Pace Presents Purple Hearts to Eight Soldiers at Mount Vernon
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MOUNT VERNON, Va., Oct. 11, 2005 It's the oldest military decoration in America and no one wants to receive it.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks about the sacrifices of wounded servicemembers and family members and thanks them for their service during a Purple Heart ceremony honoring eight wounded soldiers at Mount Vernon, Va., Oct. 11. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Sean P. Houlihan, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
The U.S. military awards the Purple Heart to men and women wounded or killed in action. Eight soldiers undergoing treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center received the award here today at the home of the man who instituted it in 1782 - George Washington.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, presented the medal to eight soldiers wounded in action in Afghanistan and Iraq: 1st Lt. James Stravers, 2nd Lt. Frank Washburn, Staff Sgt. Kevin Holleman, Sgt. Jonathan P. Herst, Spc. Sean Taylor, Spc. James Whatley, Pfc. Randy Jones and Pvt. Terry Rodgers.
Pace said it was appropriate that this was the first public ceremony he and Gainey participated in since assuming their offices. "It sends the right message and that is simply 'thank you' to the eight soldiers sitting here in front of us, and to all those hundreds of thousands of servicemembers serving the country as we sit here in the comfort of this hall," Pace said.
Pace told the family and friends of those at the ceremony that there are similarities between George Washington's time and today. He said that when Washington left Mount Vernon to take command of the Continental Army in 1775, he did not know how long he would be gone or how long his task would take. "It lasted eight years," Pace said. "We don't know how long this struggle will last, but like General Washington and his soldiers, we will stay with it as long as it takes."
Pace said today's soldiers and their Revolutionary brothers in arms volunteered to serve. "And just like 230 years ago, the reason they volunteered was for love of country and the desire to have their children and grandchildren grow in freedom," Pace said.
The chairman said that when the eight soldiers signed up for the Army, they did not have "all the lofty high ideals" in their mind. "But the fact of the matter is that they are volunteers. They have sacrificed for their country and our country and like so many other soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen they have freely given more than anyone in command could ever demand," he said.
Pace looked directly at the soldiers and thanked them for their service and their sacrifices. "We all wish that you had not been wounded," he said. "We are all eternally grateful that you served the country and in being wounded have provided protection for all of us here at home and for freedom for so many millions in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Pace said the soldiers are heroes who "offered to give their lives for this country. No one can ask anything more."
The soldiers and their families traveled down the Potomac River from a Washington pier to Mount Vernon aboard two boats: the USS Sequoia and the R and R. The Sequoia served as the presidential yacht starting with President Hoover in 1931 until it was sold in the Carter administration.
Former Washington Redskins football players including Andre Collins, George Starke, Phillip Daniels, Darryl Grant joined the soldiers. At Mount Vernon, Ruth's Chris Steak House fed the soldiers and their families, who also received a tour of the mansion and grounds courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.