Pace Passes Along Combat Lessons to West Point Cadets
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 28, 2005 You could hear a pin drop as Marine Gen. Peter Pace told cadets at the U.S. Military Academy here about his experiences during the Vietnam War.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with cadets before dinner at the U.S. Military Academy dining facility, West Point, N.Y., on April 27. He visited the academy to share advice and lessons he learned while in combat. Photo by Staff Sgt D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was doing more than telling war stories to an appreciative audience on April 27. He was passing along hard-won lessons to young leaders who in all likelihood could find themselves in combat next year.
Pace, whom the president has nominated to be the next chairman, spoke to a class of seniors studying the Constitution and law. The cadets will graduate May 28.
"You have earned the right to start at the bottom," Pace told the cadets.
He told them that it has been 38 years since he was commissioned out of the U.S. Naval Academy. He said he was old enough to be their dad, but he felt more like their running partner. "When I graduated, there was a war going on. As you graduate, there is a war going on," he said.
As his graduation approached in 1967, he said he wondered if he had made the right choice to go into the Marines and worried about how he would perform in battle. "I presume that you are wondering about the same things," he said.
Pace said the cadets who go into combat will know fear. "There were times in my Marine Corps career in Vietnam that I wished that I could've crawled up in my helmet and waited for my mom to call me home from the schoolyard," he said. "If you feel fear, it is natural."
But the cadets must remember they "are in the world's best Army" and will have the best training, equipment and troops in the world. "When you look to your left and your right and you see your soldiers looking back at you for leadership, you will instinctively know exactly what you need to do right then," he said.
Pace said the soldiers want to follow their leaders. "They want you to be good," he said. "They will cling to leaders who care about them."
Pace said the worst thing a new lieutenant in combat can do "is get yourself killed."
He said getting killed "is the easiest thing to do" in combat. "As a leader, you will have to decide who does what in life-and-death situations," he said. It is easy for a new leader to just do it.
"It's easier to do it yourself than to send one of your soldiers out and watch him get killed doing what you told them to do," Pace said. "But you've got to worry about more than one soldier and all of your soldiers are looking to you for leadership.
"They will do whatever you tell them to do," he continued. "They do not want you to do it for them. They need to have you, lieutenant, on the radio calling in the fire support, giving the direction, telling them what to do. They'll go do it. They understand the risks."
If a new lieutenant gets killed then "you have taken away their leadership and in thinking that you were being self-sacrificing, you have really done damage to your unit."
Pace said he has remained on active duty because of the debt he owes to Marines he served with in Vietnam. Pace arrived in Hue City, South Vietnam, and became a platoon leader in Golf Company, 5th Marines. There were only 14 Marines in his platoon. Of the 158 Marines in Golf Company when he arrived, only three - including himself - were not wounded.
Pace said he can still remember the names and see the faces of the Marines whom he served with in Vietnam. "I never want to lose that," he said. "Under the glass on my desk is a picture of Lance Cpl. Guido Farinaro of Bethpage, N.Y., a 19 year-old corporal killed by a sniper. He was the first Marine I lost in combat. I keep his picture as a reminder that he and Lance Cpl. Chubby Hale, and Lance Cpl. Buddy Travers and Cpl. Mike Witt and Staff Sgt. Willie Williams and all the others died following 2nd Lt. Pace's orders. I can never repay that."
Farinaro's death taught Pace another lesson. "We were on patrol and my immediate reaction was one of complete rage," Pace said when the sniper killed his Marine. "I called in an artillery strike on the village from which the fire came."
Between the time he called in the mission and the time the guns were laid and ready to fire, his platoon sergeant, who was on his second tour in Vietnam, said nothing. "He just looked at me," Pace said. "And I knew I was wrong, and he was right, and I called off the artillery barrage."
The unit swept through the village like it should have and found nothing but women and children. "I tell you that because I ask you to think through who you are - check your moral compass - as you get closer and closer to go into combat," Pace said. "The time to decide whether or not you will do what I almost did ... is not when one of your soldiers gets shot.
"Because the waves of emotion that roll over you are so strong, that if you are not holding onto an anchor that you have already thought through, you can get swept away," he said. "Thanks to Sgt. - now Sgt. Maj. Retired - Reed B. Zachary, I did not get swept away."
Finally, the general spoke about the duty and "sacred trust" to take care of soldiers. "As I look back on 38 years, my desire to take care of my Marines was sincere," he said. "I didn't always do as well as I could have, or should have, but I tried."
And his Marines sensed that and responded to it, the vice chairman noted. They knew they could trust him and "because they knew I cared, they performed at a level beyond anything I ever could have demanded from them."
Pace thanked the cadets for their service and congratulated them on their upcoming graduation. He told them there isn't another profession where the chief executive officer or corporate vice president would want to switch places with the newest employees in the company. But in the military, "all of the general officers" would.
Pace told the cadets to take whatever assignments they have received and do the absolute best job they can. "Because on that path are soldiers who are looking to you to be their leader," he said. "And they deserve every ounce of leadership skill that you have, just as much as any other soldiers anywhere else in our Army."