View Full Version : Association honors USNA grads for exceptional careers

03-07-09, 08:44 PM
Published 03/07/09

Shortly before Gen. Peter Pace retired, he stopped by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., to pay tribute to Marines who served and died in his platoon when he was a freshly commissioned officer.

Pace, the first Marine chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, affixed his four stars to index cards and wrote, "These are yours, not mine," leaving the messages leaning against the black wall in tribute to the soldiers who fought alongside him in his rifle platoon.

Yesterday, Pace and four other Naval Academy graduates received tributes of their own, becoming the latest recipients of the academy's Distinguished Graduate Award.

"It allows me to feel that, at least for this part of my life, I've lived it in a way that paid respect to those young Marines who died in Vietnam when I was their platoon leader," Pace said. "It's an honor, but more important, deeply satisfying."

The awards, presented by the Naval Academy Alumni Association, honor graduates with exceptional careers both in and out of uniform. This year's recipients have made diverse contributions - one made homes for low-income families, while another made himself a household name. Some had long careers in the Navy and Marines that left them well-decorated, while others left the service shortly after they fulfilled their commitment and began new civilian careers that continued to benefit the country. But all were honored for upholding the academy's values of honor, courage and commitment.

This year's recipients are:

John E. Nolan, who graduated in 1950 and later became a lawyer.
Retired Adm. Bruce DeMars, a 1957 graduate who was integral in developing submarine warfare.
Ron Terwilliger, a 1963 graduate who had a brief military career but made a name for himself in real estate.
Retired Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, a 1964 graduate who became an aviator and later the commandant of midshipmen and ambassador to China.

Pace, a member of the Class of 1967, who started his career as a rifle platoon leader in Vietnam and ended it in 2007 as the 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most senior voice to the president, cabinet members and other policymakers for all things military.

"These impressive men achieved vital positions in national security one step at a time," the academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Jeffrey L. Fowler, said to the 4,300 midshipmen in the brigade.

The five recipients of the award told the future sailors and Marines to keep service - in the many forms it can take - at the center of their lives.

"This school, this ceremony today is about service. The Naval Academy is about building the foundations for service, and it recognizes the service of the people here on the podium to the public and the people of the country," Prueher said.

Vietnam was an integral part of Pace's life, a 13-month deployment that changed the way he approached the rest of his days in uniform.

"After coming out of Vietnam as a second lieutenant, and 13 months in the field, and having people to the left and right of me get killed, and me not even get a scratch, I knew every day after Vietnam was a gift and I was supposed to do the best I could with it," Pace said.

From there, he tried to be aware of every part of the world he could, but focused on what he could change as a Marine.

For midshipmen at the academy, including about 900 who will be commissioned as officers in two months' time, that means realizing that their duty is to the people serving under them who both need and want leadership, Pace said.

"Don't worry about the world. Let the president of the United States worry about the world. What they need to worry about is their part of the responsibility - know where their responsibilities begin and where it ends, and focus all of their attention on being smart enough and working hard enough and doing the best job they can in that bandwidth," he said.

Nolan urged the brigade to keep an inquisitive and hungry mind, staying alert to the uncertain nature of combat. Before the war in Iraq, nobody anticipated the major effect improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers would have on casualties. Nor did anyone initially see the role civilians would play in Anbar province. But if sailors and Marines remain eager to learn, these things will become apparent, he said.

"The point is that war is in constant flux and you will face challenges you have never faced before," he said.

Prueher, who has donated millions of dollars to both charities and the academy, told the midshipmen to look at their careers in two parts. The first is dedicated to working for the well-being and security of themselves and their families. The second is for everyone else they can help.

"The message I'm trying to impart is that a part of your life should be dedicated to people who are less fortunate than you are," he said.

DeMars, who asked the brigade to consider his comments as if they came from a concerned grandfather, said that no matter what twists their lives took, to keep one quality in the forefront.

"There is one trait that you should keep in mind above all others, and that is integrity," he said.