La Crescenta resident and Vietnam veteran Steve Pierce received Veteran of the Year honors at a Veterans Recognition luncheon in Sacramento last week. Pierce was honored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who called Pierce “a community leader” and “a true American hero.”
Pierce’s military career began with enlistment in the Navy. Eventually, Pierce was in Vietnam as part of a crew transporting Army and Marine personnel up and down Vietnam’s rivers, getting as close as seven miles from the demilitarized zone separating North and South Vietnam.
“You think of a country during war and you think of a place that’s demolished,” said Pierce, reflecting upon his time across the Pacific. “But truly, it’s a gorgeous country. One of my goals would be to see it again someday, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”
Pierce was honorably discharged in 1968 as a full lieutenant and was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Since returning home, Pierce has dedicated himself to tending the Vietnam memorial located on the corner of Honolulu and Ocean View, the first Vietnam memorial in California.
“I’m out there every morning at the crack of dawn,” said Pierce. “My wife thinks I’m crazy. But it’s a real love for me.”
Honoring fallen veterans has become a passion for Pierce, especially as he recalled the treatment some of his fellow Vietnam veterans received in the years following the war.
“I know there was a big anti-war sentiment after Vietnam and I can respect that. No one wants war or for people to die. But some of these men had no choice. They were drafted. But it makes me happy to see how our vets come home now and see how people are respecting veterans.”
As a member of American Legion Verdugo Hills Post 288 and VFW Post 1614, Pierce also took part in the rededication of the war memorial at Two Strike Park. Pierce and other veterans reached out to the community and raised $75,000 in donations to construct a new memorial, adding names of other Crescenta Valley veterans killed during war.
But Pierce was quick to defer credit to his friends, fellow veterans in the American Legion and VFW. Similarly, Pierce wished he could dedicate the Veteran of the Year honors to his friend Ken Jury, a Vietnam veteran and La Crescenta resident who passed away in June.
“I was thrilled to receive the honor,” said Pierce. “But I really wanted to accept it on behalf of Ken. He really worked so hard on getting the wall put up in Two Strike Park. He was my hero.”