My Father, John Leonard Pierce
During the 2010 Pilsen Liberation Festival, a kind and special visitor arrived – Mrs. Isabel Pierce Ward, the daughter of General John Leonard Pierce, commander of the 16th Armored Division. As with George Patton Waters (who is a regular visitor to the Plzen area), not only is Mrs. Pierce a descendant of one of the famous men who liberated West Bohemia in May of 1945, but she has also visited Plzen since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, as has Mr. Waters.
John Leonard Pierce, United States Army general, was born on April 29, 1895, in Dallas, Texas, the son of Isabella (Archer) Pierce and Frank Cushman Pierce. John, the second oldest of eight children, grew up in the Texas-Mexico border town of Brownsville. He joined the Army and in June 1917, he was commissioned second lieutenant of the United States Infantry. Following World War I, he served with the Army of Occupation (U.S.) 8th Infantry Division in Coblenz, Germany.
Pierce attended West Texas Military Academy (later Texas Military Institute, San Antonio) and the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University). On June 29, 1918, he married Kate Bodine Stone and they had three children. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Pierce continued to be promoted until June 1943, when he achieved the rank of brigadier general. He was interested in the modern concept of mobile warfare and the development of armor.
During World War II, Pierce served in many important capacities: In 1941, he was the commander of a quartermaster unit in the 2nd Armored Division's 67th Armored Regiment. One year later, he became chief of staff of the 2nd Armored Corps. In early 1943, he was in charge of a 9th Armored Division combat command, and in March of that same year, he took over command of the 16th Armored Division, leading the division all the way to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. The men from Pierce's division were given a magnificent welcome, and the joy expressed by the Czechs in relation to the Americans' presence suggests just how important the U.S. Army's entrance into the west Bohemia city was. Perhaps General Pierce said it best when he wrote to Pilsen's new mayor, Dr. Hrbek, in May of 1945: “Dear Mr. Hrbek: I wish to thank you and the patriotic citizens of Pilsen for the enthusiastic welcome accorded the officers and men of the 16th Armored Division on their entrance into your city on Sunday, May 6, 1945. It has been a pleasant and fitting climax to our long journey from America. The happy faces of the men, women, and children who greeted us bring sharply to mind the high ideals for which your and our people have fought. Sincerely, John L. Pierce, Brigadier General, United States Army, Commanding.”
General Pierce received a number of decorations for his contribution to the fight against Nazism, including the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Order of the White Lion, and the Military Cross of Czechoslovakia. After World War II, Pierce was president of the Secretary of War's Discharge Review Board. He retired to Brownsville in 1946 and died in San Antonio, Texas on February 12, 1959. He was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
General Pierce wasn’t only an excellent soldier, but also an excellent father. See for yourself, as you read the words of his daughter, Isabel Pierce Ward: “I was in awe of my father in my younger years. He was fun to be with and yet had his serious side, wanting to teach my sister, brother, and me to be polite, honest, and truthful, just as he and my mother were – all good traits… and a lot to learn. We were reminded, also, to ‘sit up straight’ at the dinner table, something I still struggle with to this day. We learned that it was wrong to be racially prejudiced. My father was friendly and outgoing with everyone. He was a kind man.
Our summers were always so much fun. We would drive to the Texas border town of Brownsville for a visit with my father's large family. There were trips to the beach and across the Rio Grande River into Mexico. When we returned home we spent days at the post swimming pool and had picnics with friends of my mother and father. I was not aware of the Great Depression at that time.
During my teen years, my father always seemed to know when I was going through a tough time. Without asking me if anything was wrong, he would find a way to cheer me up. Once, just before a holiday dance, he presented me with a white rabbit fur jacket, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen!
He was a devoted family man to my mother, my sister (Jessie Pierce Rousmaniere), my brother (John Leonard Pierce, Jr., now deceased), and to me. My father was loving, without being demonstrative. I loved and admired him and suffered watching him succumb to a series of strokes. He died in 1959.”