Celebrate Southwick 250
A Southwick Story
Sad Premonition – US Army Corporal Merritt Pierce
Merritt Edward Pierce was born on July 21, 1921 in Southwick at home to Emma and William Pierce. Merritt grew up with four brothers and three sisters. He worked for A. F. Johnson and Sons Farm and also Griffin Nursery. He was a rifle sharp shooter even before being drafted into the army.
Merritt was drafted into the US Army in June 1942. One month later, older brothers Walter and William were also drafted. Merritt was trained at several Army bases before deploying overseas in the 709th Tank Battalion, 7th Armored Division, 9th Army. He served 15 months in Belgium, Luxemburg and Germany, including in the Battle of the Bulge. The 7th Armored Division was one of the first units engaged in the Battle of the Bulge, and one of the last to leave after it was won by the Allied Forces.
In April 1945, while watching a news reel movie at the Strand movie theater in Westfield, his parents saw a full screen image of Merritt. The Strand and other movie theaters would commonly show news reels of the war at various fronts between movies, but it was highly coincidental to see someone you knew let alone one’s own son. His Mom and Dad had a premonition that this would be the last time they would ever see Merritt alive…and they were sadly correct about this.
On May 8, 1945, the war in Europe ended, marked by VE Day. On May 23, Merritt wrote a letter home. He said he was fine; that the war in Europe was over; and he was not sure when he would be coming home. That same day, while policing his assigned area, Merritt accidentally triggered a land mine. Two days later, he died from his wounds. His parents received his final letter and the telegraphed War Department notification of his death on the same day.
Corporal Merritt Pierce received a Purple Heart, three battle stars, tank weapons medal, sharp shooting medal, carbine medal, and good conduct medal for his war-time service
Merritt’s brothers, Walter and William, were stationed only eleven miles away from where he died.
Merritt’s body was returned home for burial in January 1949, nearly four years after his death. The casket was brought to his parents’ living room for two days of final rest. It was then taken to the Firtion Hollister Funeral Home in Westfield for a full military funeral. Merritt is buried in the Southwick New Cemetery.
Thanks to Southwick 250 Volunteer David Pierce for sharing this family story about one of our Greatest Generation who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Merritt is still survived by his sister-in-law and several nieces and nephews.