Each and every day, members of America’s Greatest Generation are dying, leaving behind a legacy of heroism that has come to represent their nation’s proudest heritage. Last week, a legendary war hero from this tumultuous period of uncertainty passed away in his sleep at 96-years-old, marking the end of an illustrious and revered lifetime of service.
Born on the Fourth of July
Born on the Fourth of July, Ed Pepping was almost destined for a life spent in service to his nation. An Army medic who hailed from the storied 101st Airborne Division’s Screaming Eagles, Pepping took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, parachuting behind enemy lines and earning a Bronze Star with Valor after just one day of fighting.
Pepping hailed from the Easy Company “Band of Brothers” made famous by an HBO miniseries dramatizing the unit’s battles through Western Europe up until the fall of Nazi Germany. He served in 3rd Platoon under Lt. Fred “Moose” Heyliger and was wounded in the leg by artillery fire in the French village of Carentan.
Unwilling to let his battle buddies continue fighting without him, the young paratrooper went AWOL to rejoin Easy Company, although his wounds ultimately kept him away from frontline fighting for the remainder of the war.
Act of Valor
On June 7, 1944, when the ground commander for the 1st Battalion of the 506th, Col. Bill Turner, was shot in the head by a sniper while directing tank fire against a German gun emplacement, Pepping rushed to his aid under fire and pulled his commander from his tank. The medic’s Bronze Star citation reads:
Acting without regard for his own life or safety, he attempted to save the life of a battalion commander who had fallen critically wounded on top of tank commander, not only halting the advance of the six-tank column, but making the whole column potential targets for destruction by the enemy as well.
After the war, Pepping was a fixture at the annual Currahee Military Festival in Taccoa, GA. He enjoyed reminiscing with fellow medic Al Mampre, with whom Pepping grew especially close to after WWII.
Speaking to 11Alive’s Matt Pearl during a recent Taccoa festival, Pepping reflected on his relationship with Mampre. “Seriously,” he said, “I’ve never met anybody in my whole life that means as much as this guy.”
Pepping, who settled in California, would speak with his comrade-in-arms over the telephone every day, according to an “Untold Atlanta” profile of their friendship. In his final years, Pepping’s declining health kept him from attending the Taccoa memorial that he cherished so much.
Friends and family said that the veteran paratrooper died in his sleep last week — a merciful end for a hero who endured so much in his 96 years. A memorial is planned in his home state of California.
In one final act of heroism, Pepping asked for donors who wish to give in his name to donate to Paralyzed Veterans of America, an organization founded in 1946 which funds research and quality care for veterans with spinal cord injuries.
Pepping was among the estimated remaining 558,000 veterans who were a part of the nearly 16 million soldiers, sailors and Marines to serve in WWII. The inestimable sacrifices he rendered for his country, though, will last forever.