Vietnam vet in Haiti eager to share war experiences
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPESSTARS AND STRIPES Published: March 21, 2010
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — When soldiers working in Haiti see Giles Pace coming, they often do a double take.
A typical outfit for the 66-year-old father of six, who’s in Haiti working as a contractor in support of the U.S. State Department, is an Army combat uniform top, worn unbuttoned with the sleeves rolled up, and a tattered green beret that marks him as a former member of the U.S. Army’s elite Special Forces.
Soldiers who get close enough might glimpse his tattoo, with the SF emblem and the numbers of the 1st, 5th and 7th SF Groups that Pace served with during the Vietnam War.
The Chicago native did two tours of duty in Vietnam after joining the Army straight out of high school in 1961 and being assigned to 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
“I was 17 years old and a paratrooper,” he said.
Pace is in Haiti as a civilian contractor to the U.S. State Department with a Lockheed Martin company — PAE Group — that, among other tasks, has been putting up tents to house U.S. Embassy employees made homeless by the earthquake. He’s found himself working alongside members of his old division — the 82nd — who have been working at the Joint Force Headquarters next to the embassy.
Some Vietnam War veterans are reluctant to talk about the war, but Pace isn’t one of them. He said he’s eager to share his experiences to inspire today’s soldiers and show them that Vietnam War veterans are still supporting them. He’s also eager to tell them how much easier they have it.
“These guys don’t know what war is,” Pace said of modern soldiers. “We didn’t look like robo-cops. All we had were soft caps and our weapons and we’d go chasing [the enemy] in the jungle.”
If you sit down with him, he’ll tell you about 1963 when he was with 1st Special Forces Group out of Okinawa training a “Strike Force” of farmers to fight the communists in Dong Tre, or of his second tour with the 5th Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1966 when he fought near the Cambodian border.
“In one battle alone, we were credited with 360 kills and lost nobody,” Pace said, proudly showing off the citation for his Bronze Star with V device for running into a burning helicopter under fire to pull out injured personnel.
In 1972, Pace was medically discharged from the Army due to shrapnel wounds to his leg sustained in Vietnam that earned him a Purple Heart. Since then he’s worked as an iron worker, helping build the Sears Tower and an atomic power plant, and done security work in Africa, Central Asia the Middle East and the Balkans, he said.
One of his co-workers in Haiti with PAE, Joseph Rodriguez, 57, who served during Vietnam but never saw combat, said Pace probably dresses and talks the way he does because he’s searching for some deserved recognition for what he has done for his country.
But Rodriguez said his friend rarely talks to the modern-day soldiers working near, perhaps because he doesn’t have a lot of respect for today’s Army.
As a sergeant in Vietnam his pay was $360 per month, Pace said.
“Special Forces had a 70 percent re-enlistment rate without the bonuses they get today,” he said.
“We did it because we were patriots. I knew guys who got killed on their third and fourth tours.”
What do modern-day soldiers think of Pace?
For one, they don’t agree that today’s soldiers have it easy.
“He’s making a statement and wants everybody to know,” said Sgt. Sean May, 29, of Brockway, Pa., one of the soldiers working alongside Pace at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. “I think it’s cool that he was in Vietnam but most of the guys who are from there keep it to themselves.”