General Peter Pace - First Italian American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Whether in times of peace or war, dedicated military service is the highest expression of national patriotism and loyalty. For Italian Americans, participation has been an esteemed hallmark of a solemn commitment that in 2005 reached its quintessence with the nomination of General Peter Pace as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the nation’s armed forces.

The son of working class immigrants from Noci, Italy, he was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945 and raised in Teaneck, New Jersey, where he attended public school and worshipped at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. In 1967 he joined the Marines Corps, trained at the U.S. Naval Academy, where he was commissioned a lieutenant. In 1968, he was assigned to Vietnam, where he became served in combat missions as the leader of a platoon – an assignment for which he was decorated. However, it was the safety of the troops that mattered most to him. Throughout his career, he displayed on his desk the photo of Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro, the first marine he lost in combat as a reminder of the impact of his decisions as a military leader.

Since that wartime experience, Pace has held a range of positions at virtually every level in the Marine Corps, reaching the rank of brigadier general in command of Marine forces in Somalia in 1992. He was promoted to a full general in 2000 and assumed duties as the Commander in Chief, U.S. Southern Command, a post he held until he was appointed Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2001. On September 30, 2005, General Pace became the country's senior military leader when he was sworn in as the 16th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, holding that position until June 2007. He thus also made history - being the first marine and first Italian American to attain that position. During his tenure, he appeared before the Armed Services Committee and spoke eloquently on the service of immigrants in the military who gain their citizenship by fighting for their adoptive country. Upon his retirement from military service, he, his wife Lynne and his two children took up residency in Virginia, where he was encouraged but declined to run for the U.S. Senate and entered private business instead. In June 2008, President George W. Bush presented him with the nation’s Medal of Freedom.

It is instructive to note that Admiral Edmund P. Giambastiani was named Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on August 12, 2005. Proud of his ancestry and only the second Italian American to attain that high a post in American military history, Giambastiani served as Grand Marshal in New York City’s 2008 Columbus Day Parade.

Other Italian Americans who have risen to prestigious military ranks in recent years include Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, Marine General Anthony Zinni and Army General Raymond Odierno. Chiarelli assumed command of Multinational Corps Iraq in 2006, directing the operations of approximately 133,000 coalition forces in all sectors in Iraq. In August 2008, Chiarelli became the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff, while in September 2008, Odierno - who served and assisted General Petraeus as he crafted the successful “surge” in Iraq - succeeded the latter as commander of American military forces in Iraq. Joining the Marines in 1961, Zinni served as Commander-In-Chief of U.S. Central Command monitoring Ethiopia to Afghanistan from mid-1997 to mid-2000. He also served as President Bush’s special envoy to the Middle East until he became critical of the administration’s Iraq policy. For a time as Senator John F. Kerry was preparing to become the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2004, General Zinni’s name was put forward as a possible running mate due to his potential appeal for Italian American voters.

(Peter Pace, Remarks at the John Carroll Society April 21, 2006, internet; Anthony Zinni, The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America's Power and Purpose.)
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