D-Day and D-Day Plus One

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Please be advised, some of the information below is intense.

The pilots flying the planes that dropped the Airborne men on D-Day were young and inexperienced. The more experienced pilots were given fighter and bomber duty. The pilots of the C-47 transports flying over Normandy panicked in the hail of anti-aircraft fire and flew much faster and lower than was safe for a parachute drop. Some men did not even have their chutes open before they hit the ground.

Dad has described for me what was supposed to happen, and what…did… happen. He was supposed to jump out, gain control and pull down on the chute risers to cause his legs to pull up just above ground, to soften the landing. Instead, upon exiting the plane, all his equipment was ripped from his body by the sudden high speed blast of air. Having about 125 pounds of stuff ripped off his jump suit in combination with his chute popping open at the same moment, caused him to swing violently, once, and then he was, more or less, pile-driven into the ground. Due to the outrageously fast stop, Dad’s helmet tried to keep going. He landed with such force that the suspension inside the helmet was not strong enough to keep it from smacking him on the top of the head. The chin strap also gave way causing the helmet to swing down in back and gave him a “karate chop” in the back of the neck.  As a result, Dad got a concussion and cracked three vertebrate in his neck.

Since Dad had a concussion upon landing, his memories of D-Day and the time shortly after are somewhat sketchy. So I recently came up with an idea. It seemed to help bring out a few more details of his time in Normandy.

I discussed Dad’s memories with him, and then looked up stories of some of the other people Dad came into contact with on-line, and in various books. It helped put more of the details into place. And as I discussed this information with him…he was able to add more detail.

Dad was supposed to be dropped into drop zone “C”, a few miles east of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont. Instead he landed somewhere further south, in the vicinity of Veirville/Angoville-au-Plain. We believe that because not too long after landing, in the early morning hours of D-Day, Dad remembers working with another medic in that area by the name of Millard Moore. He and Dad were ferrying wounded to the aid station that had been set up in the church in Angoville-au-Plain. Working with very little, the two medics from the 501st who had set up the aid station there, saved the lives of close to a hundred people. They worked on soldiers and civilians alike, American, French and German. You can read their story here:  http://www.normandythenandnow.comangoville-4/the-scars-of-angoville-au-plain/. As a testimony to the history of what happened there, the blood stains have been left on the pews in the church to this day.

Using a captured German jeep, the other medic drove while Dad nursed whom ever they picked up   …one, sometimes two at a time. While the other medic was cooking breakfast, a shell hit the church causing further casualties. It also took out the German jeep they were using. Dad does not remember what they used after that. They obviously managed to come up with some mode of transport, because Dad somehow wound up in Vierville the next day. In between, the Germans retook Angoville-au-Plain, which may be why he didn’t end up back at the church.

Col William Turner, commanding 1st battalion, was there in Vierville on the 7th when Col. Sink came into town. Col. Sink sent Turner south on the road (D913) to Saint-Come Du Mont with a group of six Sherman’s to take ground. Since 1st battalion did not have any medics, Col. Sink ordered Dad to accompany Turner, his men and the tanks.

There are a couple of junctions on that north-south road, that go east to Angoville-au-Plain. A little ways south of these two junctions is where Col. Turner was picked off by a German sniper while riding in the turret of the lead tank. Turner fell down inside the tank, on top of members of the crew, preventing the tank and the rest of the column behind it from continuing to move forward. Dad had been moving parallel to the tanks, down in the ditch, to minimize his exposure to enemy fire. When Dad saw what was happening, he jumped up out of the ditch, and made for the tank. He jumped up on the back and pulled himself up. Leaning down into the turret, he pulled Col. Turner up and out. The bullet had gone through Turner’s helmet causing a massive head wound. He was dead by the time Dad got him out. He determined that it was best to roll Col. Turner’s body off the side of the tank so that the column could get moving again.

That is as much as Dad remembers of the first two days. He was able to tell me more about Carentan though. More about that in the next post.

Exercise Eagle

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Darren Bond from Leicester UK contacted Dad on Facebook with the following question: Hello Ed/ Matt….Can I please put a question to Ed? I am an amateur historian from the UK researching an air crash that took place in May 44 during Exercise Eagle, a full scale troop carrier and airborne training exercise before D-Day. I know the 82nd AB took part. My question is do you remember if the 101st took part in this as well? Kind regards, Darren.

To bring our internet audience up to speed, Exercise Eagle was a training exercise that took place between May 9-12 of 1944 in England. It was intended as a simulation of D-Day activities.

Here is Dad’s response: “Absolutely, the 101st was a part of Exercise Eagle. The 506th was part of it as well. It was particularly difficult because it was the first night jump we made. Most of the units were dropped in the wrong drop zone… and thus some of the soldiers were rounded up as spies. I heard of some guys being dropped into Oxford. Some of the gliders had to turn back because they could not find their drop zones.”

“It was real mess, a lot of guys got injured. They were dropping heavy equipment and part of a 75 mm gun fell on a guy and killed him. The winds that night made controlling the chutes really difficult. A guy next to me went straight through the slate roof of a house and gave the family inside a surprise visit. I was trying to maneuver for a safe landing, but was going sideways so fast, the toes of my boots got caught on a chicken wire fence about 3 feet off of the ground. The lines of my chute pulled tight and slung me like a sling shot head first into a chicken coop. I made a large hole, right in the side of it. There were chickens squawking and feathers were flying….it would have made a great movie. Good thing I had my helmet on.” DSC_0006

“It was really a shame. I was told that 500 men were injured to the extent that they didn’t make it to the D-Day jump. We had to fill in with replacements instead, who were not as well trained.”

