Valor Friday

| April 5, 2019

Iwo Jima Memorial

Mason’s back today with Francis (Frank) Junior Pierce, a Naval Hospital Corpsman with the 4th Marine Division during the very hard days in the Pacific during WWII. Frank survived the war, married, and found employment as, well, let’s not ruin it. Thanks, Mason.

navy moh

Francis (Frank) Junior Pierce was born December 7, 1924 in Earlville, Iowa. On his 17th birthday the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A week later, Frank had enlisted in the US Navy. After boot camp he was trained as a Hospital Corpsman in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was then assigned to the naval hospital at Parris Island, South Carolina, where he remained until August 1942.

Sent to join the Fleet Marine Force, Pierce received training at Camp Lejeune. By January 1944 he sailed from Camp Pendleton with the 4th Marine Division for the Marshall Islands, still enemy held.

As a corpsman with the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, he served through several major battles in the Pacific Theater. At Kwajalein Atoll the 2nd Battalion suffered heavy casualties after an enemy ammo dump exploded. The regiment then joined the attack on the Marianas. Initially held in reserve on the day of the invasion of Saipan (June 15th, 1944), the 24th Marines were called up after heavy fighting was encountered later that afternoon. This battle didn’t end for almost a month, the island finally being declared secure on July 9.

Days later, Frank and his Marines were then sent to the neighboring island of Tinian, where the 24th Marines took a leading role in the invasion, being the first to hit the beaches. By August 1 the island was in American hands and the regiment returned to Hawaii only to be called out a short time later for one of the worst battles in the Pacific Theater; Iwo Jima.

The Battle of Iwo Jima was one of the worst battles in the Pacific Theater, both in the ferocity of its defense and the blood shed on both sides. Though the American forces greatly outnumbered (5:1) the enemy, the Americans had air superiority, and the Japanese were cut off from their supply lines and had no hope of resupply or reinforcement, they fought from a firmly entrenched position. Fortified for years during the Allies’ island-hopping campaign, the Japanese defenders had a dense network of bunkers, tunnels, and artillery positions ready. The Japanese forces fought almost to the last man. Of the roughly 21,000 men they had on the island at the start of the campaign, only 216 were taken prisoner. Many of those were only taken prisoner because they had been knocked unconscious during the fighting.

It was into this vicious battle that the 24th Marines were part of the amphibious landing at Yellow and Blue beaches on February 19, 1945 at just after 0900 hours. They initially met minimal resistance as their landing craft came towards the shore. The naval gunfire and air support had been hitting the beachhead hard, moving into a rolling barrage as the landing craft came in.

Iwo Jima Landing Plan

Once ashore, the Marines and sailors immediately became cripplingly bogged down on the beach. Intelligence had said the beach would be hard packed and easy to traverse. This was true, however a wall of very soft volcanic ash just inland of the beach, beyond the high tide line, had a 40% grade to it. This natural barrier was difficult for even tracked vehicles to climb. This meant the entire 4th Marine Division was stuck on the beach, exposed to withering enemy fire from Mount Suribachi on the left and a cliff line on the right.

Within the first two days, the 4th Division had suffered more than 2,000 casualties, of which Pierce would have been at the forefront in treating. Days later, as the battle progressed, the iconic photo was taken of the flag being raised at Suribachi, on February 23rd.

For nearly a month, the 24th Marines, with Frank in tow, fought hard for every inch of ground, often in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. It was during the last two days of fighting, March 15 and 16, that Pierce would distinguish himself above and beyond the call of duty.

First, during intense fighting on March 15, while under heavy enemy rifle and machinegun fire, Pierce was carrying out some of the most dangerous assignments, going and getting wounded men. Pierce took charge of a group of stretcher bearers when their corpsman had been cut down along with two of the eight men, who were carrying two severely wounded Marines. Frank took guided the men to a sheltered position, having tactical knowledge of the area from having been there so long, and began to render aid to the two grievously injured troops.

