Pace Thanks World War II Marines for Setting Standard for Today’s Troops
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
LOUISVILLE, Ky., Sept. 6, 2007 Marine Gen. Peter Pace last night thanked veterans of the storied 4th Marine Division who fought in Iwo Jima and other major World War II battles for setting the example for today’s troops and demonstrating why they’ll never fail in combat.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses the audience at the 4th Marine Division reunion at Louisville, Ky., Sept. 5, 2007. Pace was the keynote speaker at the national reunion. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Pace, the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanked members of the 4th Marine Division Association gathered here for their 60th reunion for preserving the freedoms he and other Americans were lucky to be born into.
The “Fighting Fourth” fought “incredible battles” in Roi-Namur, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima, Pace said. During 63 days of combat over the course of two years, the division suffered staggering casualties: 17,722 killed and wounded.
The unit’s perseverance through the bloody Pacific battles has become part of the heritage left to today’s Marines and an example for them to live up to, the chairman said.
He shared impressions from his visit earlier this week to Iraq, where he met with U.S. troops wearing the Marine Corps’ eagle, globe and anchor insignia “as proudly as you do and I do.”
“Allow me to report to you, very, very freshly, that your corps and the lance corporals and corporals and sergeants and second and first lieutenants and captains who make the decisions that make the difference are as good at what they do as you were at what you did,” Pace told the group.
“You can be proud of them. I sure am,” he said. “And I am happy to report to you as a fellow Marine that our corps is in great hands.”
Like the 4th Marine Division before them, today’s Marines are putting their lives on the line to protect the same freedoms, Pace said.
“And as you deserve every bit to be known as ‘the greatest generation,’ I honestly believe that these young Marines -- these 18- and 19- and 20-year-old Marines today -- will go down in history as another great generation that saved our country from a threat that is not yet fully understood for what it is,” he said.
Pace called current debate about whether the United States should be in a war at all “misunderstood.”
“We didn’t know we were in a war until Sept. 11, 2001, even though our enemy had declared war on us several years before,” he said. “As long as you have an enemy who is trying to destroy your way of life, you are in a war. If they are trying to kill you, you are in a war.
“So the discussion is not whether we are going to be in a war or not,” he said. “The discussion is about where we are going to stand and fight.”
Today’s troops know what’s at stake for their country as they stand and fight the war against violent extremism, Pace said.
They also understand the cost of their service to their families, their units and themselves.
Pace recalled the sense of fear he personally faced serving as a platoon leader in Vietnam. “Marines know fear,” he said. “But what we fear more than physical danger is that somehow we will let down the Marine on our left or the Marine on our right, or worse, that we will let down the heritage of our corps that we have inherited from those who have gone before us.”
The chairman thanked the 4th Marine Division members for their service to the country and the legacy they left to the Marines who have followed in their footsteps. “Thank you … for the strength, vigor, (and) vitality of your corps, because it is you who we do not want to ever let down,” he said.
Claire Chaffin, national president of the 4th Marine Division Association, praised Pace for recognizing the similarities between what he and his fellow Marines confronted in the Pacific during World War II and what troops are facing today in the Middle East.
“It was important that he drew a comparison between Marines of the Second World War who kept the enemy from our shores and paid tribute to the troops doing the same thing today,” he said.
A corpsman who joined the division at age 17 and fought in all four of its major battles, Chaffin said many of the tactics his unit used still serve as textbook examples for today’s troops.
But despite similarities, he said, there are striking differences between what his unit and today’s Marines face. “They don’t know the enemy. He can pat you on the back, then shoot you,” he said. “So in some ways, this is a very different kind of war.”
What’s remained constant, said Herb Hertensteiner of St. Charles, Mo., are the basic characteristics every Marine possesses -- whether they’re serving in Iraq today or served with the 4th Marine Division more than 60 years ago.
“Everyone knows his job, and they never forget who they are,” said 81-year-old Hertensteiner, who retired with 20 years in the Marine Corps. “I’m still a Marine. And no matter what happens, they’re Marines, too.”