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FAIRBANKS - Sam Pierce isn't surprised his son, Jeremy Pierce, is handling adversity well.
The now 23-year-old Jeremy has shown a stubborn persistence since he was a boy. So it was par for the course when he started physical therapy - Pierce lost his lower leg in mid-August in Iraq and is learning to walk with a prosthetic - sooner than predicted by Walter Reed Army Medical Center doctors.
Pierce, raised in Fairbanks, was serving his second stint in the National Guard - the first through the Alaska National Guard, the second through Oregon's - when his armored truck hit an improvised bomb Aug. 12. Fellow guardsmen pulled Pierce to safety, and members of his former Alaska guard unit honored him Sunday in Fairbanks for outstanding service to state and country.
Pierce downplayed the attention at Sunday's luncheon, asking the estimated 120 attending to remember the sacrifices of everyone in the armed forces.
"There are many people here who put their lives on the line," he said.
Pierce worked as a gunner and driver during both tours in Iraq. But he said he'd originally joined to get his hands on heavy machinery, work he expected would pay dividends if he went into contracting - his father is a carpenter - later in life. Instead, he wound up earning a bronze star for service in combat and, later, a Purple Heart.
During the six months between the end of his time with the Alaska National Guard and his decision to rejoin, Pierce said he held a string of less-than-satisfying jobs, including work for a moving company and a restaurant in Fairbanks. That, coupled with a desire to re-engage in combat, led him to hasten his return by looking to Oregon's guard. He was back on the ground near Baghdad last summer.
Pierce would become the first casualty among the 2,600 Oregon-based guardsmen, who are serving with the 41st Infantry Combat Brigade Team, according to The Oregonian newspaper.
The accident came eight days before his 23rd birthday.
Pierce showed only slight trouble walking on his new leg, and he was able to put his cane aside when accepting an award from new Alaska National Guard commander Brig. Gen. Thomas Katkus.
He told a CNN reporter in an October television interview, replayed Sunday, that he'd make the same decisions in life if presented with a second chance. He told the Daily News-Miner that hed had plenty of time to think about that statement and he still feels the same way.
"It's not about money. It's about pride and knowing that I'm doing something right," he said.
Dozens of guardsmen arrived by bus for the luncheon, held at Pike's Waterfront Lodge. Family members and a handful of state representatives and senators attended, as did Col. Edward Daly, deputy commander for U.S. Army Alaska. Rep. Jay Ramras, who owns Pike's, paid for Pierce's travel from the medical center.
Sam Pierce said he visited his son at the medical center and left impressed by injured soldiers' and guardsmen's ability to confront the prospect of life with serious injury by way of high spirits.
"All the guys deserve this kind of treatment when they get back," he said of the ceremony.