Pace uses military, education to help community
Tom Pace unfolded his new glasses to read parts of an aged document that detailed his time in the United States Marine Corps.
Pace spent more than 27 years in the Marine Corps — a majority of that time as an artillery officer.
Throughout his years in the USMC, Pace lived around the country, but he and his wife Hazel always wanted to return to the Lone Star State.
“We knew we wanted to move back to Texas, but we also knew that we didn’t want to move back to Texas without a job,” said Tom Pace, a Vietnam War veteran.
Pace and his wife, who have been married 57 years, are both native Texans. Pace grew up in Amarillo, while his wife was born and raised in Odessa.
In 1983, Pace officially retired as a lieutenant colonel from the Marine Corps. He spent his final years of active duty as a financial manager in Washington. Pace and his wife were more than 1,600 miles away from the plains of West Texas as they resided about 30 miles southwest of Washington in Dale City, Va.
However, while Pace and his wife were visiting for his in-law’s wedding anniversary, he applied for a job in Odessa. The opportunity to move back to the Permian Basin happened in 1985 and Pace didn’t let that chance slip away.
“We drove back to Virginia and I get a phone call saying they would like me to come in for an interview,” Pace said. “I flew back (to Odessa), had a job interview and I became fiscal services director for Ector County.”
Pace, who has lived in Odessa for more than 30 years, was the guest of honor and cake cutter during the U.S. Marine Corps 243rd Birthday celebration on Saturday at the Man Cave Museum and Car Show. He delivered the first piece of cake to his neighbor and WWII veteran J.E. “Coach” Pressly.
“We’ve been doing this celebration for the last six years and we ran across Tom and he’s been wanting to help us,” said Lynn Reese, who is the owner of the Man Cave Museum. “He’s going to be the honorary cake cutter. It’s an honor to have him.”
Pace graduated Amarillo High and then earned a finance degree from Texas Tech. He furthered his education with a master’s degree in education from Pepperdine University. During his time at Texas Tech, he played offensive tackle and tight end for the Red Raiders. Pace also played football for one year in the Marines Corps.
“There was a period of time when I thought I would retire and go into coaching,” Pace said. “That never came to be. The job (in 1985) opened up here. That degree from Texas Tech worked in real well here.”
Upon graduation from Texas Tech in 1961, Pace went into active duty with Marines. Pace spent about six months in Vietnam.
Pace said one evening in February of 1968 he was in the fire direction center — the hub of the artillery battery — and a round flew over the building.
“You could hear it screaming over where we were,” Pace said. “We all got down and the next round hit us.”
That second shot destroyed the fire direction center. Pace said some of the Marines were able to climb out of the destroyed building, but he wasn’t one of them. He had to be dug out. Two of Pace’s Marines were killed.
Pace was transported to a military hospital in Corpus Christi. He injured his hip and left leg when the fire direction center was destroyed. He didn’t have surgery immediately, but in following years, had to have a partial hip replacement and an artificial left knee.
After his time in Corpus Christi, Pace was transferred to El Paso and was in charge of the reserve unit. The ability to be the only senior officer on base allowed him the opportunity to continue his physical therapy and return to comparable condition.
“I could basically do what I wanted to do,” Pace said. “I could take off and go running at noon. I didn’t have to do that, but I could do that. A couple of my enlisted Marines had some problems and we could do that together.”
Though he didn’t become a football coach for the Ector County Independent School District, Pace made an impact as a school board member in Position 4 that represented West Odessa from 2008 to 2013. In that one-time, five-year term, he also served two years as board president.
“I thought with the background that I had with financial management and a master’s in education that I could be an asset to the board and help them,” Pace said, “and hopefully I was.”