COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - A World War II veteran in Columbus recently celebrated his 99th birthday, prompting a stranger to give him some important military memorabilia from his family.
Private First Class Jack Pierce (Ret.) is one of the only World War II veterans still living today. As a Marine, he spent two and a half years across a war zone in the Pacific. He originally wasn’t on the roster to go to the war.
“I said, you’re not leaving me here. I’ve been with this outfit too long and I’m going [to war] one way or the other,” Pierce said.
He was 25 years old fighting in World War II. And nearly three quarters of a century later, he enjoyed his 99th birthday with a drive-thru party at Covenant Woods retirement community in Columbus where he lives. The event was shown on WTVM. Another local man saw the story and wanted to give Pierce something special.
Michael Bickley polished up a bronze medal for freedom of speech from the early 1940s that belonged to his dad, who was in the Navy, then the Army at Fort Benning. He presented it to Pierce, saying he could pass it down to his family and “this is from the city of Columbus and all the people here and the USA. I’m presenting you with a victory medal.”
Pierce said he was humbled by the gesture. We asked Bickley about his dad and the medal.
“My dad was actually a first class machinist mate on a submarine, nuclear sub,” Bickley said. “I just wanted to do this. I have no family left. I just didn’t want the medal to disappear.”
Pierce remembers making it through the dangerous waters to the beaches at Normandy, not long after the Pearl Harbor attack, but said he wasn’t frightened.
“I look back, reflect back on it, I don’t remember a lot of fear, had to blame it on the adrenaline,” he said.
“There are not too many left that fought for our freedom in the 1940s,” Bickley added.
Seventy years after surviving World War II, Pierce also recently survived a bout with coronavirus.
“I think the Lord had a lot to do with it and I feel as though He saved me for a reason,” Pierce said.
The war vet had a lot of military stories to tell. One story was about getting back from R&R in Australia just in time for formation, and the commanding officer just shaking his head.
“Come to find out, I had lipstick all over my face and I didn’t have time to get cleaned up,” Pierce said laughing.
He left the marines for a safer utility collections job that lasted for three decades, and he’s been a singer on the side, sharing his version of “All of Me.”
As for making it to 100 years old, Pierce said don’t bet against him and “It’s there to take if I want it.”