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The National Infantry Museum welcomed businessman Hank Greenberg, former chairman and CEO of American International Group, Jan. 11 as he accepted the Order of St. Maurice award from the National Infantry Foundation.
The OSM is awarded to those who have served the Infantry community with distinction, demonstrated a significant contribution in support of the Infantry and represented high standards of integrity, moral character, professional competence and dedication to duty.
Greenberg accomplished all of those feats during service in both World War II and the Korean War, and during his business career.
Greenberg credits his military experience with laying the groundwork for his business success.
My military experience really founded the whole background of my life, Greenberg said. The skills that I learned, leadership, and other things that were brought out, had all to do with my success. I learned very quickly in the military that you lead from the front, and you dont lead from any place else. And in business, it is the same thing.
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey presented Greenberg with the award during the ceremony, and lauded Greenbergs numerous accomplishments.
Hes been a tremendously creative and innovative business leader, probably the best of his generation, McCaffrey said. Hes an international figure of tremendous importance, particularly in working the Asian Pacific Rim. China, arguably the most important country in our future, hes in and out of there frequently advising them and trying to keep these two nations knitted together.
While Greenberg is known for his business accomplishments, his military career is what landed him the OSM nomination.
When presenting Greenberg with the award, McCaffrey addressed him directly to thank him for his service.
Today, were honoring you not just for your enormous contributions to America in terms of business and philanthropy, but more importantly, when you were a young man, and we needed you to fight, you did so, McCaffrey said.
Greenberg was mentioned in Tom Brokaws book The Greatest Generation, and McCaffrey said he was a good example of the young Americans who made up the generation that lived through the tough times of the Great Depression before fighting in WWII.
We had a 250,000-man Army in 1939 and five years later, 16 million young men and women stepped forward, with nearly a half-million of them killed or permanently damaged fighting a global conflict, and Mr. Greenberg was part of that age group, McCaffrey said. Its just astonishing to look at that generation, and Mr. Greenberg is just an example of what they did.
Greenberg enlisted in the Army at 17 after altering his birth certificate to make it appear as if he was 18.
During the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, Greenberg was part of a communications unit that was scheduled to land on Omaha Beach a few hours after the initial wave, but circumstances forced a redirection to another landing spot.
Those same circumstances forced Greenberg to become a rifleman, as his unit fought its way across Europe, eventually making its way to Dachau, Germany, just a day after the concentration camp was liberated.
After the war, Greenberg obtained a bachelors degree and a law degree before returning to active duty during the Korean War as an Infantryman.
His service in Korea earned him a Bronze Star.
In 1952, Greenberg started work in the insurance industry for Continental Casualty Company. At 34, he became the companys youngest vice president before he was hired to work at AIG, where he spent the rest of his career.
He succeeded Cornelius Vander Starr as chairman of AIG in 1968, and remained in that role until 2005.
Despite no longer actively overseeing AIG, Greenberg is still a very active figure in the business world.
Im traveling worldwide on an almost weekly basis, Greenberg said. Im building another insurance company, an investment organization and Im in and out of China on virtually a twice-a-month basis.
Greenberg has also remained involved with the military, as he made trips to both Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.
Not long ago, during the Iraq War, I went over and visited, and I visited with Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan a couple of times, and I was so proud of the men and women that we had, both in Iraq and in Afghanistan today, Greenberg said. They didnt have one complaint. They were all just as loyal and tough and aggressive as ever, and it reminded me off different times. It just made me so proud.
And, with his international business knowledge giving him perspective on global relations, Greenberg said the military is as important to America today as it has ever been.
Its a very difficult world that were in right now, Greenberg said. I think being militarily strong is important, and if we begin to lose that edge, well have problems. We will be tested again and again.