Retired Gen. Peter Pace is a gentle man.
For someone who spent 40 years in the military, including tours as a young combat soldier in Vietnam, you would certainly expect him to be the epitome of an officer and a gentleman but not necessarily a gentle man.
But that's how he came across prior to his speech Thursday morning at the closing general session of the National Grocers Association's annual convention here.
When I first spotted him, he was walking along the front row of seats in the hotel ballroom, shaking hands and occasionally stopping to chat with each convention delegate in the row. When he got to me — in the second row on the end — I asked him how much of the room he intended to work and he replied, "As much of it as I can."
I was told later that Pace was the same genial soul backstage, making sure he greeted as many people as possible.
Once he launched into his formal speech, he was engaging, thoughtful and very well organized as he moved from his concept of leadership to his military career, his experiences at chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his trip to the Vietnam Wall upon his retirement from the military — telling us loyally and chillingly the specific names of fallen comrades and the promise he made to them in 1969 to make the most of their sacrifice.
And then he said it: "Even those who are against the war [in Iraq] have respect for the military."
That's an accurate statement as applied to those of us who oppose the war but do not oppose those fighting it. I've never heard Rush Limbaugh acknowledge that truth, or Dick Cheney, or George W. Bush. But it's true that you can be a patriotic American and still be against the war.
Peter Pace said it. I wish that others would as well. But maybe they don't believe in freedom of speech as strongly as Pace does.