Monty Piercefield answered the call to serve his country three times. At 96, this Rockford native still carries pride in his country and a message of honor to those who serve today.
Asking a man to go to war for his country once in a lifetime seems more than enough for most people. But Rockford West graduate Fremont “Monty” Piercefield found himself being called to duty three times during his Army career: in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
“I would do it again,” says Piercefield, who’s now 96. “I felt honored to fight in those three wars because I learned something from fighting in each of them.”
Piercefield returned to the Rockford area this past May to take part in Harlem High School’s Veterans Gala honoring five local veterans. The event included a showing of student-produced documentaries highlighting each person’s service.
“I have an attachment here,” says Piercefield. “I have a lot of good friends from the ranks, and if there is any way I can help out I’d like to do so.”
Piercefield was born Oct. 1, 1926, in Platteville, Wis. He lived in a rural area, walking a mile or so to a one-room school that had one teacher. He earned 25 cents a day on a local farm during the summer, driving the horse wagon that pulled the hay into a barn.
Eventually, the Piercefield family moved to Rockford, where manufacturing offered better pay for Monty’s father. After his mother died in 1938, he was placed in a boarding school in Glenwood, Ill., for boys of one-parent families. In the summer of 1940, he returned to Rockford and lived with his Uncle Elgar.
That fall, he enrolled in Rockford West High School and joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) program and the school band. This is where his interest in the military started to take hold.
By the time he graduated, World War II had been raging for several years and Piercefield’s desire to become a soldier was growing stronger every day.
“I didn’t enlist, but I waited for my 18th birthday and registered for the draft,” he recalls. “I had a job that kept me busy until I was notified to report for induction, and that day came on Dec. 14, 1944.”
Off he went for Army basic training at Camp Hood in Texas. Piercefield’s unit specialized in the 57-millimeter antitank gun – a relatively new weapon designed to kill German tanks. Piercefield was designated an antitank gun crewman and headed for duty in Germany, where the Nazis were making a final, desperate defense against Allied forces.
While he awaited his overseas transport at Fort Dix, in New Jersey, the Nazis surrendered. But the war to defeat Japan in the Pacific was still going strong, so Piercefield headed to Camp Stoneman, in California, for deployment to the Pacific.
Crammed into a cargo ship Piercefield and hundreds of other “GI’s” headed to Manila in the Philippine Islands. After a few uncomfortable weeks at sea, they arrived and were taken to the replacement depot at Laguna de Baya.
“I was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division nearby,” recalls Piercefield. “I ended up in the anti-tank section of the 1st Squadron, 5th Cavalry Regiment. But the unit didn’t have any antitank guns, so they looked for other things for me to do, like helping out the Squadron Operations Sergeant.
The 1st Cavalry happened to be in a “rest status” when Piercefield arrived so he saw no combat. “We new guys were sent on ‘Bamboo Patrols,’ he recalls. “It amounted to patrolling around our camp’s perimeter with loaded weapons and battle gear. We saw nothing at all.”
Soon after his arrival, the division was alerted that the invasion of Japan was imminent. After weeks of intense training, they climbed aboard a ship headed toward Japan. But once again, fate intervened and Piercefield learned that America had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.
“Our unit was assigned an area of occupation in which we were to maintain law and order while we collected war materials from the Japanese,” says Piercefield. “I was lucky enough to collect some enemy swords, two of which I eventually brought home to the U.S.
“When I arrived in Japan, I was only a private first class,” he continues. “But with the war over, there was a big push to get the older vets who had been fighting for years back home. I became friendly with the squadron operations sergeant, who made me his understudy for the job. It called for a staff sergeant rating, and I set my eyes on getting that rank.”
Soon enough, Piercefield’s mentor was headed home and he was sporting the bars of a staff sergeant.
Occupational duty was easy in Japan, and time passed quickly until he, too, was back home in Rockford. He enrolled in the Wisconsin Institute of Technology in the fall of 1946 to study mining engineering, but he soon found he wasn’t interested in mining or many of his other classes, either. Luckily, money wasn’t a problem since his education was being paid for by the GI Bill, which provided him $75 a month for room and board.
And then fate intervened yet again. One Sunday evening he met a pretty, brown-eyed girl named Ann Randall at a college mixer.
“We met in February 1948 and were married that August,” says Piercefield, a smile on his face. “It had to be providential as I took her from a life of plenty to one of sacrifice and not so plentiful.”
Ann became pregnant in September 1948 and the couple started planning for a major addition to the family. Piercefield still had two years of college left. Ann was ready to graduate with a teaching degree.
Unsure what to do, Piercefield decided it would be best to reenlist in the Army at his former rank of staff sergeant. The plan was for Ann and their newborn son, Mike, to join him at his new duty station at Fort Riley, in Kansas.
He wasn’t there for long. On June, 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, an ally of the United States, and the U.S. responded swiftly, sending American troops into Korea.
U.S. forces were unprepared for another war and were understrength and lacking proper equipment. The Army began scraping up every soldier it could find, and Piercefield was ordered to go.
Unlike his previous experience, Piercefield was to find himself taking part in some of the most historic and dangerous battles of this war. After arriving by ship to Japan he was assigned as an operations sergeant in the 7th Infantry Division, and by Sept. 18, 1950, he was taking part in the most important amphibious assault of the war, at Inchon.
