Pat Pace’s Veterans Day speech – Giving Thanks

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BRAWLEY – On November 11, Veterans Day, Brawley resident Pat Pace delivered a moving and inspirational speech to the attendees of the Veterans Day Memorial service at the Veterans Memorial Wall at Plaza Park.

Pace lost his son, Captain Scott Pace, who was killed in action this year in Afghanistan.

Paces’ eloquent words solidify the community of Brawley’s commitment of remembering all veterans past and present.

Their service and sacrifice to our country humble all of us who love this country.

If you see Mr. Pace please thank him and his wife, Cathy, for their family’s service and sacrifice to our great country.

We truly have a lot to be thankful for.

Here is his speech:

Veterans’ Day 2012

Veteran’s Memorial Wall, Plaza Park, Brawley, CA

            I am grateful this evening to be able to share some of my thoughts on Veterans.  I appreciate the words of Captain Jones.  Obviously he is a man who has devoted his life to serving our country.  He has expressed the sentiments of those who have served…in a way tonight he represents all of the veterans.  I come before you as one who has not served in the military, but certainly as one who is a beneficiary of that service by others.  So in a way I guess I am representing the nonveterans in extending appreciation and gratitude to all of you who have served.

            While I never did don the uniform, I have been closely affected by those who have.  The names of my two sons are inscribed on the granite wall here having served in the Army.  Our cousin served in Viet Nam.  He earned the bronze star for disarming a bomb.  With due humility, he explains that anyone who can “hotwire” a car could disarm one of their bombs. 

 

During World War II, my uncle was killed in the Philippines returning with MacArthur.   I never really understood my grandma’s gold star, until they gave me one…and now I do. 

 

Both of my grandfathers served in World War I.  One of them left a wife, a child and a ranch to lead the mules pulling the caissons and field artillery behind the awful trenches in France.   As children, my cousins and I used to play with his doughboy helmet running throughout the house with it bouncing on our heads… too young to realize that our presumed toy had protected the head of our grandfather.  Too naïve to treat that helmet with the respect it deserved for it had witnessed the horrors of the battles in the trenches, the razor wire, the pounding of the guns, the maiming, the death, the disease… and it had also witnessed the comradery of shared sacrifice, the courage, the bravery, the brotherhood manifest themselves in stark contrast to the surrounding destruction.   Yes, we were too immature not to toy with things we should have reverenced. 

 

  My wife’s ancestors served in the Civil War in that great effort to preserve the Union.  One of my great-great grandfathers served in the US Army of the West in the Mormon Battalion from 1846 to 1847 marching some 2000 miles from Nebraska to Los Angeles.  Although the Battalion never fought any battles, the trails it blazed provided the foundation for many of the interstate highways in the western US.  After their enlistments were up, some members of the Battalion worked at Sutter’s Mill and discovered gold, which started the rush propelling our great state in admission to the Union. 

 

 In the War of 1812, one of my triple great grandfathers was a Captain in the Light Horse Cavalry serving with the Tennessee Volunteers under General Andrew Jackson.  He was killed in the Battle of New Orleans.  We have a copy of a letter his widow wrote the War Department seeking a pension or some compensation.   We also have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, truly citizen soldiers who sacrificed nearly all for an idea, unique at its time that man could live free governing himself with no need for a king or dictator. 

            I share these stories of the veterans in my family, not because my family is special, but rather because my family is not special.  The stories of all of our veterans are the story of the American family.  Our veterans come from every village, town, and city across our nation.  They come from every creed, color, race, religion, ethnicity … all bound together by a common sense of duty, of love of country, of brotherhood,  of a cause greater than themselves.  One statesman put it that “America’s Veterans have served their country with the belief that democracy and freedom are ideals to be upheld around the world.”  (John Doolittle)

            And we all benefit from their service.  Perhaps the soldier poet says it best, in the poem “It is the Soldier”

It is the Soldier, not the minister Who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the Soldier, not the reporter Who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the Soldier, not the poet Who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier, not the campus organizer Who has given us freedom to protest.

It is the Soldier, not the lawyer Who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the Soldier, not the politician Who has given us the right to vote.

It is the Soldier who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag, And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protester to burn the flag.

©Copyright 1970, 2005 by Charles M. Province

 I ponder where these fine young men and woman come from who so ably serve our country.  No doubt they come from homes where they are taught the importance of duty, honor, work and sacrifice.  They come from schools where they are taught respect and the history of this noble experiment of America- a nation forged in liberty and independence, with freedom so that we can each pursue our own versions of happiness.  They come from communities and churches where they learn to love their neighbors, to care for others… at its most basic, they learn to serve.

