By Aidan Cappellino ‘20
On Friday, December 7th, the students and faculty of Chaminade High School gathered in the Activity-Athletic Center to hear a speech from General Peter Pace. General Pace served in the U.S military for forty straight years. Over that time of faithful service, he experienced the perils of the Vietnam War, traveled the world, and worked with America’s greatest allies. When Gen. Pace was appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2005, he served as the highest-ranking and most-senior military officer in the United States Armed Forces and the senior military advisor to the Commander-in-Chief. However, before his ascent to the highest levels of military service , at the dawn of Gen. Pace’s impressive career, a marine by the name of Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro ‘67 changed Gen. Pace’s life forever.
Farinaro and Pace crossed paths during the Vietnam War. Farinaro had graduated from Chaminade High School in 1967 and immediately attended Paris Island Boot Camp. Around the same time, Pace was graduating from the United States Naval Academy and left for Quantico, Virginia to attend the Basic School. In February of 1968, Farinaro and Pace were appointed to the same platoon in Hue City, Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
Through his role as a leader of the platoon, Pace encountered Farinaro, who would later become one of Chaminade’s venerated Gold Star Alumni, and his heroic character and inspiring charisma. General Pace reflected, “Guido was a great, young man who not only had enough charm in him to entertain his fellow marines, but also had the determination to focus and succeed on their missions.” Tragically, their time together ended on July 30th, 1968 while on patrol outside Dunang, Vietnam.
While surveying the area, Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro was mortally shot by an enemy sniper. The bullet hit right in the center of Farinaro’s chest. Not far from him was his leader and acquaintance, then 2nd Lt. Peter Pace. “I got to Guido when he died, and I was with him when he died,” explained General Pace. On that day, Farinaro became the first marine that General Pace lost under his command.
“It infuriated me,” exclaimed Pace, “so much that I called in an artillery strike on the village from which the sniper shot.” However, he ultimately reversed this decision after witnessing the wary expression of his nearby platoon sergeant. “That platoon sergeant didn’t say anything, but he just looked at me. I knew by the way that he was looking at me that what I was doing was wrong,” said Pace. After a moment of reflection, General Pace called off the air strike and ordered a sweep of the village to investigate if any other enemy soldiers were sheltered there. In the end, all his platoon discovered were groups of women and children. “I don’t know how I could live with myself today, or even be standing in front of you today, had I in fact conducted that strike,” General Pace revealed.
The death of Farinaro on the battlefield sparked a critical revelation for General Pace. For the first time in his life, he understood that when he was most morally challenged, he was most emotionally vulnerable. Since that transformative day, he has embraced a new philosophy of living. Every day, he thinks about how he wants to set his moral compass for the present day and days ahead. Pace likened his method to the Chaminade education. “It’s like education. You will not remember every single class you take here at Chaminade, but Chaminade helps develop your brain in a way to solve future problems.”
“Guido was not the only marine I’ve lost in combat, but he was the first. And for some reason, that has been very personal to me.” In total, seven men died under Pace’s command during the Vietnam War. Their deaths loomed large on General Pace’s conscience even after he left Vietnam. While residing in Okinawa for a few days before returning to the United States, Pace had time to decompress. “I went to church every day to try to understand why Guido and those other young men had died while I did not suffer a scratch,” explained Pace. He struggled mightily with the fact that those men had died yet he returned unscathed despite three notable instances in which he should have either died or at least been wounded.
One of the most shocking instances of which General Pace spoke was how he was one of the three men in his platoon of one hundred and fifty-eight men who had not been killed or wounded during the Tet Offensive. Pace was a rifle platoon leader for only two weeks; the two previous men to hold his position were killed in action.
Several months later, General Pace once again evaded death while his platoon protected an old fort being used as his battalion leader’s command post. While attempting to map out defenses and points of interest, General Pace was alarmed by someone who yelled out, “Pete freeze! You’re in a minefield!” Amazingly, General Pace had been meandering through a live minefield for almost ten full minutes. When told to stop, he glanced down to discover a live “Bouncing Betty” landmine inches away from his right foot. “I should have certainly been killed that day,” admitted Pace.
Months later, he faced another deadly scenario on August 18th, 1968, while on patrol in Vietnam with his company. After sustaining heavy fire, Pace’s platoon was ordered to sweep across the objective they were engaging from a different direction. In doing so, the company platoon’s commander brought all of the leaders up to see the field and the area they were going to attack. While receiving orders, they kneeled down together and listened attentively to the commander. Afterwards, they stood up to leave and return to their platoons. As they left the briefing, Staff Sergeant Freddie Williams stepped in front of Pace. Unbeknownst to Williams, an enemy sniper had his barrel pointed directly at Pace’s chest. As Williams crossed, he was shot and killed immediately.
During his prayers in Okinawa after leaving Vietnam, General Pace thought he heard one definite answer as to how he should continue his life: to stay in active duty. “I had not planned on staying in active duty. I planned on spending my four years and getting out,” confessed Pace, “But after Vietnam, and after Guido’s death, there was no way that I could get out.” General Pace believed then, and now, that he owes people like Guido, who had died under his leadership, a debt that he could never repay. Ever since returning to the United States in 1969, he has given his best effort to respect those amazing young men. “It has been more than an obligation; it has been a calling,” Pace stated.
During the tribulations the Marine Corps endured in the 1970’s, General Pace once again thought of possibly exiting military service. “But when I thought about possibly getting out, Guido kept coming back to me. The deal I had made with the Good Lord was that I would stay on active duty until I was no longer needed. I would know I was no longer needed when I didn’t get promoted,” the General revealed. He still uses the men who had fallen under his leadership in Vietnam as a constant source of motivation to not only be better, but also to accept certain positions he didn’t necessarily want to work at. In the end, those jobs set him on a path to becoming the most senior ranking military member in the United States, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Ultimately, the loss of Farinaro changed General Pace’s life forever. In the most physically and mentally draining experiences Pace underwent, his memory of Guido and the other soldiers who had sacrificed their lives has driven him to become a morally righteous and dignified man. All throughout his intense encounters with Congress as Vice Chairman and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Pace had a piece of paper with the name Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro scribbled at the top on his desk. No matter the amount of insulting questions or comments he received, General Pace used Guido’s name as a reminder to stay grounded and honorable. “I would read Guido’s name, and I would remind myself that he deserves I do my job to the best of my abilities. And my job was to answer the question and not get upset about how it was being asked,” he said.
“On July 30th of this year, my wife and I discussed how we might be able to properly commemorate his memory,” General Pace said, referencing Guido and his ultimate sacrifice. He and his wife decided to spend their resources on a scholarship in memory of Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro. The four-year scholarship will be granted to an incoming freshman each new school year, and the first recipient has already been chosen from the Class of 2022. Ultimately, General Peter Pace is sharing his experiences with Guido through this commemorative that will touch the lives of the many students at Chaminade High School of the past, present, and future.
At the conclusion of his speech, General Pace humbly and heartfeltly stated, “I don’t miss anything about Washington D.C. But I do miss being on active duty. I do miss being able to hug the troops and tell them that I love them. I do miss having the opportunity to influence the decision process in a way that I hoped was good for the nation. None of that, none of it, would have happened without Guido Farinaro and this incredible school.”