An Interview with MG Albert Pierson, Assistant Division Commader 11 A/B Div.

At 0600 on 30 August 1945 General Swing’s C-54 touched down on Atsugi, Japan. The second plane to land that day carried the Assistant Division Commander, Albert Pierson. With the cessation of hostilities and Japan's announcement of surrender, soldiers from 11th Airborne Division were some of the very first Allied troops to enter Japan as an occupying force. In the following interview MG (Ret.) Pierson recalls the day he landed in Japan.

Editor's Note: It is worth mentioning that MG Pierson is the only surviving WWII airborne veteran that is also a veteran of the First World War. MG Pierson is presently 99 years young and still sharp as a tack.

When America entered WWI, Albert Pierson was a junior at Cornell University and a ROTC cadet. He ultimately graduated several programs including Camp Perry Small Arms School in September 1918 and was commissioned a second lieutenant at the age of 19. Then 2LT Pierson was anticipating a tour in Europe but the war ended before he was given an opportunity. In 1920 he accepted a Regular Army commission in the 42nd Infantry. Lieutenant Pierson embarked from Brooklyn, NY for a tour in Puerto Rico. He was later transferred to Panama and put in command of a machine gun company. In subsequent assignments, Pierson served in the 13th Infantry, Camp Devens, MA, and the 15th Tank BN Fort Benning, GA in 1930. As a rising officer, Pierson attended the Advanced Infantry Course where he was instructed by the likes of George Marshall, Omar Bradley and Joseph Stillwell.

Pierson was then ordered to command a machine gun company of the 31st Infantry Regiment in the Philippines, two months were spent on beach defense activities on Corregidor. In 1936 he was selected for Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, KS. Upon graduation he was assigned to the 2nd Infantry at Fort Wayne, near Detroit, MI and given command of a battalion. Then Captain Pierson was selected to the Army War College where his classmates were a select group that included both Omar Bradley and Maxwell Taylor. In 1940 he was promoted from Major to Colonel. In 1943, as a Brigadier General, he was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division as Assistant Division Commander. This is where we pick up our interview about his first day in Occupied Japan.

I was in the second plane of 11th A/B "skytrain" headed for Japan. Gen. Swing of course was in the first plane "carrying the flag." The Air Corps and commercial airlines that charted our flight did a tremendous job --  we rode in style. The plane I boarded was plush and included stewards. I was even served a box lunch that had a navel orange. I still remember that -- I hadn’t seen an orange for a couple of years.

When we first touched down in Japan General Swing met Col. Tench who was part of the advanced party. GEN Swing then set up his Command Post (CP) in a hangar. Outside the hangar he had big sign posted that read, "11th Airborne Command Post". The CP consisted of only a small table and a folding chair.

A short time later Col. Tench brought in a Japanese Lieutenant General who had a short dagger as a side arm into the CP. Swing then looked at Tench, told him to get the General out of the room and not return until the Japanese officer removes that "frog sticker". The Japanese General said, through an interpreter, that the dagger was a sign of authority. Gen. Swing said, "from now on, I’m the authority." The dagger was removed from the general.

Shortly after the confrontation, the Japanese General told Gen. Swing that two Kamikaze regiments had not laid down their arms and he should keep the 11th Airborne troops in a specified area on the map. Consequently, we kept our troops in the recommended area for a few days and there were no incidents.

Meanwhile, our men continued to land in C-47s on the airfield.  About two hours after the initial landing, Allied POWs that had recently been released from a Japanese POW camp started walking into the airfield.

In anticipation of General MacArthur’s arrival, the Japanese furnished a menagerie of motor vehicles that included a fire engine. Everything went according to schedule and General MacArthur arrived at 1400. It was a big deal. The 11th Airborne honor guard and band put on a fine presentation.

Personal Interview by Patrick O'Donnell with MG Albert Pierson (Ret) 7/97.