October 2nd, 2006 04:08 EST
Pace Accepts Medal of Honor Society Award on Behalf of Military Families
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff turned an honor to him into a tribute to the families of American servicemembers during the Patriot Dinner of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society here yesterday.
The society presented Marine Gen. Peter Pace the Patriot Award. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society is made up of the men who have received the nation’s highest award for battlefield valor. They present the Patriot Award annually to “those persons, who through their life’s work, have distinguished themselves as Americans who are dedicated to freedom and the ideals represented” by the society.
More than 60 Medal of Honor recipients attended the society’s convention here this year. The men received their awards for extraordinary heroism on the battlefields of World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Brian Williams, the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News and emcee for the dinner, said the men represent more than valor. They also represent sacrifice and serving a cause greater than self. “This is probably the most notable gathering of men in New England since the Continental Army was formed,” Williams said.
Pace received the Patriot Award from Medal of Honor recipient Navy Capt. Thomas G. Kelley and from Society President Gary L. Littrell. “I want to accept this award on behalf of a very special group of Americans, and that is the families of our men and women who serve in the armed forces,” Pace said.
Pace gave the case for military families. “What I learned about families I learned in my own kitchen,” he said. “I learned from my family, and from watching so many others, some very basic truths about the American military family.”
He said that when servicemembers deploy overseas, they know when they are in danger. Besides, they are with superbly trained and equipped units that are capable of getting them through the battle. “If you’ve got to be in battle, there’s no place I’d rather be than in a company of Marines,” Pace said.
But families don’t have the luxury of knowing when their servicemembers are in danger. “Every day that we’re in combat, they think we are being shot at,” Pace said. “It’s an enormous strain on them.”
He said that if servicemembers are wounded in combat, the families help them recover. “And if we get awards, they stand in the background as if they had nothing to do with it,” he said. “And when we get tired, they dust us off and put us back in the fight and remind us how important it is to the nation. And when we get killed, they suffer for as long as they live.”
Pace said the children of military members often make the greatest sacrifices. “I had the great honor of standing next to a 12-year-old young man – David Smith,” the general said. He is the son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in the Battle for Baghdad in 2003.
“As I stood there in Washington, D.C., on the Mall paying respects to Gold Star families, and held that young man’s hand in mine, I was overcome with the sacrifice that he had already made for his country,” Pace said. “Our families, quite simply, serve this country as well as anyone who has ever worn the uniform.”
Pace told the men and their families that the United States is at war against a relentless and cruel enemy. “Since our inception as a nation, we have had to struggle for our freedom and every challenge has been met by American men and women who have stood tall,” the general said.
The 2.4 million men and women in uniform look to the past for their inspiration, Pace said. “We hope and pray in our hearts that if we are ever challenged, as you have been, that we could serve our nation just a fraction as well as you have,” he said to the Medal of Honor recipients.
Pace said the United States did not ask for this war. “There are enemies out there right now who would like to take the medals off those who proudly wear them and grind them into the dirt,” he said. “(There are enemies) who would like to ensure we could not gather together like this and celebrate their heroism. They want to tell us how to pray, how to dress, and they want to subjugate women.”
The enemy plan is to reestablish a fundamentalist caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia and then take down the free world. “There are 2.4 million Americans right now, who are here to say, ‘Not on our watch!’” Pace said. “And if somehow they get through that 2.4 million, there are 30 million veterans in this country they will have to deal with next and then there are at least 68 Medal of Honor recipients who will do what they did last time.”
Pace told the men that he was honored to accept the award on behalf of military families. He also assured the men that the legacy “we have inherited from the heroes in this room is cherished by” the men and women in uniform today. “As surely as Americans have had heroes in the past, there are heroes serving in uniform today that will ensure our nation endures,” he said.
After the dinner, Pace met with many of the Medal of Honor recipients. It also seemed that every Marine or former Marine in the Boston area attended the dinner in order to meet the heroes of the past and greet the first Marine to be appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band from Cherry Point, N.C., performed for the event, and Irish tenor John McDermott closed the dinner with “God Bless America.” The audience joined in – some with strong and true voices, others with voices lessened by age – but all standing straight and true.