STORIES and MEMORIES
SP5 JIMMY W. PIERCE U.S ARMY
I remember when we loaded a ¾ ton truck onto a pontoon boat and took it across the Omo River inhabited with crocodiles.
I remember traveling through this rain forest area where our trucks were constantly getting stuck, and one even tipped over onto its side.
Our primary purpose was running vertical control circuits in our assigned areas. We would work approximately 50 Kilometers in either direction of our base camp.
We left ruts in the roadway four to five feet deep, winching each vehicle forward sometimes only feet at a time. It took it seems almost a week to travel through this area.
Another episode was when we took an aluminum canoe down to the mouth of Lake Rudolf on the Omo River. The waves coming off the lake up the river almost capsized us. I can remember seeing a crocodile on a huge log on the shore line, the crocodile scurried of the log into the water- and then log also moved into the water. It was a five foot long baby on top of its mother approximately fifteen feet long.
We would then drive 100 Kilometers ahead and do the same thing all over again.
We would be re-supplied by a DC-3 and various other fixed wing aircraft.
It was in April 1966 I was a senior in high school, and I just received notice that I had been drafted. The Vietnam War was raging on and I pondered the idea of applying for a school deferment. I later decided to enlist and take advantage of specialized training programs made available by the Army.
When I was a junior in high school I was asked by the father of a close friend if the both of us wanted to assist him during the summer months where he was working. I knew he worked for a Chemical Company and that he was a Land Surveyor, wanting money I said yes.
The summer consisted of riding tote goat motorcycles around the perimeter of earthen dikes that stored various chemicals in huge open air ponds. The wind sometimes would create waves strong enough to breach the walls, and erode them. We would report our findings daily and others would respond to repair the dikes. I must have been pretty naïve back then thinking that Surveying was riding motorcycles around dikes.
When I enlisted in the Army and saw Topographic Surveying as a choice I knew right away I knew how to do that and signed up--boy did I have a thing or two to learn!
After I completed my Basic Training at Fort Bliss, Texas I was sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia to begin my Topographic Land Surveying training from September thru December of 1966. It was here where I first met Arlie B. Cornbower, a State High School Wrestling Champion from New Freedom, Pennsylvania. We used to take the mattress's from the barrack bunk beds to create a wrestling mat. Being quite proud about how strong I was I told him I didn't think he could handle anyone like me, I soon became the recipient of numerous take-downs and pins. That summer I developed a whole new respect for Arlie as a competitor and as a friend.
In December of 1966, after completing our topographic surveying training the Army had fulfilled their commitment to us and now decided where we would be going. The Army took our entire class and split the personnel into two groups. They told one-half that they would continue to be schooled in an Artillery Surveying Class while the remaining half was to be sent to Libya, Iran, and Ethiopia.
In January of 1967 I left New York City headed for Ethiopia. The plane landed in Beirut, Lebanon where I stayed overnight. I remember military soldiers with machine guns patrolling the streets. It was such a beautiful place back then before the ravages of armed conflict destroyed the city. I flew out of Beirut to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia early the next morning,
I asked a man on the flight what Ethiopia was like and he said "every mile you fly into the country you go back ten years in time" I now know that his statement summarized things quite adequately.
Forty-Two years has gone by, and my memory of a lot of events has faded, I can't remember which survey party I belonged to whether it was Delaware or Denver Party; however, I was with Phillip J. Bloom, Owen L. Bakkegard, Jay A. Kemp, Gregory A. Briggs, and others. I also met up again with Arlie Cornbower before he was assigned to the Detroit Field Party.
Arlie Cornblower (left) Jimmy Pierce (right).
The last part of my tour in Ethiopia was spent recovering German, French, etc. triangulation control markers. I can remember one time we took off in a helicopter and landed on a mountain top where we searched for one of these markers, upon lifting off in the helicopter a wind gust caught us and I can remember how hard the pilot worked trying to keep control of the aircraft. The door was open and I seriously thought about jumping out being only ten to twenty feet in the air. We eventually landed the helicopter and all kinds of warning lights lit up the cockpit instrumentation panel. The pilot uncovered a metal shroud covering the rotor motor and wiped off with a rag metal fragments. This action seemed to turn off a majority of the instrument lights so we once again lifted of and landed at the airport. A further inspection there revealed a crack in the tail section and we were told we should never have flown back. I feel quite fortunate to have lived through my Ethiopia experiences.
I left Ethiopia in February 1968 for Yuma, Proving Grounds in Arizona where I eventually ended my military career. I met Arlie Cornbower here again where we palled around together until June of 1969.
I met Phillip Bloom and his family at my home while they were visiting the L.D.S.Temple here in Salt Lake City, Utah. Phillip owns an engineering firm in Moses Lake, Washington.
I have been working as a Licensed Land Surveyor and Administrator for forty years with the Salt Lake County Surveyors Office which I just retired from.
I would like to thank the efforts of Lee Miller and any others who have created the Ethiopia/ U.S. Mapping Mission Web Site, it brings back a lot of memories.
Jim W. Pierce