He may use a wheelchair because of the loss of a leg, but don’t ever underestimate the speed at which Mike Pierce gets things done, especially for area veterans like himself.
Pierce served his country in Vietnam for nearly two years (1966-67) after being drafted at age 21. He mainly worked in transportation while serving in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was shot at but never returned fire.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” he said matter of fact.
After he got out of the military in 1967, Pierce joined the VFW in his native Iowa. He moved to the Owatonna area in 1974. Shortly after that, he became immersed in veteran activities.
Pierce is a past commander of the Owatonna VFW, where he also has served as a trustee and cook. He can usually be found at the VFW Club by 6 a.m. every day.
He’s also served as district commander of the VFW and has made five trips out to Washington, D.C. for veteran activities.
He is currently a member of the Moonlighter’s Exchange Club of Owatonna, where he is heading up the campaign to bring a Veterans Memorial to Owatonna.
While he survived gunfire in Vietnam, Pierce hasn’t been as lucky physically. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with health issues caused by Agent Orange, a powerful herbicide and defoliant chemical used by the U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War to eliminate forest cover and crops for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops. The U.S. program, codenamed Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed more than 20 million gallons of various herbicides over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1961 to 1971.
Agent Orange, which contained the deadly chemical dioxin, was the most commonly used herbicide. It was later proven to cause serious health issues, including cancer, congenital disorders, rashes and severe psychological and neurological problems.
Pierce said he remembers Agent Orange being sprayed to kill the grass so the enemy couldn’t hide in it. At the time, he had no worries about Agent Orange. “You’re over there to do a job and that’s what you did,” he said.
Pierce lost his right leg in 2011. He’s also faced many heart issues in recent years.
Part of Pierce’s satisfaction in giving back to other veterans was serving on the Honor Guard. But when he lost his leg, he was forced to give that up. However, the memories linger.
He said the Owatonna Honor Guard had become known as the best in the state. While performing a funeral at Fort Snelling one year, staff members were so impressed with the Owatonna Honor Guard that Pierce said: “They told us if we could get you up here all the time, we would.”
Pierce said that’s the highest compliment they could have ever received.
Pierce is excited to be heading up the Owatonna Veterans Memorial. He’s heard it time after time from many people. “Why does every little town around Owatonna have a memorial and Owatonna doesn’t?”
He has been working tirelessly over the past six years to bring a memorial to Owatonna. It’s expected to be constructed next year.
And Pierce is doing it for one and only one reason.
“To honor the veterans. To me, that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to veterans like Pierce, especially over the next week as we mark Veterans Day. Who knows where we would be without their sacrifices and service.
Let’s thank our lucky stars for Pierce and other veterans who have gone in hot pursuit of making sacrifices so we can enjoy our freedom.