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Volume 2740




Cadet James Michael Pierce
Just before he received his wings ~ 1956
Joanne Pierce (Joan II)
Joanne Pierce
(Joan II)
Time moved pleasantly onward as my real estate business prospered and my little family settled down to life's routines. Joanne attended a girl's school in San Marino, and Mike attended Harvard Military Academy in Studio City. He was a day student since we lived only two miles away. Joanne later returned to Van Nuys High School and graduated. She did not go to college, but took a stenographic course in a well-known business college.

She obtained a job at the North American defense plant in Canoga Park. She was working on mahogany row as a private secretary until she married her boss, Charles Anselmo. He is an Italian Catholic, so Joanne took the Catholic faith. They now have four daughters who spend a lot of time with me in Apple Valley.

A grandpa has a great image among children, it seems. He has to fix broken dolls and tricycles, as well as answer many questions. They come in and say, "Grandpa, catch me a lizard," and that puts Grandpa on a spot, but I do it. There's a lake on the nearby golf course full of tadpoles, so every time they visit they want Grandpa to help them catch some. Then they take them home and wait for them to develop into frogs.

Family gathering

Mike has fond memories of Ed's performance as grandfather. When Mike was about ten, he had a newspaper route in Sherman Oaks. Ordinarily he rode on his bike, but on rainy days Mr. Burroughs dropped by to help Mike fold papers, then drove him over the route and tossed papers out of his side of car. The last time Mike was in Sherman Oaks he said he got a deep feeling of nostalgia from retracing that route.

Mike graduated from the military school with honors. He was a high-ranking officer in the battalion and was league champion swimmer and diver. Olympic champion, Gary Tobian, was in that league with Mike, and they competed on many occasions. Mike often beating him in both swimming and diving. He was also on the football and basketball teams at the academy.

Mr. Burroughs would show up at Mike's military school on special battalion review days to observe the maneuvers. On one occasion when Mike received an award, Mr. Burroughs embraced him tearfully. Perhaps his fondest memory is that Mr. Burroughs appointed him official projectionist for the Saturday night private film showings and consulted him about the selections.

Mike's great love was aviation. When he was just a little boy, starting at about three years of age, he flew with me regularly. He even had a log book that I kept for him. As he grew up, he became a model-building fiend, spending hours in his room putting kits together.

He was a great fan of Charles Lindbergh and Wylie Post. I nicknamed him Wylie and still call him that occasionally. He signs that name on his letters to me. He read everything he could get his hands on about aviation, whether technical or fiction, and decided early in his life that he would be a pilot.

Until he went away to college, he never missed a chance to fly with me. When he first entered Arizona University, many of my old friends were still there, including Pop McKale and Louis B. Slonaker, dean of men, and a star forward on the basketball team I coached. Mike went out for freshmen football and was pledged Phi Delta Theatre.

When the freshman team came to Los Angeles to play El Camino Junior College, I met the coach, who obviously had bad news to impart.

He said, "Mike started out great. He looked great al l through the early part of the season and was heading toward a regular on the squad. About a week ago, he came to me and said he ws not feeling so hot. He looked pale and washed out. I sent him to the school doctor and he gave him a cursory examination, gave him some pills, and let it go at that. He dragged around in practice and I had to bench him from scrimmage. He looked too sick. He really shouldn't have made this trip over here, but he had worked so hard and was looking forward to the trip so much and a chance to visit home that I brought him along with the team anyway, but I'm not going to play him."

When Mike joined us, I was shocked. He had a terrible color and his eyes had a far-away look, but he told me not to worry. He was disappointed that he couldn't play because a lot of his old friends would be there. He got into his uniform, but sat on the bench.

Joan was equally shocked when I said, "There's something terribly wrong with Mike." After the game we took Mike home with us for the night. He said, "I always have a drowsy feeling and often fall asleep in classes."

When we got home, I called Lew Shine, our family doctor, who said, "Meet me right away at the Valley Hospital." It was in Encino, not far from Sherman Oaks where Dr. Shine was chief of staff. He noticed that Mike had an enlarged spleen, and took some blood tests that didn't analyze well. After an hour or so, he decided it was mononucleosis, which could develop into leukemia if not stopped. He said, "I know a doctor in Beverly Hills who is a specialist in this type of blood condition. Take Mike to his clinic first thing in the morning. I'll make the arrangements for you."

The specialist also diagnosed it as mononucleosis, adding, "Mike's blood has the highest count I have ever diagnosed that is not already leukemia. Mike will have to be hospitalized at once for treatment and observation."

I went immediately to Tucson to pick up Mike's gear, including his graduation present from Harvard Academy, a new Ford convertible. Pop McKale and Dean Slonaker decided to cancel his enrollment for that semester in order that he would not be marked as "failure" in his subjects.

His response to the treatment was satisfactory but slow. He was in the hospital for several weeks, and at home he needed a special diet and medication and had to remain in bed most of the time. Liver seemed to be one of the mainstays in his diet -- cooked, raw or liquid. (Burp!)

The treatment finally took hold, his color returned to normal, and he could exercise a little. We checked into the clinic once a week and all the results were positive. After three or four months, he was pronounced normal but was told to take it easy.

He soon became restless to get back to school. The doctor advised him to stay near home for checkups, so we chose Valley College near Sherman Oaks, where he knew several students. Before the end of the school year, he was playing basketball in gym classes and even took up wrestling and weightlifting.

As fall approached, I supposed he would want to return to the University of Arizona, but he surprised me by saying, "I had such a bad experience there that I prefer not to return." This disappointed me as I had great affection for the U. of A. and Pop McKale.

Meantime, he discovered that several of his military school buddies had gone to Colorado College in Colorado Springs. While home for the summer vacation, he saw many of them and they painted a great picture of the life there. His buddies were all Phi Gamma Deltas at Colorado College, and he was invited to join "Phi Gee." Adios Phi Delta Theta, my long-awaited dream for him.

After two years at Colorado College, we received an unexpected phone call from him. Excitedly, he stated, "I've joined the Naval Aviation program and will soon leave for Pensacola, Florida. I am going to train for a pilot, and I can hardly wait." He also said, "I have found the girl of my dreams, Jan Watts of Whittier, California, a student here. We are now engaged."

"My dear boy," I replied. "I hope you have given all this a lot of thought. You are making two of the greatest decisions you will ever make in your life."

His mom, who had been listening on the extension, popped in and said, "Congratulations, Mike darling, I know how you have always wanted to be a pilot, and Jan must be tops or you wouldn't have fallen in love with her. Good luck, and God bless you both."

"That goes for me, too," I echoed. "Try and come by home on your way to Florida. Adios."

Joan and I drove to Pensacola from Shelbyville, Indiana to see him graduate fifth in his class. We took Jan and my dad with us.

After Pensacola, he was sent to Corpus Christi for advanced training. We all joined him again to see him receive his Wings. This was another huge "high" for us.

After he received his Wings, he was given a choice of Navy or Marines, and he chose the Marines. On his leave before his Marine Corps assignment, he came to California and married Jan in a big wedding uniting the Watts and the Pierce clans. As is customary, the father of the bride threw the wedding "blast." The pierces dodged the bullet there. Everyone had a great time. Some of Mike's college buddies fouled up the engine in his car so it wouldn't start, so I gave him our car. I was stuck for hours until we could get his car to run.

His first assignment was Beeville, Texas which was not exactly the Riviera as a honeymoon spot. From Beeville, he went to Edenton, North Carolina. By now he was a captain. Joan and I got to visit him in both places.

With grandson James Christian Pierce ~ 61.08.26On August 26, 1961, our first and only grandson, James Christian Pierce, was born to Jan and Mike.

In 1957, the time came for his tour of duty in Vietnam. the Marines weren't allowed to take their families, so he bought a home in Pomona, California near some close friends of Jan's, and left for thirteen months overseas.

