Skip to Main Content

At the Elders' Feet: Conversations Across the Generations

Diversity for Equity Grant through Fairmont State University

In Their Own Words: Charles Everett Pace of Texarkana, TX

And it's not a matter of whether or not you will be knocked down, but when. What the question is, how are you going to bounce back?

And I maintain if you're in a creative calling, … ask yourself two questions.  1. If I had to do one thing in life and be paid to do it, what would that be? 2. Two, if I had to do one thing in life and not be paid to do it, what would it be? And it should be the same thing. Because if you would do for free what you would do for money, you would never work another day in your life because you are doing what's coming out of you.     


Charles has an ability to distill very complex ideas and experiences into simple language. He shared some of his latest considerations with the students: Education Empowers: College Counts. He used that to frame the stories he told us about his journey as a professional storyteller in the Chautauqua circuit. In learning the lesson of fear in Viet Nam and having an ongoing love of books and learning. … “it’s not a matter of if you will get knocked down, but when.”

Charles' resilience resides in his creative spirit, understanding of Black History, his plays and one man shows, and his ability to turn what may look like a negative into a positive. His scholarship and relentless curiosity, along with his yoga, keep his mind and body flexible, able to stand the storms that buffet him.

Viet Nam Vet

 Dealing with Fear… Physical, Mental and Emotional

Charles served as a medic during the Viet Nam War in the 1960’s. He responded to our questions about fear. Was he ever afraid? He first told us about a fear that he had created in his mind, anxiety of the unknown. Then he talked about some of the physical fears that came later.

CharlesIt's amazing how humans adapt. You know, I was on the TWA flight [when we came into the airport in Viet Nam] and we've been flying 26 hours, the pilot said, “Gentlemen,” he said, “you've noticed I've been circling the airport over Tan Son Nhut Airfield [the Vietnamese airbase in Saigon {now Ho Chi Minh City} ...they have been receiving “incoming” [incoming rounds, meaning they are being fired upon by the enemy]. So, I'm going to land.  When you get out, I want you to get out, stepping double-time [meaning twice as fast as usual].”

The plane was just full of guys, alright? It was full. And so, we were going through the airport in double-time when I looked over to my right and I see these Vietnamese guys sitting on their hunches [the typical relaxed manner in which Vietnamese men and women sit when at leisure]; and they were looking at us.

 A certain fear came over me, not physically, but what the fear was, is that I couldn't read their faces. I couldn't... I couldn't figure out anything about what was going on inside their head because I'd never been around Vietnamese people before, so, there was this fear from the quiet stare (not intentionally menacingly by them, but my fear because I was not able to decode their look. It was unknown. It was my fear of the unknown). 

But after a while that fear ceased to be there - as I adjusted to the environment. My fear didn't have an objective reason to be there. But upon my arrival, I was only in my own subjective world.  So, different things made me fearful at different points.  Yet, there came a time when the fear was real, and it was objective.

I was a medic.  My duty station was in the U. S. Army Medical dispensary up on, what we called “U-S-A-V Hill”.  This means we were on an elevated plot of ground which housed the Headquarters of the US Army in Viet Nam (where the generals were).  I was the medic on night-duty that night, so rather than being down the hill where the barracks were, I was sleeping on a mat on the dispensary floor.  (This was 1969, and we children of the sixties, were into hanging out on floors: sitting, sleeping, know, ‘hippy shit’.) 

So, I was on duty that night. And my First Sergeant [He was actually a Sergeant First Class, E-6, but he was serving as First Sgt. in our unit.  Unit first sergeants are usually Master Sergeants, E-8s] was Joel Morris, nice brother, cool brother, from Detroit. We took to each other ‘from the jump’, from first meeting each other.  Now, that’s another story.  Anyway, Joel had moved out of his private room in the barracks, and he had given it to me.  Now, he had established his permanent residence in the dispensary.  

He had turned in for the night, and suddenly we heard this boom!  This blast was loud, and it was close, which meant it was serious. And then, it got quiet and then BOOM, again.

So, when that happens you immediately grab and put on your boots, and you put on your helmet and flak jacket. Now, the brother from Detroit, who was in the room next door, had been to the front.  

So, I was in in my gear, and Joel crawled [flat on his stomach] into the room, and I see the light coming off his face, and He said, “You alright son?” I said, “I'm fine, I'm fine,” was fine until I saw the sergeants face. I saw the fear in his eyes, and it wasn't so much a fear for him; his fear was a fear for me.

He knew the situation objectively ...what was happening. I wasn't afraid, because I didn't know what was happening. I knew that we had been hit, [rocket or mortars by the enemy], okay?

The next morning, I went out and I looked about much about 25 feet behind us behind the dispensary building. The bomb had made a huge hole. And I went to the front, about another same distance, another huge hole. So, I immediately knew that if they had switched the trajectory of that round by half a degree, we would have had a direct hit on the dispensary where we were.  

