Charles Pierce, our new Assistant Director,
joined the Coast Survey in 1923 because he wanted to travel
and, to quote him, “That’s what I’ve been
doing ever since.” Reporting in March, 1923, to Boston
from his home Somerville, Mass., where he was born on August
21, 1900, his first assignment took him to an astronomic party
in southeast Alaska. Thirty-four years later, his record shows
that he served 3 tours in the Philippines; 12 seasons in Alaska;
has had 16 years of sea duty and 9 years on geodetic field work,
mainly in the western United States; and that 30 of his 34 years
have been outside of Washington.
When asked which of his assignments he enjoyed
the most, Admiral Pierce answered without a moment’s hesitation,
which is characteristic of him, “The Philippines.”
On his first assignment to the Philippines in 1926, the young
lieutenant, while serving under Capt. Cowie on the FATHOMER,
weathered a severe typhoon at sea off Polillo Island, Luzon.
They almost lost the ship. His comment on that experience was
“What a night!”
On his second tour in the Philippines he was
executive and later commanding officer aboard the old PATHFINDER.
One of the interesting assignments of his tour was the survey
of Scarborough Reef, lying 200 miles west of Luzon in the China
His third and last assignment to Manila was
from 1947 to 1950 when, as Director of Coast Surveys, he was
the last of a long line of C&GS officers who held this important
position. During this period he was responsible for establishing
an organization for the new Republic of the Philippines which
is a counterpart of our own Bureau. He was awarded the Philippine
Legion of Honor, Commander, by the Chief of Staff, Armed Forces
of the Philippines, for his outstanding work on the Philippine
Admiral Pierce spent most of World War II on
Survey ships in Alaskan waters commanding the WESTDAHL and the
PATTON. Assignment in the Aleutians was neither easy nor routine
during wartime. One of the never-to-be-forgotten incidents of
that command occurred in 1944 when the PATTON rescued the crew
of a B-24 bomber which had crash landed on Ilak Island returning
from a bombing mission; target Paramushir Island. The rescued
crew were taken to NAAF Lash Bay and the PATTON returned to
her working grounds.
While attached to Geodesy in 1932 the then
Lieutenant Pierce married Miss Marion Black of Seattle. The
young bride spent the first few years of her married life camping
along the rim of the Grand Canyon while her husband’s
geodetic party executed triangulation along the Colorado River
from Central Utah to Mexico.
Admiral Pierce has spent very little time in
or around Washington – back in 1928 he had a summer assignment
on the Potomac River where, on a leased yacht with a crew of
summer employees, he did second order triangulation from Quantico
to Washington. From 1945 -47, while attached to photogrammetry
on a combined field and office assignment, he initiated and
organized the airport survey parties for the production of airport
obstruction plans. In 1956 he reported to Washington from the
Pacific offshore survey for the Navy as skipper of the PIONEER,
former U.S.S. MOBJACK, to become Chief of Geodesy. [Editor’s
note: The PIONEER began towing a magnetometer invented by Victor
Vacquier of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in August 1955.
This led to the discovery of magnetic striping on the seafloor,
arguably one of the most important discoveries in the history
of the Earth Sciences as it led directly to the formulation
of the theory of plate tectonics. This survey became known as
the “PIONEER survey.”]
One of his most important tasks while Chief
of Geodesy was to accompany Admiral Karo to Ethiopia in December
1956 for reconnaissance of the highlands, consultation with
officials of ICA and the Ethiopian Government, and to plan for
the basic control survey of the Blue Nile River basin, which
is now in progress.
Admiral Pierce is a graduate of Tufts College,
which he entered in 1918 in the same class with Capt. I. E.
Rittenburg, our Assistant Director for Administration.
His file contains many letters of commendation
earned on varied assignments all attesting to his efficiency,
cooperation, and ability to work hard and inspire his men to
The Pierces live at 5411 Lincoln Street, Bethesda,
Maryland. Their married daughter, Melinda, is currently with
them while she awaits the return of her Navy husband from Newfoundland.
Their older daughter, Priscilla, is married and lives in Seattle.
“Personnel Panorama,” Vol. VI, No. 7, pp. 1, 6.