Fort Riley Community
DHR human resources employee, Vietnam vet retires with 47 years of federal service
Story by Scott Sturkol on 08/21/2019
James W. “Jim” Bieze with the Directorate of Human Resources retires Aug. 31 with 47 years of federal service that includes 20 years as a Department of Army civilian employee and 27 years on active duty for the Army.
Bieze, 72 and a Bedford, Ind., native, is a human resources assistant (military) who, between himself and his family, has a long tradition of service.
Family service during WWI, WWII
Bieze’s grandfather on his mother’s side, John C. Edwards, served the Army during World War I in France. His other grandfather, Henry H. Bieze, also joined the military during World War I by enlisting in the Navy but “never left Great Lakes because the war was over by then.”
Bieze’s father, retired Maj. William T. Bieze, was a World War II veteran of the Army. His dad crossed the beaches of Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In 1950, his father also served out of then-Camp McCoy when Bieze was just 4 years old.
“He was brought back to active duty to come to McCoy to be a part of the mobilization of troops to go to the Korean War,” Bieze said. “I was just a little kid, and we lived in Sparta.”
Maj. Bieze retired from the Army in September 1969.
Bieze’s mother, Jane E. (Edwards) Bieze, was the high school sweetheart of his father. While his father went off to fight in World War II in Europe, his mother joined the Army, too.
“She was going to be a nurse, but she found something else to do that she wanted to do more,” Bieze said.
Jane Bieze served with the Women Airforce Service Pilots, the first women in history trained to fly American military aircraft.
“She flew aircraft all over the country from Wichita, Kan.,” Bieze said. “She was an amazing woman.”
Starting his service, Vietnam
On Dec. 31, 1964, Bieze enlisted in the Army.
“It was during the Vietnam War when people were being drafted,” Bieze said. “I chose to enlist because that gave more a few more options.”
After enlisting and completing basic training, Bieze said he became a “Pathfinder.” A Pathfinder is a special operations Army Soldier.
According to the Army Pathfinder School at Fort Benning, Ga., a Pathfinder navigates dismounted (without a vehicle), establishes and operates day or night helicopter landing zones, conducts sling-load operations, provides air traffic control and navigational assistance to rotary wing and fixed wing aircraft, and more.
In July 1965, Bieze was assigned to 1st Air Cavalry (Pathfinder) and was mobilized with the unit to go to Vietnam.
“We shipped out for Vietnam in August ’65 from Charleston (S.C.) aboard the USNS Darby,” Bieze said. “We spent 30 days aboard that ship getting to Vietnam. We arrived there on Sept. 13, 1965.”
Bieze served with his unit as a Pathfinder through dangerous combat conditions until he left with his unit in July 1966. Much of what he experienced in that time is kept inside, but he said he remembers fondly those he served with in air cavalry.
After returning, Bieze was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. He served there until July 1968 when he went back to Vietnam for a second tour until July 1969. During that tour, he completed many combat missions, including many as a door gunner on a Huey helicopter.
“Those first years in the Army as a Pathfinder in Vietnam were tough and memorable,” Bieze said. “I was glad to get back and move on to do other things.”
Post-Vietnam military service
In late 1969, Bieze was reassigned as an Army recruiter to Kenosha, Wis. He served in that role until 1975.
“As a recruiter in the early 1970s, it was not always easy to get qualified recruits because of everything that was happening,” Bieze said.
Bieze also recalls a time in the 1970s when he was stuck inside his recruiting office because thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors were outside his door in downtown Kenosha.
“There was this one guy who came into my office,” Bieze said. “He looked like a hippie, but in actuality he wasn’t. He told me to gather my things, and he helped me get out of downtown in a hurry. I had people yelling at me, calling me names, and hurling things. This man, who was an undercover officer, got me into a car and got me out of there.”
Bieze said he had to work from home for about three weeks after the protesting incident because of the damage done to his office and the vehicle he used for recruiting.
“Despite things like that, I was still able to get many new Soldiers into the Army,” he said.
In 1975, Bieze was a sergeant first class and was done with recruiting. He was then reassigned for a one-year tour to Korea. By 1976, Bieze was back from Korea and was assigned to the newly renamed Fort McCoy.
“I was assigned then to Readiness Group McCoy,” Bieze said. “Our building we worked out of was over near the (Rumpel) Fitness Center. This whole installation looked a lot different back then.”
Bieze left Fort McCoy in 1979 for a 15-month tour in Turkey. That was followed by a tour to Fort Sheridan, Ill., as a first sergeant and then a three-year tour to Germany until 1984.
“In ’84, I went to Fort Riley (Kan.), where I stayed for five years,” Bieze said. “That’s where I made sergeant major. I really enjoyed my time there.”
Bieze left Fort Riley in 1989 and went back to Korea for yet another year. He followed that with a tour back to Fort Sheridan, where, in 1991, he retired as a sergeant major while working as the deputy chief of staff for personnel for 4th Army.
“It was time to be done with active duty, specifically for personal reasons,” Bieze said.
Civil service time
After leaving active duty in 1991, Bieze worked several civilian jobs in the La Crosse, Wis., area. He said that most of the time, he didn’t like the work but made the best of it.
“In 1998, I had a chance to get back into federal service, and I took it,” Bieze said. “I came to work at Fort McCoy.”
Bieze said he worked his first two years on post in a finance position. The remaining 18 years, he said, he has worked with DHR.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with everyone here and spending all these years with the Fort McCoy team,” Bieze said. “We’ve had some incredible people work here over the years.”
Looking back, forward
During Bieze’s life and time in federal service, a lot has connected him to Fort McCoy.
* From 1950-52, Bieze lived in Sparta and came to the installation with his father many times while mobilization training was occurring at Camp McCoy to prepare Soldiers for the Korean War.
* In the late 1960s, before he went to Vietnam a second time, he came to then-Camp McCoy with his father to get some administrative work done in building 905. Back then, it was a division headquarters.
* In the early 1970s as a recruiter in Kenosha, Bieze brought recruits to McCoy many times.
* He served with Readiness Group-McCoy from 1976-79, where he helped train Guard and Reserve Soldiers. Bieze said it was a unit similar to the mission of the 181st Multi-Functional Training Brigade at Fort McCoy today.
* His wife, Becky, is also a former 28-year federal employee at Fort McCoy, retiring in 2002.
And now that he’s retiring after 20 years as a civilian employee at Fort McCoy, Bieze said he can spend more time with the sizeable Bieze clan. He has eight children, 14 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
As the self-proclaimed leader of “Bieze Fest,” Bieze said he can put more effort into the annual family gathering he and his wife coordinate. They ride on a boat on the Mississippi River and go to an island beach.
“It’s the biggest thing we look forward to doing every year,” Bieze said.
Bieze also looks forward to converting a garage into model railroading structure. Bieze’s family history also includes many family members working for railroad companies in Indiana.
“That’s my hobby and something I am really looking forward to doing,” he said.
Bieze said he also will continue to serve his community of Bangor, Wis., in many ways, including as a member of the VFW, American Legion, and the Free Masons.
“It’s been great honor to serve with everyone who I have served with,” Bieze said. “A great honor.”