By James Brady
In Manhattan a few days before the elections, there was Tom Brokaw, once again behind a microphone and chatting up a Washington big shot. D�j� vu? No, and Tom and his guest weren't even discussing Rumsfeld--just celebrating the U.S. Marine Corps' birthday, 231 years after the Corps came into being (fittingly) in a Philadelphia tavern.
The visiting Washingtonian was Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His black-tie audience consisted of several hundred movers and shakers, most of them Marines, current or former, and heavily skewed toward media execs, publishers, actors and journalists. Pace hit the right tone regarding an increasingly unpopular war on the eve of an election seen as a referendum on that war. Noting that money raised by the gala would benefit The Fisher House Foundation, providing support to military personnel and their families at base hospitals in the U.S. and abroad, the general said: "On behalf of today's 2.4 million Americans in uniform, I want to thank you, regardless of your individual feelings about this war. Americans have always reached out to hug all the men and women serving."
Brokaw had been scheduled to emcee the event a year ago, but there was a conflict in dates (a White House dinner), so he asked an NBC colleague to fill in, occasioning a rather bitchy piece in the New York Post�s Page Six.
"I had a discussion with [Page Six editor] Richard Johnson about that," Tom said the other night. I was in attendance both evenings and can report that there was disappointment last year, but no hoots or catcalls, and the sub was a charmer, telling us that Brokaw's own mother had told Tom he was making the wrong decision. "The White House over the Marines, Tom?"
Last week's "Marine for Life" was NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, a Vietnam War Marine forward artillery observer, introduced by Parade magazine CEO Walter Anderson, also a Vietnam Marine, and lauded by Edward Cardinal Egan, New York's archbishop. Jerry Byrne, longtime publisher of Variety and founder of the Quill literary awards, stood on a chair to introduce the cardinal during cocktails. But Egan, hobbled by a recent knee operation and deftly wielding a cane, declined use of the chair and spoke standing among us on the floor.
Then, in casual conversation with friends and dinner guests, the cardinal said the newly created 24-hour Catholic channel on Sirius Satellite Radio (nasdaq: SIRI - news - people ) would be up and operational in a matter of weeks.
Entertained by the Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, the audience included Dennis Swanson, the old Marine who heads the Fox TV stations for Roger Ailes; Medal of Honor winner Jack Jacobs, a retired army colonel who does military analysis for MSNBC; Nick Vervitsky, who runs United Stations Radio for Dick Clark, another Vietnam Marine; actor John Doman of The Unit; Ken Fisher of the sponsoring foundation; USMC Lt. Gen. James Amos; Keith Kelly of the New York Post; actress Megan Byrne; John Beni of Parade; Rick Buckley of WOR-AM in New York City; Frank Comerford, general manager of WNBC-TV; Jane Hanson of NBC; author Larry Smith; Ed McLaughlin, formerly of ABC and perhaps best known for having "discovered" Rush Limbaugh; and Jerry Byrne's sidekick hosting the evening, actor Harvey Keitel, both of them Marines. Harvey's pal Robert de Niro, usually a regular at these galas, was missing in action.
But we had come to hear General Pace, who recalled his first-ever celebration of a Marine Corps birthday as an Annapolis midshipman, watching as they cut a cake with a Marine sword, the oldest and youngest Marines present doing the honors.
After saluting Jacobs and Kelly and thanking all who'd served, Pace said, "I remember Nov. 10, 1963. I was 17. I thought, how bizarre. I didn't get it. Four years later, I joined the Corps, and at The Basic School [in Quantico, Va.], I still didn't get it. Then in Vietnam, out of the 258 of us, 155 were killed or wounded. I got it.
"I never again wondered why we gathered, cut a cake and remembered," Pace continued. "The names are engraved in my heart, starting with Lance Corporal Guido Farinaro, first man ever killed on my orders�." And then he counted off the other names of men killed, "all on the orders of 2nd Lieutenant Peter Pace. I can never re-pay them. I tried. I promised myself when I came home that I would."
With the evening ended, we wandered out into the Bowery looking for cabs. For many of us, his words echoed, mingling with our own memories of old wars and attitudes toward this new one.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski