Friday, November 11, 2011

Family Service Members

Herman Heinrich Adams (1839-1922), Civil War Veteran

It is Veterans Day, a day that the television, newspapers, social media all remind us to honor.  To be honest, I didn't think that much about it when I was younger, probably because my father was never in the armed service, and the other two men I knew who served, my Grandpa Tess and my Uncle Gene, never spoke of their time in service.  The only way I persuaded Uncle Gene to say anything about his time in Korea was when I begged for some photos of himself in uniform.  It has only been since I've been looking into family history that I have come to realize how many family members were veterans. I'm posting this so that other family members can think about the contributions made by our relatives.

Take, for example, Grandma Tess's paternal grandfather, H.H. Adams.  A German immigrant, he was a veteran of the Civil War, a Union soldier, wounded in action and honorably discharged.  I was surprised when I visited the cemetery near Spokane, Washington, to see that he had two headstone, a family stone and one from the government. 

Henry Leaver Pierce (1890-1972), World War I Veteran

Grandpa Pierce's brother, Leaver, served in World War I.  I was delighted not long ago get get a copy of his journal that he kept most of his life, and part of it describes his time in France.  During World War II he and his wife Jo taught radio code to soldiers in the army and navy.

Adolph K. (Bard) Pierce (1892-1995), World War I Veteran

Grandpa Pierce's youngest brother, Uncle Bard, volunteered for World War I, but ended up serving in an office position because his eyes were bad.  This is him standing in front of the farmhouse where he, and later me and my siblings, grew up.  One of my goals is to find a way to mark his grave so that people remember that he was a service member.

Howard Funk Tess (1896-1970), World War I Veteran

It's hard to think about my gentle and quiet Grandpa Tess as serving in the army, but he volunteered and served in France as a Military Policeman.  He never spoke of the war to me, except to say that the trip by ship made him violently seasick.  I know too that he thought about marching a a parade in East Troy after he was married, but when the old uniform was taken out, it was riddled with moth holes.

James B. Pierce (1916-1942) on his father's lap, World War II Veteran, Killed in Action

Grandpa Pierce's oldest brother John, lost his younger son James in World War II. This is the note John received about his son's death:

 July 17, 1942, Dear Mr. Pierce; I just received your letter of July 9th.  Of course you are interested in the answers to the questions you asked; I`m sorry I did not anticipate and answer them in my first letter.  The facts will probably be uncoordinated but I`ll try to answer them all.  James volunteered to fly a patrol to protect our base and gather information while we were getting settled. In other words we had just arrived and needed an air-alert to cover the natural confusion of arriving at a new base; he was to fly an area covering all points within ten miles of our base and investigate and report on any aircraft, boat, or submarine within the area.  He was flying a (censored) and had another pilot (Lt. G.W. Brown) flying on his wing.  Lt. Brown will write to you soon.  The weather was perfectly clear.  James and Lt. Brown were flying at 8,000 feet when James dived down at the water to investigate something he saw there.  Lt. Brown followed him down.  When he got within a hundred feet of the water he saw that what he observed was only driftwood.  Just as he was pulling out if this dive his motor began to miss, for black smoke poured out of his exhaust.  He never got any higher than fifty feet after this so he was too low to jump. HE never mentioned any trouble via his radio, but a pilot has his mind and hands pretty busy when his motor misses at that altitude.  Lt. Brown actually saw the plane hit the water before James got out, so did Lt. Carter who was third man in the flight and he also saw the plane hit.  Neither pilot could later see James.  Lt. Brown flew home and reported to me.  I grabbed a transport plane and pilot and went to the scene over which Lt. Carter was still searching.  We found the belly tank and at first thought it was James.  We dropped a life raft before we realized it was only the belly tank of his plane; this tank being externally fastened had ripped off.  We circled the spot until two Coast Guard boats arrived. They picked up the raft and tank but could find no trace of James.  All of his personal belongings are being shipped to you.  I will be glad to answer any other questions you may have.  The accident is a pure case of motor trouble at low altitude, a man has very little chance of leaving a (censored) after it hits the water.  There was no chance of recovering the pilot or plane due to lack of facilities and the depth of the sea.  Yours sincerely, Bill Litton, Capt. A.C.

Peter Hadley Pierce (1924-1910)left,  and Richard Leaver Pierce (1922-1910), World War II Veterans

I knew my dad's cousins, sons of Leaver and Jo Pierce, as congenial men from occasional family occasions.  Both passed away recently, and I learned more about them. Dick served in the navy in both World War II and Korea.  Peter was commissioned an ensign at Columbia University, serving during WWII on the LST 779. His was the first ship to land on the beach at Iwo Jima and supplied the flag seen in the famous photo of the flag raising.

L.D. Smith (1883-1954) left, and son James DuRell Smith (1915-1982), served in War War II

Dr. Lemuel Durrell Smith was an orthopedic surgeon, and was Grandma Tess's stepfather.  His son, James DuRell was Grandma's younger, and only, brother.  Dr. Smith was a lieutenant colonel in the medical division of the Wisconsin national guard for many years, retiring in 1942.  Uncle DuRell was also a member of the Wisconsin National Guard, a served three years during World War II in Alaska.

Gene Earl Pierce (1926-2009), Korean War Veteran

Dad's older brother, Gene Pierce, went to Korea and served several years.  I tried once to engage him in a conversation about his time, whether he ever considered going back, and he just said that it was no place he wanted to revisit or remember.  

Joe Hyers Ellestad, Afghanistan Veteran, with his mother Hulda Pierce Eleestad

Joe Ellestad is Peter Pierce's grandson.  This is a photo of him and his mother when he returned from Afghanistan in 2008. The happiness shown in this photograph says everything that needs to be said about love and gratitude.

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