Recovering Italy: WWII story to be told in Greenville Jan. 25
By Skipper Steely, Program Co-Chair
Jan 23, 2024
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Greenville, Texas -- The John A. Pearce program is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. January 25, 2024 at the Audie Murphy/Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas for the members, friends, guests of the WWII History Roundtable Audie Murphy Chapter. The public is invited. There is no charge.

With a world war looming and to obtain another income, young men from around Northeast Texas joined the Texas Army National Guard in 1939-40. Once or twice per week they were required to practice in places like Paris and Greenville, but in late November 1940 they were shocked to be called up for active duty. Now weekly training was in Brownwood at Camp Bowie! The unit became part of the United States Army 36th Infantry Division and participated in the massive Louisiana Maneuvers of September 1941.

Weekend trips home were common until February 1942 when they were moved to Camp Blanding in Florida, to North Carolina in July, then finally in August the base was at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts. By April 1943 the men were in Oran, French North Africa, and after more training, a few accidents, thick boredom, practice, and maneuvers, on September 9 the well-prepared 36th Division was part of an invasion at Salerno, Italy. The Texans were now a portion of the 5th Army.

Frank Webster Pearce of Sulphur Springs was with Company C, 111th Engineers, aiding the 143rd Infantry Combat Team which had several members from Northeast Texas under fire that day. For instance, Captain Mark Hodges of Paris was hit and immediately out of action for the duration of the war. Company C lost two of its engineers and Loyd L. Patterson of Greenville helped “eliminate” a German machine gun nest. The landing was horrendous, and it got no better as the men moved north toward Rome.

For the next two years Pearce was attentive enough to place notes about events into a diary, and write interesting letters home. In 2021 the narrative was turned into a book by his son, John A. Pearce, a former Allen High School head football coach and later the Houston Touchdown Club’s Texas football coach of the year after a successful season at Fort Bend Willowridge High School.

Following a stint as an assistant at Texas A&M, Pearce became head coach of the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin University. He later coached at UCLA and Rice University.

With retirement, the alumnus of East Texas State University turned to a writing career and with the help of State House Press published A Private in the Texas Army, a serious, sometimes humorous, and always detailed look at the Division’s movements. The stories are linked with unit histories so the reader can follow the action.

For those who had relatives or knew participants in the 36th Division or from World War II, an extensive question and answer session will be held following the Pearce talk. To reach Pearce for other questions or comments he can be found on the internet at Johnapearce.com/ .