Tough tour in Iraq won't dim Green's smile


When former Notre Dame basketball player Danielle Green told people she was going to marry Willie Byrd this year, there was talk that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea.p. She is 27. Byrd, the former Washington High School girls coach, is 58.p. “People said, `Don’t marry that old man,”’ Byrd said. "She said, `Hey, the only thing I hate is that I’m not as old as he is so we can grow old together.‘p. "She’s always said, `If you get sick, I’m going to take care of you and I know if I get sick, you’ll take care of me.’ She’s sick now, and I’m going to take care of her."p. When his telephone rang Tuesday, Byrd thought nothing of it. Green called every other day from Iraq. Her first words over that scratchy connection were, “You have to be strong.” Her next words were, “I’m alive.” Byrd had been looking for something more along the lines of “Hello” and “How are you?”p. While on duty on the roof of a Baghdad police station, Green was hit by what she believes was a grenade. She lost her left hand, the shooting hand that helped her score 1,106 points at Notre Dame. She also has significant damage to her left leg, a dislocated left shoulder and shrapnel wounds down the left side of her body.p. If anyone is equipped to handle the loss of a hand, Green is. This is a woman who made herself into a basketball player by trading elbows with boys on Chicago playgrounds. This is a woman who starred at Roosevelt High School, won a scholarship to Notre Dame and then had to deal with the culture shock of going from the Southeast Side to South Bend, Ind.p. People tried to talk her out of joining the Army 16 months ago, but her decision was made, her mind locked.p. “She always talked about the military,” Byrd said. "I was totally against it. But she’s a strong-willed person. She makes up her own mind. That’s what she was determined to do, and she did it.p. “On the telephone she’d always said, `Hey, I know every time I walk off this base on a mission, I might not ever come back.’ She was aware of the danger.”p. She went to Iraq in January as a military police officer. In April, she received an unexpected two-week furlough. She and Byrd had planned to get married later in the year, but they figured this would be the only opportunity during her 12-month deployment in Iraq. They were married in Las Vegas.p. Green had attended a camp with players from Byrd’s Washington teams in the early 1990s. Byrd said she hated him because he was so hard on the girls. It was hard to argue with his results. He retired from Washington in 2002 with a record of 230-73, two city championships and a runner-up finish in the 2000 state tournament.p. After graduating from Notre Dame in 2000, Green joined Byrd’s staff at Washington for two years. After he retired, she began coming to his house to watch Monday Night Football games. They started dating.p. “I’m 58 and she’s 27, and she found me,” Byrd said. “I never thought I would get married. I never had an intention in my life of getting married. She found me. She said, `Yeah, you’re going to be my husband.’ She made me her husband.”p. After about a month as an assistant at Chicago State in 2002, Green decided coaching wasn’t for her and joined the military.p. Her family and friends believe the same determination that has carried her through life will help her get through this. On Thursday, she told her husband that she had signed some papers with her right hand. It wasn’t a work of art, but it got the job done. She had more surgery Thursday in Germany and is expected to be flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington on Saturday.p. She already has told her grandmother that the only thing the injury means is that the coming-home party will start earlier than expected.p. In the meantime, a husband waits at home for his soldier. He expects her back whole, spirit and all.p. “She told me I’m going to handle it fine,” Byrd said. "I told her [Thursday] morning, `I’ve been good. I haven’t been crying. I’m not going to do that until I see you.‘p. "She said, `When you see me, you’re not going to be crying because I’m going to be smiling.’p. “What else can I say about her?”p.

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