Pace Recognizes Fallen Troops, Families at Chicago Memorial Day Events
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 28, 2006 The top U.S. military officer served as grand marshal of the country's biggest Memorial Day parade here yesterday, reminding some 125,000 spectators of the true cost of freedom.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Gen. Peter Pace acts as grand marshal for the Chicago Memorial Day parade May 27. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanked families of fallen troops who he said "continue to sacrifice for our country every day."
Pace joined Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn and other officials in walking the first blocks of the parade route before taking their place on the reviewing stand. From there, they watched as some 25,000 participants -- mostly military units and bands, veterans groups, and ROTC and Junior ROTC detachments -- paraded by, instruments blaring, arms saluting and flags waving.
Just before the parade, Pace met with 36 Illinois Gold Star Families, presenting 14 Gold Star flags to those who hadn't yet received them and participating in a wreath-laying ceremony at the city's Eternal Flame memorial.
"Today is a chance for us to stop as a nation and to think about the sacrifices that have been made by so many of our fellow citizens for over 230 years," Pace said. "We live as we live and we do the things we want and don't do the things we don't want to do because of the sacrifices of those who have gone before."
Pace paid tribute to veterans throughout the country's history who have "stood up and stood tall and sacrificed that we might have this today." Their legacy sets an example that today's servicemembers strive to live up to, he said.
Everyone who serves in combat understands fear, the chairman said. But even greater than the fear of personal harm is the fear "that somehow we would let down those men and women who have served our country before us," he said.
Memorial Day represents a time to remember and honor their sacrifice. "But equally important," Pace said, "is to remember that each of those who have sacrificed their own lives for this country have left behind families." The freedoms Americans enjoy today "have been bought, not only by those who died, but by those who lived," he said.
Pace addressed the Gold Star Families in the crowd, thanking them for all they have given for their country. "Each of those families has suffered a loss that none of us could truly understand," he said. "And we hope that in some way, that the nation stopping on days like today to reflect and to give pause to say thank you will somehow ease their pain and let them know we appreciate all they have done for us."
The chairman told the families he can never share the depth of their grief but knows all too well the pain of losing someone in combat. He named Marines who died in combat following his orders in Vietnam: Lance Cpls. Guido Farinaro, Chubby Hale and Whitey Travers, Cpl. Mike Witt, Staff Sgt. Freddy Williams, among them.
Their names are engraved in his heart, Pace told the group. "And each of you here, especially the Gold Star families, have names burned on your hearts," he said. The young men and women represented by those names "deserve our respect and our admiration and deserve to be remembered by us every day," he said.
Chicago's mayor joined Pace in urging residents of the Windy City to recognize the Gold Star Families who have lost sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and best friends. "(Memorial Day) symbolizes the history of this country," he said, and reminds Americans of the cost of democracy.
Memorial Day also offers a time "to reflect on those who are serving today all over the world in order to protect democracy and in order to fulfill the rights of people who want democracy," he said.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. John Borling, co-chairman of the wreath-laying ceremony and parade, called Chicago's Memorial Day events a tribute to the sacrifices servicemembers have made throughout the country's history. "It's meant to reaffirm our basic American values as we honor the nation's war dead as well as their families who continue to sacrifice," he said.
"It honors the sacrifices of those who have gone before us to ensure our rights and freedoms," said Marine Col. Lon Yeary, commander of the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command, headquartered here. "And at the same time, it raises the American people's awareness of what is still going on today to ensure they continue to enjoy those freedoms."
While honoring the millions of Americans who have given their lives for their country throughout its history, Memorial Day also serves as "a reminder to the public about the cost of the liberties and freedoms Americans enjoy because of what we do," said Navy Rear Adm. Gary Jones, commander of Naval Service Training Command and Navy Region Midwest. "It's a reminder that freedom isn't free and never has been, and that they don't have to worry because we have a force that has volunteered to serve at a time of war and wants to serve."
Earlier in the day, Pace visited Chicago election commissioner Theresa Petrone, a veterans-rights champion and longtime organizer of Chicago's Memorial Day parade, at her hospital bedside. There, Pace presented her the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's behalf. "Thank you for all you have done, not just for the citizens of Chicago, but for the nation and for our servicemembers around the world," the chairman said.
Men and women in uniform serving around the world get a big morale boost just knowing that the people of Chicago are expressing appreciation of their service through the annual Memorial Day Parade, Pace told Petrone. "You've had an impact on people that's probably far greater than you could realize," he said.
Chicago Alderman James Balcer, Petrone's son and a former Marine, thanked Pace for recognizing her contributions. He expressed frustration that to many Americans, Memorial Day has become a day of clothing sales and other activities that lose sight of its real meaning.
"Here in Chicago, we have really tried to make it a sacred and solemn day," he said. "We have men and women fighting and dying for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan and making the ultimate sacrifice. It's important that we remember them and remember their families, too, because they are suffering."