Many such people find themselves in our military.  There they take an oath to uphold our Constitution.  They agree to live by certain principles.  An example is found in the Soldier’s Creed, it provides in part as follows:

“I am a Warrior and a member of a team.  I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.  I will always place the mission first.  I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.  I will never leave a fallen comrade.  I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough…I stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States…I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.  I am an American Soldier.” 

I am sure each branch of the service has a similar creed.  And I am grateful that we have those who will live these principles to defend and protect us.

I have observed that those in the military also have many traditions which are meaningful and significant for them.  If you ever go to a military ball, you will see an empty chair and place setting by itself in memory of some fallen comrade who should have been there.  For us nonmilitary folks that is a nice, touching memorial.  But if you look at each of the veterans here tonight, that is not just symbolic tribute; each of them knows someone who should be in that chair, who has paid the ultimate price.  The joy of the occasion broken for a moment by a tear shed for those they have lost.  

I mentioned earlier my two sons who served in the army.  They are both graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point.  As I followed their experiences at the Academy I was impressed by the traditions.  I would like to share some of them with you.  While some of those traditions may be unique to the Academy, I think many of the Veterans will find similar traditions that they experienced throughout the service. 

 

West Point is like going to school in a museum.  The flag flies from the mast of the Battleship Maine, blown up in Cuba at the start of the Spanish American War.  There are Civil War cannons buried with the nose in the ground signifying that brother will no longer fight brother.  There are statues of great Generals.  General MacArthur’s memorial bears inscriptions of his famous speech to the cadets on duty, honor, country.  There is Eisenhower Hall.  There is a larger than life statute of General Patton who graduated last in his class because he claimed he could never find the library.  His statute shows him in battle dress looking through his binoculars directly into the front door of the library. 

 

Inside the library are life-sized paintings of the two West Point Graduates, General Lee and General Grant, who led the Confederate and Union armies, respectively.  The paintings are on opposite walls so these two will forever face each other.   Another tradition is class rings, which began at West Point.  At the beginning of each school year, the seniors receive their class rings on Ring Weekend.   It is also a custom that many graduates provide in their wills that their class rings are donated back to the Academy.  Those rings are melted down and combined with the new gold to make the next set of class rings.  So every cadet’s ring has some gold in it from a former cadet who has died.  This is another way in which the long gray line continues.  There is a place in the West Point Library with a ring from each class.  By tradition, the first member of a class to die leaves his or her ring to the school to be forever a part of the ring exhibit in the library.

Also each year, the seniors participate in Branch Night, which is the time when they learn of their army branch like field artillery, infantry, engineers, signal corps and so on.  It is a night in which many cadets celebrate with cigars and such if they get their first choice of branches.  I remember Branch Night for my boys.  I remember Scott telling me afterwards he was in his room with his roommate, Greg Washington.  Some of you may have met Greg at Scott’s funeral, big good-looking kid.  Played linebacker on the Army football team, could have played in the NFL.  Scott was also an athlete playing Army basketball, team handball and sprint football.  The two jocks were both pleased having branched in combat arms, Greg went to the infantry and Scott went to combat aviation.  Greg’s girlfriend, Emily Perez, was also there.  She was a pretty cadet who ran track and graduated in civil engineering. 

 

 Remember this was 2005 and Iraq was quite hot at the time.  Emily went into a noncombat branch, Medical Services.  She was going to be a hospital administrator.  Scott told her that was good; she would always be safe behind the lines.  That spring the three graduated tossing their hats in the air, another tradition, then went on to further training:  Greg to the infantry, Scott to flight school, and Emily to learn medical services.  In 2006, Emily deployed to Iraq to help run a hospital.  One day she left to lead a convoy of wounded soldiers into the hospital.  She was in the lead humvee when it hit an IED.  Emily, the hospital administrator, was the first casualty of the Class of 2005.  Her ring now sits in the West Point Library representing her class. 

Scott told me that his words that she would always be safe, haunted him.  For in the military no one is truly ever safe.  All are at risk- from cook to sniper to tanker to clerk to pilot; all are in jeopardy.   They do so that we might be safe and enjoy our way of life.  We sleep peacefully because they are always there.  Protecting us from perils we may not even know threaten us.  So how do we thank them?  Words too often fall short.  Our thanks should be thanks in word and deed.  We should live worthy of the sacrifice our Veterans have made for us.  We should remember them always, not just on this day.  May we not forget to pray for our Veterans and for our troops.  May God continue to bless America and our veterans.