That night, I didn't realize how could you gauge the distance of the landing of the round by how loud the sound of the explosion was. I couldn't gauge what the explosion was, but Joel knew how dangerous it was. He had been in the field and had been under fire before, so he knew how close the rounds were landing to us. 

 You see what I'm saying? Yeah. So, then, I had an after-affect fear. I had the fear when I read his face. I did not objectively know how close to injury or death we were to be afraid, but Joel knew enough to be afraid, and came and checked on me. Thus, when I saw his fear, then I became afraid that night.  But, sitting there, looking at this hole, knowing that, you know, it's just by ... what?  luck or whatever - we were so, close to a “direct hit.” Then, the next morning I got scared again and I said to myself, “What if they do that tomorrow?”  So now, I've got another type of fear, fear of the future, subjective, but based on objective evidence...these two big holes in the ground.

Charles' Lessons in Resilience and Fear

Charles Everett Pace grew up and into the war in Viet Nam. “Thus, young, naive, protected, relatively privileged and blessed, all through no work of my own, I had all that I needed and pretty much all that I wanted [growing up].  I left in 1968 to go into the military for three years… A country boy from the piney woods of east Texas down in state capital Austin.”

Charles was born in 1946 in the deep south, in Texarkana, on his family’s homestead land. Though Jim Crow was alive and well, his family believed in education, education, education. With a mother who was a teacher and aunties who kept everyone in line, the greatest gift was considered books and learning.

The story of Charles’ education led the students to understand how he found his voice of resistance and resilience in the arts. His early passions were in the sciences: biology, physics, chemistry and math, but his experience during the war created a deepening awareness for a life purpose. It was out of an assignment in his Multi-Cultural Education class that would set him on the path for life..   “I started graduate school at 41… There's nothing more powerful in your life than a good teacher. And she [Geneva Day] told my group, your assignment in Multi-Cultural Education is to teach the book Manchild in the Promised Land by Carl Brown. The first problem was how are we going to do that, Geneva? But she said, oh, that's your decision.” A classmate suggested to do a play, that would be the curriculum… “…we formed the Afro-American Players, we started doing it around the campus…”

When talking to our students and faculty, Charles said, “…if you would do for free what you would do for money, you would never work another day in your life….”

Charles moved on from the Afro-American Players to create a one-man show on Malcolm X. The success of that show led him on to create another on Frederick Douglass, the famous abolitionist. In following his passion for knowledge, truth, history and the sciences, it all came together in the arts. Chautauqua festivals loved his performances and portrayals. He has added to his exploration of history and the arts to include 190 years of American History from York, the explorer with Lewis and Clark, all the way to filmmaker and photographer, Gordon Parks. These presentations have taken him to stages around the nation and the world using the arts to both teach black history and to challenge entrenched stereotypes. It has been a work of the mind, the heart, and the spirit enriching the community. The stories and the lives of the great figures have taught Charles resilience.

Underpinning Charles’ natural ability were lessons he learned in creativity for survival during the war. Necessity is a great teacher. “OK, so, I'm … the new man in the post... on [duty] this night I get a call to come [pick up the injured]. So, it's weird because it's the first time I had been under one hundred percent black sky. And so, I'm driving out and I'm going, "Do I keep my lights on?  Do I turn the off?  Do I put them on them on dim?" Because I don't know if Charley has been spotted.  And then I realized it doesn't matter because if … there's any kind of light, well they're going to see you. So, I decided to turn my lights off, fortunately it was a straight road. And I would vary my speed because we're taught in invasion and escape [training] that if you're running and they are shooting at you - run in a zigzag pattern. Don't run in a straight line… because the marksman will anticipate when you're going to be …and the bullet will be waiting for you. But if you're zig zagging it's more difficult to get a gauge on you. So, my zigzagging was to speed up and speed down and the lights were off. And so, I wasn't afraid because I was so busy doing what I was doing. I started to put guys in the ambulance, and I head back - and I remember nothing else about that night… my mind was totally preoccupied doing the job of a combat medic in combat.”

As he summed it up for our students, Charles came back to a phrase which has given clarity to the sources of resilience that he engages, that is: “Education Empowers, College Counts!” His path through the halls of learning led him to the arts; others found their path into law, civil rights, social justice, medicine, the sciences, all in service to the community. For Charles, the arts combined all his passions into one. He shares that passion through his theatrical historical portrayals.

Interviews with Charles Pace

Touring Artist - On the Road with Charles

Conversations with Brennah Staunton

By Brennah Staunton

Charles Everett Pace

When striving for intellectual integrity and fearless pursuit of success without compromise, Charles Pace’s portrait embodies both. When asked about how to be a better communicator, Pace suggested the names and titles of the books show in the still life. The books are connected by multiple pathways going in different directions to symbolize the different approaches we can take to reach success, but also needing to discern the right one without fear or intimidation. 


Pace Family Portraits

Charles as a Chautauqua Scholar

Charles Pace Photo Story