Pace Comes Full Circle With Visit to Unit He Served With in Vietnam
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KARMAH, Iraq, Sept. 5, 2007 The building housing Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, here, doesn’t look like much: a brick three-story building surrounded by sandbags.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace meets with U.S. Marines of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, in Fallujah, Iraq, Sept. 4, 2007. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Generators hum outside the building, and a fine layer of dust settles over everything. Sandbags fill the window frames, and Marines in combat overalls and “full battle rattle” man guard towers and outposts.
But to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff it looks like his military home.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace visited this outpost here yesterday to speak with Marines who figuratively walk in boots he once wore.
Pace’s first assignment in the Marine Corps was as the platoon leader of Golf Company’s 2nd Platoon. As he winds down a 40-year military career that has taken him to the pinnacle of military leadership, Pace wanted to visit the unit he started with during the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam.
Pace joined the platoon in February 1968 during the Battle of Hue City. He was the platoon’s third second lieutenant in as many weeks.
The chairman met with the platoon he once commanded in a workout area. On the door leading inside was a sign saying: “Leave the dumbbells in the rack. If you don’t, the 1st Sgt. will kill you.” Marines sat on equipment and listened to the four-star general talk about the reason for his visit. “When I found out Golf 2/5 was in-country at this time, I wanted to come see you,” Pace said.
Earlier, Pace had said how the visit would be a “bookend” for his Marine career.
Pace told the Marines that when he started in Golf 2/5 in Hue only 14 Marines were left in the platoon. A Marine platoon normally has about 50 personnel. “We had 158 Marines who went into that city, and three of us came out without being wounded,” he said.
“You are maintaining one hell of a tradition of guys who know how to fight and get the nation’s job done,” he told the Marines. “This is selfish of me to be here. I wanted you all to be the last unit I was with. I started out 40 years ago, and my first unit in combat was Golf 2/5, 2nd Platoon, and I wanted it to be my last.”
Pace turns over the chairmanship Oct. 1 to Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen. He told the Marines here that the day before the ceremony he will have the Marines of 2nd Platoon with whom he served in Vietnam to his house. “If you saw them today, you would see middle-aged fat guys, but I see heroes, just like you are,” he said. “I’ll have a great time telling them about you, just as I am having a great time telling you about them.”
Pace said he learned so much from the lance corporals, corporals and sergeants of the platoon. “When I went to Vietnam, the easiest thing for me to do would have been to do every tough job myself,” he said. “The hardest thing in a fire team is to order Marines to do something when you know that there is a high probability of them getting killed.”
The Marines who followed 2nd Lt. Pace’s orders who were killed in combat will remain “forever young in my mind,” he said. “They were your age,” he said looking around at the Marines, some of whom look like they don’t have to shave regularly. “I got out of Vietnam without even a scratch as platoon leader and then operations officer. Guys to the left of me getting shot, guys to the right getting blown up, and nothing happened to me at all.
“I made a promise back then that I would continue to serve in the Corps in their memory and try to do my job out of respect for them,” he continued.
The general said that when he retires at the end of the month, “I will still owe the Marines of 2nd Platoon, Golf Company, more than I can ever repay.”
He motioned to the Marines sitting around him. “You represent to me 40 years of continuity,” he said. “You are 40 years of Marines who just go out and get the job done. I can’t tell you how proud I am of you.”
Pace presented 2nd Lt. Chad Cassady, the platoon leader, with a K-Bar, the famous Marine fighting knife, emblazoned with the seal of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Cassady has been platoon leader since October. He took the platoon to Ramadi and now to Karmah.
The platoon has had hot moments, but Cassady said he feels progress he has seen in Iraq since his last deployment in 2004 makes it worth the efforts. “The area is getting better,” he said. “There are more buildings, more people, more traffic.”
The platoon’s Marines work with Iraqi police and Iraqi citizens to help secure the area, and they are making progress, the lieutenant said. “These are the hardest working group of Marines in the Corps,” Cassady said.
Pace told the Marines that the bonds they are forging will stay with them. “Forty years from now, you will remember these officers’ names and they will remember yours,” he said. “A lot of stuff is going to happen between then and now, and most it will be a blur. But you’ll remember this, and you’ll remember each other.”
Pace said he appreciated the chance to visit his first unit at the end of his career. “I don’t know of a general officer or an admiral who would not immediately come back to the junior ranks and start all over again,” Pace said outside the company headquarters.
“This is because it’s at the junior level, the company level, where you get to be the closest to your men,” he continued. “You know their first names, their middle initials, their family members, if they are married or not, the names of their kids, and you have experiences that you share with nobody else.”
That camaraderie and closeness is special to the general. “I’d come back here in a heartbeat,” he said. “I envy this platoon leader his time here with these Marines.”
The general said it was important for him psychologically to see these young Marines. The unit was the last stop in a trip through Afghanistan and Iraq to say thank you to American servicemembers who are at the sharp end of the war on terror. He told the Marines about an 82nd Airborne Division soldier he met in Afghanistan. “He had heard me say how I was ending 40 years of service,” Pace said. “When he came by to shake my hand he told me, ‘Sir, thank you very much for your service. We’ve got it from here.’
“As I look at you, that’s spot on,” he continued. “You have taken it and are taking it from here. Forty years from now, other great Marines will be taking it on someplace else. I’m just proud to have had the opportunity to serve our Corps, our country. I will miss this, and I will miss you. But I’m damn proud of the time I’ve had being a United States Marine.”