Another Wednesday Hero- Steve Pearce


The following comes from an email.  It was one of those “my gosh” moments.  I’ve always been impressed with Steve Pearce, but this is incredible!

I know several “decorated” heroes from different branches of service; Army Rangers, 5th Special Forces, SOG groups, 82nd Airborne, Navy SEALS and the like. I’m not sure just how many I know – but it’s a bunch. It is not very often that you are asked by a fellow Veteran to review his military record and make a comment or two. My friend, and former Congressman Steve Pearce, a candidate for the 2010 U.S. House of Representatives, District 2, from New Mexico – asked me to do just that; in part because we were stationed at the same base in Vietnam “…back when…” and in part, because he wanted a second set of eyes to set the record straight about a subject he keeps to himself – the way most heroes do.

As background, perhaps you should know that I was stationed at Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, Republic of (South) Vietnam from 24Feb69 through 14Apr71 – and spent over two years “in country” comprising one 13-month tour and 3 extended tours. I served dual duty as the NCOIC of the Navigational Aids & Communications Command Post for the 1881st Communications Squadron (1964th Comm Group – PACAF) in II-Corp. Essentially, we handled all the computers, communications devices, radar approach control, TVOR beacons, and air traffic controllers at the air bases, and in the air space, in and around II-Corp Central Vietnam – from the South China Sea to the Cambodian and Laotian borders.

At the same time, several others and I also served as 12th Security Police – Perimeter Combat Augmentees on night-watch at Cam Ranh Bay. All of our activities were in support of the host F4 Phantom unit, the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing under Col. R. R. Melton, which was later replaced by the 483rd Tactical Airlift Wing as the base host, commanded by Col. A. C. Greenleaf, including Detachment 1, of the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing – Steve’s unit.

I arrived at Cam Ranh Bay a few days after the second major communist offensive (Tet of ’69) fully expecting to die – soon. The pre-arrival stories of war were horrible. Allegedly, helicopter pilots lasted an average of two or three weeks before being wounded or shipped home in a box. I saw our forces build to around 575,000 troops in a fierce guerilla war, then dwindle back down toward the end of our presence there, and final abandonment in late 1972. We lost over 58,000 dead – more than ten times the casualties of Afghanistan and Iraq – put together.

Knowing what we all experienced in Vietnam, I am honored to present my personal summary of the official record of my Vietnam Veteran friend, Steve Pearce, and make observations about his military service in detail – and, thus, I am personally responsible for what you are about to read. With 6 full Campaigns under my belt in Vietnam, I received a drawer full of commendations, awards, and a bunch of medals, myself, including the Vietnam Service Medal with 6 bronze Campaign stars, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm, and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with “V” device – some of them more than once – but I am NOT what military men and women know as a “decorated hero”. Not even close.

Would you like to meet one? Folks – meet Steve Pearce…

Stevan Edward (“Steve”) Pearce obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from the New Mexico State University, at Las Cruces, NM. Steve entered “Active Duty” in the United States Air Force at Lubbock, Texas on February 19, 1970, giving his permanent “Home of Record” address as Hobbs, New Mexico. He didn’t plan to be a war hero – and he does not think of himself as one – but my U.S. Department of Defense says he is one – officially – and that’s good enough for me.

Who are our military “heroes”?

U.S. Army Captain John Williams was quoted recently in the June 2010 Special Edition of The Stars and Stripes article called “In Search Of Heroes” …this way:

“If it goes down and if you’re in (a bad situation), these guys are not
going to stop trying to help you out …even if it means getting killed.”

Steve Pearce is a true “…decorated American military hero…” having received three personal military decorations for heroism, among all of his other military service accolades. They are:

The Distinguished Flying Cross

The 8th highest Federal and Foreign combat service decoration of the United States military, and one of it’s oldest awards. In the order of military precedence, the Distinguished Flying Cross follows the Silver Star for gallantry and the Legion of Merit.

The Distinguished Flying Cross immediately precedes the Bronze Star for valor. The Medal was originally authorized by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926 (retroactive to 1918) to honor the nation’s aviation pioneers. Coolidge gave the first DFC to Charles Lindbergh on June 11, 1927. Later the DFC was issued primarily by the American military. —- Criteria: The DFC is awarded for heroism involving “…voluntary action in the face of danger…” defined as “…well above the actions performed by others engaged in similar flight operations” (*). The DFC is not just an Air Force award – it is given to special members of ALL military services for heroism while engaged in flight.

