about guys who jumped on hand grenades in World War II or either in Vietnam,’’ said Noel Mann, a Vietnam vet and Patriot Guard biker. ‘‘The average person can’t understand why a person would do that. But if they were ever in service, they would understand.’’

Green, a former student at Pascagoula High, had been in Afghanistan for about a month, training soldiers to disarm landmines and bombs.

Those who delivered eulogies Saturday recalled a man who embraced life, who vowed as a child to serve his country, who loved others without reservation.

‘‘Being a soldier was what he had to do, his sense of calling,’’ the Rev. James Henry LeBatard said. ‘‘That was what made him complete.’’

‘‘Everyone in here is a better person in some way for having known Mike,’’ said friend Mark Smythe.

Friend Robert Grimmer recalled the first time he met Green, who was donning aviator sunglasses that were ‘‘a size too big’’ and binoculars around his neck.

‘‘The first thing I thought was I need to be friends with that man,’’ said Grimmer. He said that later, Green became like an uncle to him.

The mood quickly became somber; Army officers in full regalia carried the casket toward the hearse, a line of grief-stricken family members following. Those along U.S. 90 waved flags and saluted the funeral procession as it made its way to the Biloxi National Cemetery.

‘‘He laid down his life and I felt like he should be honored,’’ said John Skrmetti of Biloxi, who gathered with many others near the Biloxi Lighthouse. ‘‘He sacrificed — did the ultimate sacrifice,’’ said Saucier resident Harry Lywiski, whose son is fighting in Iraq. ‘‘And we need to show that we care about him.’’

Green is one of 58 with close ties to Mississippi who have died in either Afghanistan or Iraq.