As Pierce was trying to stop profuse bleeding on one of his patients, Japanese troops opened fire on his position from less than 20 yards away, wounding his patient again. Pierce used himself as a human target, running out of the cave and directing the enemy fire away from his patients. As he deliberately exposed himself to the imminently close enemy fire, he used the last bit of his ammunition to kill the Japanese soldier.

Pierce then picked up his wounded comrade onto his back and carried him, unarmed, through deadly fire across 200 feet of open terrain. Exhausted and in the face of warnings that returning would be a suicide mission, he returned across the same path, through untold rounds of enemy fire to retrieve the second Marine left in that cave, which he did. Carrying that man back to safety on his third trip through open country.

Then, on the morning of March 16, Pierce led a combat patrol to a sniper nest. While aiding a stricken Marine, Frank was seriously wounded. He refused aid for himself, and instead directed the remaining men into protective fire positions and directed the others in providing treatment to the wounded Marine.

As his Medal of Honor citation reads, “Completely fearless, completely devoted to the care of his patients, Pierce inspired the entire battalion. His valor in the face of extreme peril sustains and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.” No truer words could ever be written about someone who does what Pierce did over the course of just two days, in a battle that had been waging for a month, in a campaign that he’d been a part of for more than a year.

By the end of the Iwo campaign, the 24th Marines suffered 652 KIA and 1,053 WIA. More than a 50% casualty rate in a month of fighting. The 4th Marine Division suffered 9,090 casualties, of which 1,731 were KIA. That’s more than half a Marine division’s end strength. The division would receive two Presidential Unit Citations and a Navy Unit Commendation for their service during these battles.

This would be Pierce’s last battle of the war, thankfully, as he’d cheated death enough times. He was discharged December 1, 1945 as a pharmacist’s mate first class. He was initially awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on March 15 and the Silver Star for his actions on the 16th. These awards were combined and upgraded to the Medal of Honor in 1948. He didn’t even know he was in consideration for the medal until he was told to come to the White House for the ceremony, receiving it from President Truman.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while attached to the 2d Battalion, 24th Marines, 4th Marine Division, during the Iwo Jima campaign, 15 and 16 March 1945. Almost continuously under fire while carrying out the most dangerous volunteer assignments, Pierce gained valuable knowledge of the terrain and disposition of troops. Caught in heavy enemy rifle and machinegun fire which wounded a corpsman and 2 of the 8 stretcher bearers who were carrying 2 wounded marines to a forward aid station on 15 March, Pierce quickly took charge of the party, carried the newly wounded men to a sheltered position, and rendered first aid. After directing the evacuation of 3 of the casualties, he stood in the open to draw the enemy’s fire and, with his weapon blasting, enabled the litter bearers to reach cover. Turning his attention to the other 2 casualties he was attempting to stop the profuse bleeding of 1 man when a Japanese fired from a cave less than 20 yards away and wounded his patient again. Risking his own life to save his patient, Pierce deliberately exposed himself to draw the attacker from the cave and destroyed him with the last of his ammunition Then lifting the wounded man to his back, he advanced unarmed through deadly rifle fire across 200 feet of open terrain. Despite exhaustion and in the face of warnings against such a suicidal mission, he again traversed the same fire-swept path to rescue the remaining marine. On the following morning, he led a combat patrol to the sniper nest and, while aiding a stricken Marine, was seriously wounded. Refusing aid for himself, he directed treatment for the casualty, at the same time maintaining protective fire for his comrades. Completely fearless, completely devoted to the care of his patients, Pierce inspired the entire battalion. His valor in the face of extreme peril sustains and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

Harry S. Truman

Usually this ends the Valor Friday post, with a hand salute. Today we are treated with a bit more, by one of our own- UpNorth- who knew the man, and is kind enough to share his recollections with us.

After his service in the Navy, Pierce returned home for a short time to Iowa, then moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan to marry Lorraine, a woman he’d been corresponding with during the war. He spent a year and a half in the Michigan National Guard from 1949 into 1950, where he served as a 2nd lieutenant. He had two boys with Lorraine, then, after she passed away, he had two daughters with his second wife Madelyn.