During his tour, Mike had a lot of hairy experiences. In 1968, he arrived in Danang with a group of ten planes and one hundred crew members the day the Tet invasion hit. He was commanding officer of the group. They were camped alongside the runway when rockets and shells began coming in by the hundreds. They had to hit the bunkers but lost only one plane. It had just started to take off with supplies for Khesanh soldiers who had been pinned down for several days. The plane was hit before it was airborne and burst into flames, but luckily all the crew escaped. Later, he was authorized to wear the Combat V with his Navy Commendation Medal for meritorious service in this episode.

His letters home were sharply observant. For example, he watched with what he termed morbid curiosity the reactions of green Marine recruits as they landed at Dong Ha and were greeted by the sight of rubber sacks containing the bodies of those green no more. Looking closely at a combat veteran in filthy attire topped by a helmet covered with equally filthy language, he discovered that the edge of the helmet said, in tiny letters hidden among the obscenities, "God be with me always." During one flight, he saw anti-aircraft fire directed at planes fifty miles away and pondered the unreal nature of the war. "Here I sit, drinking coffee and eating fruit cocktail, freshly shaved and clean, watching a cineramic war of which I am an innate part from a most sterile and objective vantage point," he wrote.

After thirteen months at Norfolk, Virginia, he went overseas again -- this time to Okinawa. He had switched from the fighter planes to the big transports. The Marines had decided to organize their own cargo operation and purchased a lot of C-130 planes for hauling gasoline, troops, and supplies. Mike took a transfer because he figured that when he got out of the service (he went in when he was twenty-one), he'd be in a better position to work for the airlines or on cargo carriers than those who remained fighter pilots.

When he got time for rest and recreation in Tokyo, Jan stashed Chris with his grandmother in Whittier, and the three of us joined him there for ten days of sightseeing. We combined business with pleasure by calling on a publisher regarding the sale of Tarzan books in Japan, an appointment made possible by the president of the Indiana University Alumni Club in Tokyo.

These Indiana alumni went all out to show us around and held a luncheon in our  honor. Many of them had been on the campus from three to five years, and spoke perfect English. All were successful in their professions or in business, and had a warm feeling for their alma mater. A few of them were old-timers who had seen me play football. 

What amused me was that everything seemed to be in miniature, including beds, theater seats, dining-room tables, chairs, and taxis. When we went anywhere in a cab, we had to take two of them. I had felt I could put one cab on each foot and skate to my destination. The drivers were young and wild, and seemed to get a bang out of frightening us out of our skins. Finally, we rented a limousine from an older man who could speak English and knew the meaning of the word "whoa." When I walked down the street, kids would follow me and stare in amazement at my size. I collected a group everywhere I went because I was head and shoulders above all the pedestrians.

Mike's first assignment after Vietnam was in Washington, D.C. He was the monitor and operations chief for all of the C-130 cargo planes in the Navy and Marine Corps throughout the world. He has two more children now, Brooke and Courtney, but Chris is still my only grandson. 

During my real estate operations, I was active in both of the San Fernando Valley real estate boards. One was a multiple-listing service which covered the eastern end of the Valley, and the San Fernando Valley Realty Board took care of the west end. Later they merged, and I was elected to the Board of Directors.

I also joined the Sherman Oaks Rotary Club when I started in real estate in 1946, and was elected president for the year 1950-51. In 1955, I moved my office to Canoga Park, where I joined the Woodland Hills-Canoga Park joint Rotary Club. In 1956, I was instrumental in getting a separate charter for Canoga Park and served as first president of the club. In 1959, I was the district governor's representative and organized a club in Northridge. The service work in Rotary was demanding and rewarding. I made many friends and attended three international conventions as a delegate.

Jim, Joanne, Joan, and Mike Pierce in front of their Sherman Oaks home.
Jim, Joanne, Joan, and Mike Pierce in front of their Sherman Oaks home.


Rotary Club President's Convention
I'm second from left, President Sherman Oaks Rotary Club

Mike and wife Jan just after the wedding.
He was 2nd Lt. in the Marines at that time.

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