WAHOO – There are over 6,000 veterans files packed within Veterans Services Officer Mary Pace’s office on North Broadway in downtown Wahoo.
For Pace, that means there are 6,000 different pieces of history stuffed in these files about Saunders County veterans who fought in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, World War I and II, Korea and Vietnam.
The past four years, Pace has had the opportunity as the Saunders County veterans service officer (VSO) to learn about veterans who have impacted and still impact the community today.
“Getting to know the veterans and their experiences and their families has been one of the most amazing things,” Pace said. “We really do have a lot of amazing people here in Saunders County.”
In March, after four years in the position, Pace will be leaving Saunders County for Bethesda, Md. where she will hold a civilian human resources position overseeing active soldiers at the Bethesda Naval Base. While it was a very difficult decision for her, Pace said it was something she couldn’t deny.
“It was just an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Pace said.
Pace, originally from La Vista, Neb., held a similar position when she was active duty military from 1991 to 2011. On Feb. 9, Pace was honored at the Saunders County Board of Supervisors meeting where she was presented the Veteran of the Month appreciation award for her services she provided Saunders County.
Pace helped to establish this award in July 2018 with the late District 5 Supervisor Larry Mach. She is also the first female veteran to receive this award.
“This has been an honor to serve the veterans of Saunders County,” Pace said after receiving the award.
Pace began her basic training at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina in July of 1991. When she completed her training in November of that year she moved to Ft. Meade, Md. for her first on-duty assignment until 1993.
After Ft. Meade, Pace went to Bad Kreuznach, Germany which was where she met her husband Tim. The couple also married there. In 1995, Pace moved to Ft. Polk in Louisiana where her son Andrew was born.
Shortly after Andrew’s birth, Pace moved back to Germany where her husband was stationed at the time in 1997 in Friedberg. Pace’s daughter Kaitlin was born before Pace moved to Ft. Louis, Wash., where she was stationed from 2000 until 2003.
Pace was then stationed with the 809th Quartermaster Battalion in Fremont until 2007. During this time, Pace was deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and did another stint in Iraq from 2010 to 2011 while she was stationed in St. Cloud, Minn. with the 367th Engineer Battalion.
After 20 years in the army, Pace retired and moved to Cedar Bluffs where she and her family currently live. In August 2017, Pace began as the county’s VSO after Herb Barnes retired from the position he held for about 30 years.
Since she became VSO, Pace has worked under a motto of “What can I do to help you?” For Pace, it’s all about support and being there for Saunders County veterans by being available at all times. It’s not a nine-to-five job, Pace said.
“I will make house calls, I’ll go to their homes if they can’t make it in,” Pace said. “Before COVID I would go to nursing homes and senior centers. I work for the veterans.”
Valparaiso veteran Don Kobza said Pace has been a tremendous help to him and that he is not the only one to give good reports on Pace’s work and availability.
“I think she cares a lot about veterans,” Kobza said. “She just has a personal touch to it. She always makes you feel welcome and she’ll do everything in her power to help you out.”
Pace said her experience as VSO for Saunders County has been wonderful not only because of the veterans she has served, but also because of the history she has learned from veterans.
“It’s meant a lot to serve them,” Pace said. “When you’re elderly people just kind of walk by you and they don’t realize that you fought over in France, Germany, Korea, Japan or Pearl Harbor. You were part of all these different pieces of history that I’m afraid we’re losing.”