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Your Last Day In Fallujah

A Word About Marine General Peter Pace

For those not keeping score, Marine General Peter Pace has been selected to take over for Air Force General Richard Myers as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  This is the first time in our history that the Armed Forces will be led by a Marine. I've received a lot of email about General Pace's selection.

It's been an interesting mix - mostly from Marines and Army friends. 

The Marines guardedly worry about how the Soldiers feel about it.  One of my good friends in the Marines thought he was actually softening the blow after the announcement was made. For me, it's "Oorah!" and "Huah!".

My Army friends wonder if General Pace will try to be "too Joint" (cowtowing to the other, gentler services)  and not add enough "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy" mentality to the Armed Forces.  Many senior Army Officers that I know sincerely hope that Pace will put some "kick ass" back into the Pentagon's mindset.  I do, too.

Many of my Marine friends are surprised by my satisfaction that we will have a Marine as Chairman.  It might have to do with my Airborne career more than anything else.  The Army's Airborne (Paratroopers) and the Marine Corps have a lot in common.  The Marines mostly are light infantry who attack from the sea - with the Navy delivering and supporting them.  The Airborne are light infantry that attack from the sky - with the Air Force delivering and supporting them.

Once both hit the ground, they are essentially dependent on light weapons, their physical prowess and speed, and their ability to think on their feet and adapt to the situation. 

The Airborne and the Marines know that all hell will break loose upon landing.  The Paratroopers depend upon the tenet of LGOPs.  "Little Groups of Paratroopers" - because every combat jump is a mess (paratroopers can be scattered during a drop in good weather over North Carolina) - who band together on the drop zone, regardless of unit or function, and acheive an objective.   "All the way!"

The Marines tend to operate in the same way. 

I know that some Marines and Paratroopers won't be happy with that analogy, but, basically, it's on target with a few exceptions.

Perhaps that's why I am happy about General Pace as Chairman.  Then, here's what he had to say yesterday at a ceremony marking the 35th anniversary of the Battle for Hue City.  If you want to know what kind of man Peter Pace is, read on:

GENERAL PETER PACE- Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff [now nominated to be Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff] Extemporaneous Remarks as delivered at the USS HUE CITY'S 11th Annual Memorial Service marking the 35th Anniversary of the Battle for Hué

Mayport, Florida
2 February 2003

Captain Young, to you and to your magnificent crew, thank you. Not only for the extraordinary hospitality that you have given to all of us here, but also for all that you do with your ship of the line to protect U.S. interests around the globe. And it's great to see you're back in the water. And in April when you get back to the sea, it's going to be with the same professionalism and spirit this ship has exhibited since it was christened on 21 July 1990. Admiral, Captains, Colonel Al Colter, and to all of you who are here today:

I've given a lot of speeches along the way and I don't get intimidated very easily anymore. But today is one of those days where my heart is pounding a little harder than it normally does because I need to find the right words. And also because I know there's Italian blood in my body that will rush to my heart, and it's going to be a contest whether my brain gets to rule or my heart gets to rule while I'm speaking to you. So if I slow down a couple of times while I'm up here just bear with me.

First of all, you should know the ground rules of who Pete Pace is. I am here in pride as an observer of those who fought in Hue City, not with pride as a participant because by the time I got there all the hard work was already done. And we should not forget that, if you study military history you know that attacking forces normally like to have a ratio of about three good guys to about one bad guy if you're going to attack. In the case of Hué City, about 2,500 U.S. servicemen, mostly Marines, attacked 11,000 N.V.A. (North Vietnamese Army) in a well-defended city...and kicked their butts. But I can say that because I wasn't a part of it. It would be inappropriate if I had been and said it that way. But to get there, and to join that magnificent group, I graduated from the Naval Academy and went on to The Basic School like all Marine officers do, and I got trained up to go to Vietnam.

If you recall, those of you who were alive back then, in the winter of '67-'68 there was a huge blizzard on the East Coast. And that blizzard closed down training at Quantico. And it happened to be at a time when we were supposed to learn how to fight in cities. "Not doin' it," one instructor said. "Have to learn how to fight in a tight space. And, so it's unfortunate that you're going to miss this training. But if you have to fight in a city, we'll train you up for that before you go."

So off I went to Vietnam. And I still didn't know I was going to go to "Two/Five." So I got into Da Nang and got on a cattle car, which is basically a big old tractor-trailer truck that had seats in it. And it had seats in the middle, and it had seats on the outside. So I sat on the outside, and I was across the way from a major who looked at me and said, "This is your first tour in Vietnam, isn't it?"

And I said—and I'm wearing my gold bars—and I said, "Yes, sir. It is."

He said, "You know how I know?"

And I said, "Other than my rank, sir?"

He said, "Yeah, see, the veterans sit on the inside so the guys that sit on the outside can take the bullets."

So this is good. This is day one, and I'm saying to myself, "I'm already dead."

