"Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them if we basely entail hereditary bondage on them." — Thomas Jefferson
On Saturday I had the privilege of attending the 90th birthday party for a World War II hero. Ed “Doc” Pepping turned ninety on July 4, 2012 and the party, hosted by his family, was to honor the longevity and accomplishments of this once paratrooper and medic for the 101st Airborne.
Ed, a talented musician, was a member of the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra and an avid opera fan before the war. He enlisted in September, 1942 and like the other members of the 506th he volunteered for the paratroopers. When I asked Ed why he volunteered for the paratroopers he said he did so because of the extra pay and the excitement. In 1942 a PFC was paid a grand total of $54 dollars per month ($760 in today’s dollars) and paratroopers received an additional $50 dollars per month.
After his basic training he was assigned to “Easy” Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR of the 101stAirborne Division at Camp Taccoa, Georgia. If read the book Band of Brothers or watched the HBO series of the same title you would have seen a true depiction of paratrooper training at Camp Taccoa and the rigorous training regime these troopers went through. They were the finest trained Army troops in World War II.
One of the exercises these troopers had to do war run up and down a Curahee Mountain, a 1,740 foot peak outside of the camp, touch the geodetic survey monument, and then run back to camp. This exercise was used to get the troopers in mental and physical condition for what they would encounter in the battles to come.
Ed liked to note that he ran up and down Curahee Mountain some 33 times amounting to a total of 198 miles. Even though Ed was the third best marksman in his Company he volunteered for a Medical Detachment where he became the company’s medic. Ed had doubts as to whether or not he would be able kill someone and believed he could serve his nation and his fellow troopers better by saving lives. Medics were important elements of a company as they were the ones who risked their lives to save the lives of their fellow troopers and were right in the middle of the fight.
After the 506th completed their training in Georgia they boarded a ship and sailed to England where they went through more training in the English country side as they prepared for the invasion of France and their D-Day drop over Normandy. Of course they knew nothing of the mission at that time and were pretty sick and tired of all the training. They were ready to go and anxious to get into the fight.
On the night of June 5, 1944, after they had waited through two days of bad weather while in full gear, they boarded their C-47 transport planes in groups of 18. These groups were called “sticks” and each trooper was assigned a number for his position on the plane. They were loaded down with over 100 pounds of gear including a M1 Grand rifle or carbine, ammunition, mines, hand grenades, knives, ropes, and a cricket clicker for identification in the dark of night. One click was to be followed by two clicks by friendlies. These clickers were only minimally successful as a German Mauser rifle made two clicks when the bolt inserts a bullet in the chamber.
It was a dark night over Normandy in the early hours of June 6, 1944. As a defensive measure the Germans had flooded many of the low lying fields to thwart paratroopers and tanks. They wanted to keep the tanks on the narrow roads so their anti-tank guns could pick them off. Many of these fields had water deep enough for the troopers to drown in especially as they were loaded down with so much equipment. Many of the troopers did in fact succumb to the water in the fields.
When the C-47 carrying Ed and the other 17 troopers arrived over the Sainte Mére Eglise drop zone they should have been flying about 700 feet above the ground at a speed of 95 miles per hour. In fact, due to the German flak and the evasive maneuvers of the pilots, they were doing 160 MPH at just over 300 feet. When Ed jumped the force of the high speed air racing by the plane forced his medical gear off of his body and when he hit the ground his steel helmet cracked down on his neck cracking 3 vertebrae.
Ed continued to serve in the field administering to the needs of the wounded troopers for fifteen days until he finally collapsed during the assault on Carentan and was evacuated to England. During the time Ed received the Bronze Star for pulling a wounded officer from a burning tank turret where he had been shot and fallen on top of the tank commander. This had caused the tank to stop and halt the movement of the entire column subjecting them to German fire. Ed climbed up on the tank, and under fire, pulled the wounded man to safety allowing the column to proceed. This action took place at a crossroads nicknamed “Dead Mans Corner” just outside of Sainte Marie du Mont.
Finally Ed was evacuated back to England where, after his neck healed, he served as a medic in an Army hospital tending to the wounded soldiers that were being evacuated from France.
Ed returned to France after his wounds healed but he did not resume his duties as a Medic. Instead he was assigned to a communications unit where he served as a switchboard operator connecting calls with officers. He said he enjoyed disconnecting the calls when the officers were talking to their “sweeties.”
He believed it was an honor to serve in a hospital extreme trauma ward where he could tend to the most seriously wounded. During his tenure with the 506th he earned many decorations including a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, 2 Presidential Unit Citations and the French Croix de Guerre. He also received the Army's Legion of Merit medal and is a holder of the Combat Medic and Combat Infantry Badge.
In 2002 when Band of Brothers won an Emmy Award Ed was invited to attend the awards ceremony as a guest of Steven Spielberg. Here he was united with Col Dick Winters, his old company commander, and several of the troopers he served with the 506th. Ed was driven to the ceremony by one of the reenactors of the 101st, who he now refers to as his bodyguard.
Ed now resides in Whittier, California where he spends his time with his books and giving lectures to high school students on the values of honor, service, integrity, and patriotism. He is also active with the Boy Scouts serving as a mentor.
I met Ed in 2008 when I was acting as a photographer for the World War II Research and Preservation Society and the reenactors of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), Second Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division. The WWII RPS is a California nonprofit corporation that has been active in historical research and Living History Reenacting for over a decade. Members come from all walks of life, ranging from active military duty & retired military personnel, law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, artists, students, and business executives all with a passion for World War II history and a common goal of preserving our nation's part in that war. Part of that preservation entails depicting not only U.S. soldiers from that era, but also their Allies as well as their opponents.
At that event I also meet other members of the 506th including Bob Noody, Bob Janes, Don Malarkey, and Bill True. All of these men were heroes for what they did. You can view a gallery of photos from that event by clicking here.
It was a privilege to share Ed’s birthday with his family and close friends. It said that these WWII vets are passing away at a rate of 1,000 per day. I can say that while having a few physical problems Ed is a sharp as ever and a great person to spend some time with. He is beloved by his family and all who know him. I can only pray that Ed sees his 100th birthday and that his contributions to this nation and our society are not forgotten. God bless Ed.
For a gallery of photos from Ed’s party please click Here.