The Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho once said, “If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal.” Doug Greenlaw lives by this mantra. He’s planning on climbing Mount Everest this spring and is scheduled to cross-country ski from Norway to the North Pole in 2020. The year after that, he will explore some of the most isolated and dangerous parts of Honduras. And in the meantime, he will continue to serve as national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. At 74, Doug Greenlaw’s life is anything but routine.
As a kid growing up on the east side of Chicago, Doug could have followed the herd and spent his life working in one of the area’s many steel mills. But Doug’s mother had other plans. “She decided that I needed to go to college and not go to the mills,” Doug says. “I went to Indiana University and did poorly for two years. So I quit college and joined the Army, and that’s the best thing I ever did.” The military gave Doug the structure and discipline he needed. It also sent him to Vietnam at the height of the war. “I was an old man at 23,” he says. “I was a first lieutenant company commander in charge of 158 men. The guys in my company were 18 and 19 years old. If they were not grown men when they got there, they were grown men when they got home, if they got home. I was wounded gravely in April of ’68. It was going to be an ambush in an ancient bamboo forest, and the point man tripped a trip wire. I had my throat slit, a compound fracture in my right leg, lost my left kneecap, and a piece of bamboo nailed my left arm to my chest. I was thrown onto a resupply helicopter, which saved my life because I would have bled out in that forest.” Doug was awarded a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts for his service.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career. The Army taught me how to be a good businessman.”
Back in the States, Doug finished college and took a job as an ad salesmen for a rock radio station in Indianapolis. Then he moved from radio to television and from Indianapolis to New York, where he became president of sales and promotional marketing for MTV Networks. “I rode the cable wave,” he says. “MTV started in ’81. I got there in ’85 and stayed until ’92. Then in ’94, I was recruited to be president of Multimedia, which was a company in Greenville.” In ’96 Gannet purchased Multimedia for $2.1 billion. After that, Doug served as CEO of Switchboard, Inc., an Internet-based merchant network, where he took the stock price from $1 per share to $7.25. “I’ve been very fortunate in my career,” he says. “The Army taught me how to be a good businessman.”
Doug is now using his business experience to reorganize the Purple Heart Foundation, the money-raising arm of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The organization helps combat-wounded veterans through a framework of local chapters. “All combat-wounded veterans have PTSD to some degree,” Doug says. “I’ve got a little bit, but some vets have so much they can’t even live a life. One hundred percent of the money we raise goes to helping these vets any way we can.”
The position of national commander requires a lot of attention and a lot of stamina, something Doug seems to possess in spades. “It’s good to be in shape,” Doug says. “I work out five days a week, and I actually give talks about embracing life and aging healthy. I started climbing mountains in my sixties because it’s something older people can do. I began with Kilimanjaro and then climbed Aconcagua in Argentina. When I climb Everest, I’ll be 75, which will make me the oldest man in U.S. history to climb that mountain.” When asked about the risks of such expeditions Doug insists he will be fine. “It’s like when I was wounded in Vietnam,” he says. “I knew I wasn’t going to die. I was 23. I was an iron man.” Fifty years later, he still is.