When the new North Carolina Veterans Park opens July 4, 2011, in Fayetteville, Henderson County veteran Rufus “Pooch” Pace will be permanently honored there.
Pace, 83, is a Henderson County native (“an endangered species,” according to him) and Army veteran who began serving his country at the end of World War II. For decades now, he has been a fixture at veterans’ funerals, military ceremonies, and school programs as the caller for the Henderson County Honor Guard.
Pace was selected to represent Henderson County at the 200-acre Veterans Park and have his right hand cast in bronze. The casting, along with the hand castings of veterans from the state’s 99 other counties, will be displayed at the park in tribute to North Carolina’s veterans past, present and future.
He is deeply moved by the honor knowing that he is one of 11,000 veterans who call Henderson County home. “It’s a real humbling honor to be recognized,” Pace says. “I’ve been very active with doing military services, going to schools and churches, giving flag presentations and flag etiquette, but number one is military funerals. So far this year we’ve done 112 funerals, which is the most we’ve ever had in one year.”
While sitting inside American Legion Post 77 wearing his spotless Honor Guard uniform, Pace reflected on his military service, particularly his time in Japan after World War II. He got to see much of the country, including the devastated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, from 10,000 feet in the air. It’s a memory that remains vivid more than 65 years later.
“I was with the occupation force in Japan from 1946 to 1947. I got to see a lot of the country and as a control tower operator I got to know a lot of the pilots,” he says. “Anytime I wanted I could get a ride on a plane, and at the time they were converting B-24s for photo recon and photographing everything from 10,000 feet. We flew over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You just couldn’t imagine one bomb could destroy that much country.”
After his military service, Pace returned to Henderson County, but stayed active in the reserves. He became a heating and air conditioning mechanic and a dedicated member of the Honor Guard.
“Life has been real great to me,” he says.