Pace Thanks Heroes in Massachusetts

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WORCESTER, Mass., Oct. 16, 2006 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commonwealth's senior U.S. senator offered a heartfelt "thank you" to the military community during a tribute concert awash in patriotism and pageantry here last night.

Against a backdrop of American flags, Marine Gen. Peter Pace expressed gratitude to more than 400 Gold Star family members in the audience of nearly 1,500 gathered at Mechanics Hall for the "Memorial Concert and Tribute to Today's War Heroes." The "Gold Star" designation indicates that a family member has been lost in service to the country.

"There are no words any of us could possibly choose that could lessen your pain," Pace said. He had visited earlier with Gold Star family members and former prisoners of war.

The chairman also acknowledged the contributions of two Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean War, and 26 ex-POWs representing U.S. conflicts from World War II to the present.

"To the two Medal of Honor recipients and 26 (prisoners of war) who were introduced earlier: Thank you for showing those of us who serve today how to serve," he said. The honorees, he added, "exemplify all that all of us who serve today hope that we might ourselves show and do."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy expressed similar sentiments, invoking the memory of his brother, the nation's 35th president.

"We're gathered here today to pay tribute to each and every one of those who serve in our armed forces, heroes all," Kennedy said. "Their devotion to duty is beyond question, and their valor proven. President Kennedy would call each of them a profile in courage.

"May their examples constantly enrich our own lives. May they inspire us to face our own challenges with similar skill and determination," he added. "We owe our heroes nothing less."

The POWs at the event collectively had been confined for more than 70 years, retired Marine Gen. P.X. Kelley, 28th commandant of the Marine Corps and the event's master of ceremonies, said. Several of the former POWs from the Vietnam era had each been held for more than six years before being released.

All 2.4 million American servicemembers and their families received special recognition from the chairman.

"When we go off to combat, our families wait at home and pray that we're safe," Pace said. "For those of us who are fortunate enough to return, our families stand in the back when we receive awards. And when we get tired, our families dust us off, and put us back again to the fight.

"Our families serve this country as well as any (veteran), he added.

The evening also included tribute to war correspondents. Melanie Bloom, widow of NBC correspondent David Bloom, who died in April 2003 while covering the war in Iraq, was one of several family members and colleagues representing six war correspondents who have lost their lives in the global war on terrorism.

Overall a highly patriotic program, the tribute was emotional and at times lighthearted. John McDermott, one of the original Irish tenors, and Dan Clark, known as "The Singing Trooper," kept eyes moist with renditions of, among others, "We'll Meet Again," and "American Soldier," respectively. Comedian Norm Crosby, a Massachusetts native, injected humor into the proceedings, even taking a jab at elected officials.

His wasn't the only humor of the evening, however.

Pace moderated a video teleconference, between Army Staff Sgt. John Heenan, stationed in Iraq, and the soldier's parents and grandmother. After the family had a few minutes to catch up, the chairman offered Heenan a couple of options.

"You can choose A, to take this opportunity to tell the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff whatever you'd like ... or B, choose to say something to your fellow citizen of Massachusetts, or C, both of the above," Pace joked with the Rutland, Mass., native.

Similar options were later offered to Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Lisa Taylor, a corpsman also stationed in Iraq. While a sandstorm prevented Taylor from getting in front of the camera to participate in the video portion of the teleconference, she was able to talk with her parents and sister via phone.

Both thanked the audience for the support they feel from home.

As the program drew to a close, individual photos of Massachusetts' 76 servicemembers killed in the global war on terrorism were shown on a large screen. Every so often a sob could be heard under the tenor of McDermott's "You'll Never Walk Alone," as a loved one's image appeared.

While the day evoked strong emotions from those who have lost a family member in the global war on terrorism, Francis R. Carroll, Tribute chairman said he hopes the event served its purpose.

"This day could be like any other Sunday, but it's not," he said in closing. "It's a day ... that makes us all proud of the men and women of our armed forces."

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