The Air Medal (awarded twice)

Officially, Steve Pearce was awarded the Air Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster (the first award being the Decoration itself; the second medal is signified by the addition of one bronze Oak Leaf Cluster attached to the Air Medal Ribbon). The Air Medal is the 13th highest Federal or Foreign decoration following the Bronze Star for valor in combat, the Purple Heart for wounds sustained in battle, the Defense Meritorious Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal. It immediately precedes the Aerial Achievement Medal. —- Criteria: The Air Medal was established in 1942, specifically to protect the prestige of the Distinguished Flying Cross. Like the Bronze Star, the Air Medal can be awarded for both personal valor (indicated by the “V” Device attachment to the medal ribbon) and meritorious personal achievement or service while participating in aerial flight (*). The Air Medal is not just an Air Force award – it is given to special members of all military services for personal valor, and precedes such prestigious awards as the Army, Navy and Air Force Commendation Medals, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation and the Outstanding Unit Awards. These distinguished service Decorations precede all other medals, citations, campaign ribbons, awards, and commendations issued by the various branches of the United States military.

In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross Medal and two Air Medals, Steve Pearce also received the following military medals (7) and exceptional service awards (4):

Presidential Unit Citation (AFPUC)
Air Force Combat Readiness Medal (CRM)
National Defense Service Medal (NDSM)
Vietnam Service Medal (VSM)
Air Force Expeditionary Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster – indicating 2 campaign medals (AFEM w/1OLC)
Air Force Longevity Service Award (AFLSA)
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon (SAEMR)
Philippines Presidential Unit Citation (Philippine PUC)
Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Device (RVNGC w/DEV)
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal (RVCM)

Steve’s Active Duty Service:

Steve Pearce’s “Primary Specialty” was 1065-C “Aircraft Commander”. (The related civilian occupation at the time of induction was 196.283 “Airline Pilot, Commercial”). He completed Air Force Undergraduate Flight Training, the Advanced Flight Training School, plus the C-130 Aircraft specialty Training Course, the Survival Training Course, and Jungle Survival School – all between February and July of 1971. His first dual-assignment was flying C-130’s out of Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, Republic of (South) Vietnam and alternating missions out of Clark Air Base, Philippines.

Steve was assigned to Detachment 1 of the 463rd Tactical Airlift Wing at Cam Ranh Bay, serving under Headquarters 13th Air Force, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) in the Philippines, with “in country” flight operations planned and managed by the 834th Air Division, Headquarters 7th Air Force, Tan Son Nhut Air Base (Saigon) – the main war planning headquarters for the entire Vietnam Conflict.

Steve and his crews flew direct aerial combat surveillance orbits monitoring enemy and friendly “chatter” aboard C-130 Hercules airborne listening posts, along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam, and up and down the South China Sea coast, while subject to hostile fire.

Steve Pearce logged more than 518 hours of “Combat” flight time and 77 hours of “Combat Support” time.

Noteworthy: Between March, 1968 and December, 1972 when the Americans abandoned Cam Ranh Bay, members of the 12th SPS documented at least 21 enemy ground assaults, rocket and mortar attacks, resulting in 1 U.S. killed and 7 U.S. wounded in action. VC and NVA sniper attacks and armed recon missions are not included in that number. (Source: “Air Base Defense in Vietnam” by Lt. Col. Roger P. Fox)

On April 19, 1973 Steve Pearce was promoted to Captain. While in Southeast Asia, Steve was stationed briefly on a TDY assignment at Korat – Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. After Vietnam he served for another brief stint at Eielson AFB, Alaska. In February, 1973 Steve graduated from 14 weeks training in KC-135 aerial refueling jets and was reassigned as an aircraft commander to the 97th Aerial Refueling Squadron in the Strategic Air Command (SAC), refueling B-52’s and other aircraft while in-flight.

After 6 years, 4 months, and 12 days of distinguished service, Steve Pearce was released from active duty at his last installation, Blytheville AFB, Arkansas and reassigned to the U.S. Air Force in-active reserves where he eventually received an “Honorable Discharge” from military service – with the thanks of a grateful nation.

That’s my friend, Steve Pearce. Thank you, Steve, for your service to this great country.
You are a true “decorated hero” as military people would attest. Disciplined, steadfast, and most typically and honorably – humble.

Vic Currier
Alto, New Mexico

(*) Source: Heroism medals described in Stars and Stripes special “Heroes” edition, article entitled “In Search of Heroes”, June, 2010, and official Air Force History and unit histories readily available on the internet. All other detailed “Active Duty” information came directly from my personal review of Steve Pearce’s Department Of Defense Form DD-214, “Report of Separation From Active Duty” and my personal knowledge with more than 2 years active duty combat service in the Air Force, II-Corp Region of Central Vietnam.
Steve Pearce