By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 4, 2008 - The Pentagon Memorial -- scheduled to be dedicated next week on the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack -- is a reminder that "each generation inherits freedom, and it's up to each generation to protect it and pass it along," a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Retired Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who served as vice chairman and then as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2001 to 2007, said the memorial will be a place where Americans can learn of the people who lost their lives in the attack on the Pentagon and learn from them for years to come.
Pace was the commander of U.S. Southern Command and was on a visit to Bogota, Colombia, on Sept. 11, 2001. He already had been nominated to be the vice chairman. He said that days later, when he arrived at the Pentagon and saw the area where Flight 78 hit, he felt anger at the loss of innocent lives both in the building and aboard the plane.
"My second feeling was frustration at having spent my adult life defending the United States and having something like this happen here and in New York and in Pennsylvania," he said during a recent interview.
He vowed "to do all I could to prevent a re-occurrence."
As a lieutenant, Pace fought in Vietnam. He thought he was fighting so his children and grandchildren wouldn't have to fight. The attacks of Sept. 11 brought home to him that it doesn't work that way, he said.
"We fight, we preserve our nation's liberties, not so our sons and daughters and grandchildren won't have to fight, but rather so they have something worth fighting for," he explained.
Seven years after the attacks that stunned the United States, Americans are impatient. "You can understand impatience," Pace said. "The American people see ourselves as a friendly nation, we see ourselves as not wanting to do harm to anyone in the world." Americans still have a tough time understanding that there are people in the world who want to do Americans harm, the general added. "I think we forget that the enemy has declared war on us," he said.
The dialogue Americans should have is not whether the country should be at war or not – the enemy already has made that point moot, he noted. "Rather, the dialogue is really about where we take our stand," he said. "Do we take our stand in Iraq, in Afghanistan,s or do we take it someplace else?"
Al-Qaida has a 100-year plan to destroy the United States as a nation and to take away the rights of free people, Pace said. "We have to decide where in the 100 years we are going to do something about it, and I believe we have taken the right steps," he said.
The security situation in Iraq is improving, he said. That the United States made mistakes in the country early is evident, "but we learned from those mistakes and changed," he said.
Americans must be more patient to confront this threat, he said.
"I can understand the individuals who are frustrated with the pace of the war," he said, "but if you look at any conflict in history – especially any terrorist conflict – it's measured in decades, not in days."
The Pentagon Memorial will graphically illustrate to generations of Americans the idea that freedom isn't free, the general said.
"It's a place where folks -- years from now -- who have no recollection of what happened here that day will have a chance to reflect on it, to learn about it, to understand that our fellow citizens sacrificed their lives here that they and their future generations might live free."