“Luckily, the First Marine Division had made the initial amphibious assault in a successful fashion,” recalls Piercefield. “We went ashore unopposed, and while the first night ashore was a bit hairy because we didn’t know where the enemy was or what to expect from them, fortunately nobody was injured.”
Inchon was a major victory for the U.S. and Allied forces, and it wasn’t long before they liberated the city of Seoul. Little did they know their toughest battles were still ahead.
In the early winter months of 1950, Piercefield and the 31st Regiment of the 7th Army Division were assigned to support U.S. Marine forces close to the Chosin Reservoir, near the Chinese border with North Korea. American forces there fought not only the Chinese but a brutal, bitter cold that caused more casualties from frostbite than from combat.
“That was interesting,” recalls Piercefield. “I was 24 years old and part of the 7th Infantry Division, and we followed the Marines in. The tough part was we were not equipped to do battle in those kinds of extreme weather conditions. We didn’t have the weapons or the clothes to fight that war. The Chinese were better equipped to fight in those bitterly cold conditions.”
At one point, Piercefield’s unit was completely surrounded by the Chinese and was under frequent attack, resulting in hundreds of casualties. Since they were greatly outnumbered their only chance of survival was to organize a fighting retreat through treacherous mountains on what could best be described as an unpaved “ox cart” road. The Chinese were waiting for them at almost every turn.
It took days of hard fighting for the Marine and Army units to make their way to the Korean coast where they could be evacuated by ship. As his unit reorganized, Piercefield realized that, of his original battalion, only three officers and 68 enlisted men were present for duty. Many had been killed, wounded, or missing in action. In the 17-day battle of the Chosin Reservoir, approximately 2,500 American troops were killed, 5,000 were wounded, and another 8,000 were injured by frostbite.
A short time after the battle, Piercefield found out he had been recommended for a commission to 2nd Lieutenant and was ordered to Pusan for the commissioning. He was assigned to command an infantry platoon.
“I was a bit concerned about how the enlisted men might view my leadership abilities,” he says. “Once I told them of my combat experiences during the ‘Frozen Chosin’ they seemed to accept me as their leader.”
After several more incidents involving heavy combat, Piercefield was ordered to the assistant division commander as his aide de camp. After several months of this duty, he was ordered to report to Ft. Benning in Georgia, to the Company Officer Course.
Piercefield reunited with his wife and son, and soon they headed off to Fort Leonard Wood, in Missouri. Other duty stations and training soon followed including the Language School at the Presidio in Monterey, Calif., and the Army base at Puerto Rico. It was there that Piercefield applied for and received a regular Army commission into the Transportation Corps.
The years passed quickly as Piercefield’s responsibilities and rank. Eventually, he landed in Washington, D.C., serving as a Major in the Army’s Office of the Chief of Transportation.
When things started heating up in Vietnam in 1965, Piercefield took on new responsibilities and challenges.
“I was assigned to the freight movements section,” he says. “Once we had troops on the ground, we needed to get them whatever supplies they required to fight. The bulk of what we sent was by ship, which took a long time and lots of planning.”
Piercefield volunteered to serve and was stationed in Vietnam in January 1968. Stationed with the Army’s transportation branch, he supervised large administrative motor pools that provided support to units lacking equipment.
“I had been in Vietnam for about a month when, during the annual Tet holiday, the enemy launched a coordinated attack on many of the important American installations, including the U.S. Embassy,” he recalls. “The attacks had limited success, but they helped to convince American citizens that the U.S. military had suffered major defeats. For me, I was lucky and only on the first night of the attack did I have to take cover in a bunker.”
Piercefield served his one-year tour of duty in Vietnam and went to Germany to be commander of the 53rd Transportation Battalion. He was joined there by his growing family, which now included Ann, daughter Paige, mother-in-law Daisy and cat Fuzzy, who all joined him for two years in Kaiserslautern, Germany. His son, Mike, stayed behind to attend college in Superior, Wis.
From Germany, Piercefield headed to the Pentagon where he served on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The Joint Chiefs of Staff was the highest staff agency in the Department of Defense,” says Piercefield. “My staff was made up of elements of all four military services: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.”
In March 1978, Piercefield was assigned to his last duty station at Fort Sheridan, in Illinois. As post commander, he was responsible for all administrative functions.
“Ft. Sheridan was a complete circle of assignments for me,” he says. “From being inducted as a private in 1944 to my final military assignment as a colonel in the U.S. Army.”
Piercefield retired on Sept. 30, 1980. He and Ann bought a house on Rockford’s Oxford Street, and with the help of a few friends he got a job at the City of Rockford Public Works Department as Logistics Special Projects Officer. He worked there until 1990.
Through it all, Ann stood by his side, making all of the adjustments an Army wife has to make. “My wife was a special person. She was the perfect Army wife,” says Piercefield. “I attribute all the success in my life to Ann. She was our support and strength on the home front.”
Monty and Ann celebrated 70 years of marriage on Aug. 26, 2018, just a few months before her death. “How sad, but being together for 70 years was a real blessing,” Piercefield says. “She will be forever the love of my life.”
Today, Piercefield lives near Milwaukee. He still enjoys attending veterans events and remains sharp mentally and emotionally. He keeps a sharp eye on America’s military and has strong feelings about how they should be supported.
“I want the public to know our Congress has to do a better job of preparing our military for the future,” he says. “A war is something that can happen to us at any time. We should always be prepared. I think that’s the big lesson that I’ve learned from all my time in the military, that we should always be prepared and that we should honor and salute those men and women who have served and died for our country and our freedom.”