President Confers Medal of Freedom on Former Joint Chiefs Chairman Pace
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 19, 2008 President Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to retired Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace during a White House ceremony today. Video
Bush honored Pace with the highest civilian award the United States can bestow for a career that went from the streets of Hue City, Vietnam, to the halls of power in Washington.
Pace retired as the 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in October. He was the first Marine to serve in the position.
During today’s ceremony, Bush said one of his greatest privileges as president is to meet servicemembers.
“I’ve been inspired by their valor, selflessness and complete integrity,” he said to an audience that included Vice President Richard B. Cheney and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “I found all those qualities in abundance in General Pete Pace.”
Bush called Pace a “skilled and trusted advisor” as the United States fought two wars. Pace helped transform the military into a more effective and efficient force in America’s defense, the president said.
Pace was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to an immigrant father who often worked two or three jobs, the president said. Pace attended the U.S. Naval Academy, and as a newly minted Marine he arrived in Vietnam at the height of the Tet Offensive. He was assigned to a platoon that had lost three leaders in as many weeks.
“He won the respect and trust of his unit and formed a bond with all those who served with him,” Bush said. “That bond only strengthened throughout his military career.”
Pace performed his duties throughout his 40-year career “with a keen intellect, a sharp wit and a passionate devotion to our country,” the president said. “He won the admiration of all who knew him, and that includes a soldier in Afghanistan who came up to him last year … and said simply, ‘Sir, thanks for your service. We’ll take it from here.’”
The president said that on Pace’s final day in uniform, the general went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“He searched the names engraved in sleek granite and then found a spot where he placed the four stars that adorned his uniform,” Bush said. “Along with his four stars, he attached notes addressed to the men who had died under his first command four decades ago. The notes said, ‘These are yours, not mine. With love and respect, your platoon leader, Pete Pace.’
“General Pace ended his military career the same way he began it: with love for his country and devotion to his fellow Marines,” Bush said.
The president also conferred the medal on five other notable Americans: Dr. Benjamin S. Carson Sr., a pioneering pediatric neurosurgeon who became director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins at age 33; Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, an immunologist and leading researcher on HIV/AIDS and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress; Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami and secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration; and Laurence H. Silberman, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and co-chairman of the Iraq Intelligence Commission.