Pierce would go on to work as a police officer for Grand Rapids PD, including service as a bomb squad technician for the department for several years. One of our members, UpNorth, worked with him there for a time. Describing him as “one of a kind”, he relays a story that is at once unbelievable and entirely too believable for someone who has seen so much war.

As bomb techs are relatively rare in law enforcement, he was frequently called to other jurisdictions to assist. During one of these calls Frank grabbed a “suspicious device” and put it in the trunk of his car. He drove back to the PD and parked right outside his office (coincidentally right next to the gas pump) and went inside to get his tools. I guess a guy who got shot at repeatedly by Japanese soldiers for a year wasn’t too worried about a bomb taking him out. Thankfully it was a dud.

UpNorth said that Pierce was the kind of boss that wouldn’t ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. Sounds like he led from the front until the end. He rose to the rank of deputy chief before retiring in 1982. Frank got taken out by lung cancer in 1986 at the age of 62, finishing what tens of thousands of Japanese had tried and were unable to do.

Francis Junior Pierce was one of only five Navy personnel (four corpsmen, one officer) to receive the Medal of Honor for the battle of Iwo Jima. Of the four corpsmen awarded the MoH here, he was one of only two that survived the battle.

Hand salute. Ready, two!

Category: Devil Doc, Guest Post, Marines, The Warrior Code, Valor

Comments (13)

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  1. AnotherPat says:

    A big Thank You to Mason for his research and write-up on Frank Pierce.

    To put things in perspective, Mr. Pierce was only 20 years in March 1945. I may be wrong, but I think in Iowa, one had to be 21 years old in 1945 to vote.

    Thank you also goes out to UpNorth for sharing his memories of Mr. Pierce…and of course, to AW1Ed for posting these stories.

    Salute. Never Forget.

    • Comm Center Rat says:

      I too am amazed at what he accomplished, endured, and survived as a youth. Pierce enlisted at 17 and was discharged a week before his 21st birthday. It reminds me of the old Army commercial: we do more by 9:00 AM than most people do in a day. Pierce seemed to have a separate career rolled into each year of military service. This big cat had nine lives.

  2. crucible says:

    Really enjoy these-thanks.

  3. Ex-PH2 says:

    I appreciate these posts a huge lot. Please keep them coming.

  4. CDR_D says:

    Yes, many thanks for posting these.

  5. 5th/77th FA says:

    Just….WOW! A full lifetime of Service to his fellow man, tragically cut short. We can only imagine the other acts of bravery he may have had to take during the island hopping til he got to IWO.

    Thanks for these stories Mason. Thanks also to UpNorth for the personal touch, adds a lot. And to AW1Ed for the postings.

    BZ Corpsman Francis Junior Pierce. We Honor your Bravery and Service to those Warriors!

    Hand Salute….Ready…Two

  6. HMCS(FMF) ret says:

    Thanks for posting this, Mason.

  7. Jay says:

    Damn shame. Cancer had to sneak up on him in his 60s to have a fighting chance. Francis Junior Pierce was as a MAN! Medal of Honor recipient Sailor, served in the state Guard as a Louie….then got ‘bored’ and served on the bomb squad. DAMN!

  8. Roh-Dog says:

    …we should thank God that such men lived. -GEN Patton

  9. 26Limabeans says:

    Great read. Shame he died so young.

    It is always nice to hear about someone and realize that you knew them back in the day,
    keeping their memory alive.

  10. Synloy un says:

    I am grateful that I did not have the honer of being on Iwo or any of those island,and especially not being at the fronzen choszen during the frieszen season.Much to cold

  11. Synloy un says:

    There is a great C.D.about Iwo called Red blood Black sand.At one point one of the guys said Navy corpsmen were the bravest men he ever saw.HE said they almost considered them to be Marines.High praise indeed