Piccard was born in Switzerland January 27, 1924, to a Swiss father and an American mother. The family moved to the US in 1926. Paul attended 12 schools in 7 states before graduating from high school and went to the University of Minnesota. There he enlisted in the Army Reserve and was ordered to active duty in April, 1943.
Paul got his basic training with the Engineers at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. Within a week there he swore to himself that if he ever got out of the Army he would go back to school and stay there, which is about what he did. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1947, shortly after marrying Betty Koalska, and stayed to get a master's degree. He then went to the University of Texas for a Ph.D. in political science. Next he was on the faculty at the University of Alabama for one school year before moving to the Florida State University from which he retired in 1993.
After basic training Paul was sent to Kansas State College in the ASTP. When that program was shut down he was horrified to learn that he was going back to Ft. Leonard Wood to join an infantry division! (A generation later, the Army sent the oldest of the Piccards five children to Ft. Leonard Wood, thereby confirming Paul's suspicion of a plot.)
The Army, in the form of some sergeants, junior officers, and a very few friends, transformed Paul into an infantryman. When the time came in Germany for him to put one foot in front of the other under fire he did it as millions of foot soldiers before him and since have done.
Whenever the training was particularly onerous the sergeants would tell the newcomers, "You think this is rough? You shouldda been in Louisiana," referring to the winter maneuvers there. When Company “I” crossed the Seig River in Germany and suffered its first casualties, Paul was a corporal assistant squad leader. He remembers urging the men at the back of the squad to spread out. "One shell. How many men is it going to get?" he hollered. The company crossed the river bottom and started up a steep hill. Paul looked over at his squad leader and said, "You think this is rough? You shouldda been in Louisiana!" Sgt. Williams didn't laugh.
A few days later Paul watched a German soldier who was too far away to do any harm shoot at him. Soon after that Paul had diarrhea that lasted for nearly three weeks. When that cleared up, he came down with a body rash that he attributed to some German underwear he had picked up but it and the diarrhea were surely psychosomatic. His body knew better than he did that he didn't belong there.
Having survived combat, Paul relaxed. When the Division was reassembled at Ft. Bragg he no longer had any worries about taking or giving orders. He resented being sent to Japan for occupation duty, a job which any soldier who had served only in the States could have done. As the experience in Japan turned out, Paul was glad that, since he had to spend more time in the Army, he had spent it in Japan.
As an old man, Paul Piccard was surprised at how large his short time in the Army and shorter time in combat loomed as part of his education. He wouldn't wish the experience on anyone but finally he was glad he had done it. Much of the rest of his life was simply talk.