If you were to read about Douglas Greenlaw’s career and life on his website, you would see that the U.S. Army war hero and business executive has been on several adventures and is passionate about seeing the world from the top of mountains and from places most people wouldn’t travel to. At the bottom of his About page, you would see that he was a part of a group that went to the North Pole in 2022. He even has a place for a trip to the South Pole that is scheduled for 2023.
He’s almost 80 years old.
“I have a curiosity about life.”
That curiosity and physical fitness to take part in those adventures can be traced back to his childhood. Greenlaw described his young self as “super energetic” when he was growing up in the steel mill area of Chicago, Illinois. His father worked in one of those mills and young Douglas would work there for a stint during his teenage years. The work was far from easy for a full adult, yet Greenlaw would work double shifts during the summer while the regular workers took their vacations.
“That will teach you what work is all about. It encouraged me to get educated so I could get out of there.”
He didn’t have to worry about finding a way out of there because the United States Army drafted him in 1965 during his college baseball career at Indiana University. While serving a two-year commitment, he applied for Officer Candidate School with the intention of making a career out of service.
Unfortunately for him, that career would be cut short in his third year of service due to injuries he suffered in a catastrophic incident during the Vietnam War. While walking through a bamboo jungle, a wire was tripped that was connected to an artillery shell. Everyone in Greenlaw’s group was impacted.
“I actually died on the battlefield,” he recalled. “I flatlined because my left carotid artery was nicked. I also had a huge gaping hole in my throat.”
Greenlaw had also suffered a fractured right leg and lost his left kneecap, on top of several other wounds. He also had a piece of bamboo that went through his arm to his chest.
“I was a mess. A Catholic priest gave me my Last Rites, and that was the last thing I remember.”
He was picked up by helicopter and a medical team was able to bring him back. He was transferred full speed ahead to an M.A.S.H. unit for emergency surgery, where they were able to stop the bleeding and keep him alive.
“A lot of things fell into place the right way to save my life.”
Even though he recovered, Greenlaw was medically discharged from service as a result of his injuries, but the effects went far beyond that. He acknowledged Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder being one of them, but another became a new absence of fear, which he didn’t expect.
“One may think it’s good, but it’s not,” he admitted. “Fear can be a good thing to have. I wish I had it, but I don’t.”
Greenlaw didn’t end his military career the way he wanted to, but he’s a decorated veteran as a result of his commitment, including receiving a Purple Heart. He would eventually go on to serve as the National Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart from 2018 to 2019. He also found new challenges to take on both personally and professionally, including in the business world. Among the companies he led are Whittle Communications, Channel One News, and Switchboard, Inc. He may be best known for his work as President of Sales and Promotional Marketing for MTV Networks. Yes, the MTV that used to be known as Music Television. He also was a co-founder of Community Journals and was President/COO of Multimedia, Inc.
“I was a no B.S. guy, and I rose up through the ranks to serve in CEO roles.”
He also was passionate about fitness and going on adventures. Throughout his years, he has been on multiple wilderness backpacking trips and was looking for the next mountain to climb, literally. He has reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Aconagua. Kilimanjaro may be the more famous mountain, but he was prouder of Aconagua.
“It’s a lot higher than Kilimanjaro. It’s also more challenging than Mt. Everest, but it isn’t as high,” he explained. He also shared why he takes these personal challenges on.
“I had a great appreciation of life since my injury. Being in combat alone can change your life forever. I also have a good wife that puts up with all my antics. We’ve been married 52 years, and we’re very happily married now. We both have veto power, but neither of us have used it.”
Greenlaw stays in shape by working out with weights, which he has done since his parents bought him a weight set when he was 12 years old. Even when he was in the military, he described the obstacle course he had to complete as “fun.” He also plays golf and is a 9 handicap.
“I’ve always been in good shape.”
Greenlaw hopes to see young Americans choose to focus on fitness and consider military service in their futures. He feels that the guidance, discipline, and commitment to country could set them up for even greater success later in life, whether they serve short commitments or make it a long career like he intended.
“I’m always talking it up to kids.”
He also has faith that this generation is more than capable of impacting the country in a positive way for generations to come. He saw this firsthand during a luncheon where he spoke with an estimated 300 recruits. He has also spent a lot of time with teenagers for another project.
“I’ve been a student of the youth since my MTV days. I followed them then, and I follow the youth today, specifically 13-16 years old this year. I’ve analyzed these kids for an upcoming book, and Gen Zer’s are amazing. They will be great soldiers if and when they join.” More information about Greenlaw can be seen at www.douglasgreenlaw.com. Follow Greenlaw on X @douglasgreenlaw and on LinkedIn.