Monday is Memorial Day here in the U.S. While many Americans take advantage of the national holiday by going on road trips and having picnics, the day is intended to honor and remember those who gave their lives serving this country. As the structure of the U.S. military morphed following Vietnam War, fewer and fewer Americans have an intimate connection to the wars our nation has fought since 9/11, and the men and women who actually risk their lives and well-being to serve in those foreign lands. Far too much media ink has been spent lauding celebrities and athletes for their self-congratulatory "bravery," all the while providing nominal time to the honorable members of our community that gave everything when asked by their government.
Anytime a soldier dies in combat, a great deal is itemized and assumed about their personal character. From personal experience, I can say CPT Scott Pace was a man who earned every positive eulogy he received.
We went to high school together in Brawley, CA, although he graduated a few years earlier than myself. I was close friends with his brother, who also attended West Point and served in Iraq. We were all members of the swim team, and spent many summers working at our local city pool. Even in my youth, I could see that Scott was a standout individual. Academically clever, athletic, but compassionate and concerned with applying ones efforts in a manner that made the world better for others. I held a rather immature set of leftist positions in high school, and we would debate these issues during and between our shifts. Never once did I hear anyone say anything about Scott that wasn't laudatory.
While he always seemed to have his sights set on serving his country, his road to the military was on the unconventional side. The Los Angeles Times writes:
"After graduating from Brawley Union High in Imperial County, he attended Brigham Young University in Utah for a year. He spent the next two years on his Mormon mission in Argentina and then returned to BYU.
Meanwhile, his brother Rick, two years younger, had entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Rick knew how much his brother loved basketball — he had been all league in high school but wasn't good enough for the BYU team.
After watching the West Point team play, Rick told his brother he could play there.
So Scott received an appointment to West Point, where he majored in nuclear engineering. But unlike transferring to most other schools, Scott had to start over as a freshman. Because his brother also took two years out for his Mormon mission, the two graduated together in 2005.
After West Point, Scott Pace attended flight school, where he learned to fly the Kiowa Warrior OH-58 helicopter. He served two tours of duty in Iraq, where he was hit with shrapnel in the arm and hand, and one in Afghanistan."
Scott would die on June 6th, 2012 in Afghanistan. His father and brother expressed that Scott had always stressed duty and honor, but he took no solace in the death that war brings. "He wasn't like a caricature of a soldier. He was very tender" his father said. I never saw Scott as one to thump his chest and talk up his tough-guy credentials. Unlike the image sometimes presented by members of the left, he was not bloodthirsty nor uninterested in the casualties of war. He believed that serving his country was important, and that it took the individual efforts of its members to make the world a better place.
On the 68th anniversary of D-Day, Scott was flying to a local Afghan political office that had come under attack by Taliban militants in Qarah Bagh. It is telling that on that very day decades prior, countless young men stormed the beaches at Normandy to help bring an end to fascism in Europe. Scott, along with his fellow co-pilot, gave their lives to help a fledgling democracy get its feet. I don't know Scott's feelings on the war or its direction, but his efforts to help defend a population against attacks by religious totalitarians intent on keeping their nation from modernity should not go unsung.
Our country (and his family) lost a great man. A man that was great in-spite of his military service, but who demonstrated just how brave and honorable a young, tender man can be in spite of the difficult situation he found himself in. My only hope is that his sacrifice, and that of others like him, is not forgotten in the political debates around the Afghan War.