Found out I was going to "Two/Five." Still didn't know what the words "Two/Five" meant. Just knew that I was going to be proud to be part of that great, great unit. Got up to Phu Bai, and then I started realizing that Phu Bai was close to Hué and that all that stuff I'd been reading about in the papers was about to become part of my life. Then-Major O. K. Steele, who is now a retired Major General in the Marine Corps, who was the battalion XO (executive officer), said, "Come on. We're gonna' go." And we got in a jeep. He's in the front seat. We had a driver. We had a guy in the back with a rifle and me, and we take off for Hué City. So we drive from Phu Bai to Hué City with one jeep.

And I'm saying to myself, "OK, I didn't die in Danang; I am going to die en route to Hué City." I didn't obviously. When I got there, my platoon was Steve Hancock's platoon. Steve's here. And instead of 43 Marines, it had 14. Fourteen. I was the third platoon commander in as many weeks. And I learned from those Marines so very much.

But before I get to that, I would ask that all of you who fought in Hué City to stand or raise your hand if you cannot stand.

They're my heroes. These are men from various backgrounds: white men, and black men, and Hispanic. Some volunteers, mostly volunteers, but some draftees back then. Some were there because they thought the war was right; some didn't think the war was right, but they were there to serve their country. All were there fighting for their country. But in the final analysis, when it came down to the battlefield itself, it was a very, very different construct.

It's not that Marines do not know fear. In fact, if you show me a Marine who does not know fear then I'll show you a Marine I don't want to be anywhere near on the battlefield. There were many nights where I wished I could get my body tucked up inside my helmet and just wait for a while. But like every other Marine, when I looked around at the eyes of my fellow Marines, I knew that they were depending on me. We did what Marines do: we got up and got the job done. Because Marines do have fear in combat -- but more than that we feared that somehow we would let our fellow Marines down in battle, and somehow we would not live up to the wonderful heritage that we have received from those who proceeded us, and what an honor it was for us to write one or two more pages in the passages of the history of the Corps.  There are several Marines who are not with us today whose names I repeat to myself every day: Guido Farinaro, Chubby Hale, Whitey Travers, Mike Witt, Fred Williams, Little Joe Arnold, John Miller. Those men trusted me. They trusted me as their lieutenant. And in doing what I asked them to do, they did not come home. Because of them and because of the men in this room, I am still on active duty. Because I owe a debt that I can never repay. And for them to die and for so many others to be wounded, and for me not even to receive a scratch in 13 months, I thought it was a message from God that I was supposed to do something for Him...and for them. So I've never, ever, had a doubt in my mind that I was supposed to stay on active duty.

But I tried when I left Vietnam to repay. So I got to my next duty station and was fortunate enough to get another platoon, and I tried to give to those Marines what I could no longer give to the Marines I'd lost in Vietnam. And a funny thing happened: the more I tried to give to the folks I worked with, the more they gave me. So there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that by trying to repay, I received much more than I could have ever given. And that when that lieutenant, or captain or major whose last name was "Pace" made a mistake—which I made a lot of—those guys who were with me made me look a whole lot better than I deserved to look. In trying to repay in one unit, more Marines would do great things and I would owe more to more people. And I am now, after 30-almost-six years, hopelessly behind and terribly in debt. But it is why I continue to serve, and why I never question what job it is I am asked to do…because somebody else didn't have that chance. I'm just honored and delighted to have the opportunity to continue to serve.

Being a General is fun. I just thought I'd tell you that. And when they play "Honors," and "Ruffles and Flourishes" ... it makes me feel good. But, when one of these men in this audience comes up to me with a beer in his hand and says, "Hey, Lieutenant"...that's an honor. This is an amazing country. My dad was born in Italy. His son is the Vice-Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff. You can't do that anyplace else in the world. The reason we can do it is because of battles like Hué City. And many have gone on before that, and many are still to come. Today a lot of our sons and daughters are steaming toward harm's way. We all hope they will not have to fight. We all know that if they do have to fight, they will do what American service men and women have always done, which is deliver for our country.

What I need to tell you is that I have not forgotten what I learned 35 years ago from the men in this room. And as I discharge the duties of my present job, every day I ask myself, "If this war were to start tomorrow, what is it that you, General, should have done to ensure that PFC Pace or PFC Jones, or whoever is out there, has the support that he or she deserves?" I promise you men who have given me the life that I have been living, that I will not betray all you have done. And that as best I can, I will serve you and your sons and your daughters.

This is a great day. Just to renew friendships, and to make some new friends. And again to the crew of Hué City, thank you, for the magnificent way in which you take care of your ship and our ship. And we know that if you do go into harm's way that you will do it magnificently as Navy men have always done. Captain Young, you all were kind enough to say that you were honored to have me here today. The truth is that I'm honored to be here and to have this additional opportunity to say thank you to the great men in this room who've earned more than I could ever give, thanks to everyone. End