Questions, Questions, Questions….

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Whenever Dad makes a public appearance, there are some questions that we get a lot of…so I suggested to Dad that we restate and answer some of the same questions on the blog for the benefit of our internet audience. Dad thought it was a good idea…so “hear” we go…

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Question #1 : “Is the Band of Brothers mini series very accurate?”

Answer: Yes and No.

The producers of the mini series made pain-staking efforts to be as accurate as possible. But there are various limitations to what can be done in any movie production.

During the writing of the original book and during scriptwriting and production of the mini series, original Easy Company members and family members were consulted all the way through. The series of events that took place are quite accurate…a lot of the individual events that took place are accurate,…the way most of the men remember them happening…but because it is impossible to film in every possible location, where all the events took place, certain minor events or details that the producers did not want to leave out because they enriched the overall story may have been shown in a location or a different order from where and when the events actually took place…for example near the end of the series when Winters meets up with Sobel and Sobel fails to salute…the event really happened…but in a different time and place.

Another way the producers did an excellent job in portraying the events surrounding Easy Company’s involvement in the war, was with the casting. The actors who played the men, overall, did an outstanding job of taking on the personalities of the men they played. Fortunately, a lot of the men of Easy were still alive at the time of filming, so many of the actors had the opportunity to get to know them personally, and it showed in the final product.

In addition, the actors, in general, were well cast appearance-wise in relation to the character they played. Dad has mentioned to me more than once his reaction when he first walked into the reception hall at the Emmy awards. He spotted Ron Livingston (who played Lewis Nixon) sitting next Grace Nixon out of the corner of his eye and ended up doing a double take.

There are of course a few mistakes, for example, at the end of episode 3 it is incorrectly states that Albert Blythe died shortly after the war. In fact he served in the Korean war and did not pass away until 1967. Some of these types of errors were as a result of the guys losing touch.

Question #2 : “Were you (Ed Pepping) depicted in the mini series?”

Answer: No.

There are a variety of reasons why Dad and many of the other members of Easy had little or no “screen time.” For Dad, one reason he was not a part of the Band of Brothers book and the mini series is that he stayed away from the reunions and the most of the other members due to guilt. He felt that because he was not allowed to rejoin the unit for the Holland jump, due to injuries, that he had let the unit down. So when Steven Ambrose interviewed the men of Easy for the book, most of them didn’t know he was alive. Dad did keep in touch with Al Mampre a little, since they had been such good friends and fellow medics. It was Al that encouraged Dad to show up for the Emmy awards. As a matter of fact, there were quite a few such cases. These missing Easy members that showed up at the awards ceremony ended up becoming the foundation of the sequel book, “We Who Are Alive and Remain, Untold Stories from The band of Brothers.”

Another reason for the limited screen exposure of many of the members was simply time. There were about 140 men in Easy company at Toccoa and 366 men listed as members of the unit throughout the course of the war. About 50 men were killed in action. An additional 100 or so were injured and/or transferred out. It was simply not possible to cover all of the amazing stories these men had to tell in a 10 episode mini-series.

One thing I have noticed however is that a lot of stories were told without a name being put to them. For example, even though Dad and Al Mampre were not mentioned by name in either the original book or the mini-series, many of the things they did were mentioned in passing and as part of a larger event. For example, Al Mampre was shot in the leg during Market Garden by a sniper while helping a trooper who had been shot in the neck. Although Al’s name is not mentioned in the original book or mini-series, part of the actual event is depicted in the mini-series…if only for a few fleeting seconds.

Question #3 : “Did you know/train with Capt Sobel/Major Winters etc?”

Answer: Yes.

Dad was what they refer to as a Toccoa man. He was there with the 506th from the beginning until being transferred out just before Market Garden, since he was no longer considered fit for combat at that time (drug him out kicking and screaming mind you). As we have mentioned elsewhere, the medics trained separately from the individual companies as part of the medical detachment but were assigned duty to the individual companies. Dad, Al Mampre and Earnest Oats were the medics assigned to Easy at Toccoa. They ran Currahee in the heat under the prodding of Sobel and Dad remembers the spaghetti adventure very well. Dad was particularly fond of Moose Heylinger and referred to Liebgott as “Shadow” as he had an affinity for disappearing and reappearing in the dark.

After being separated from Easy in September of 1944, he spent the remaining time working in the seriously wounded ward of the army hospital. Since he had himself survived catastrophic injuries, and having medic training, the doctors found him to be a particularly good medical assistant and nurse. He was able to encourage the other GIs in a way no one else could, having come back from near death himself.

It Took a Lickin’, But It’s Not Tickin’

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It’s shopping night. Dad and I are driving to the store and he asks me to update the time on his watch to daylight savings time at the stop light. “My 92 year old fingers have trouble pushing those tiny buttons.” He laughs. “This 10 dollar plastic watch keeps time better than any watch I’ve ever owned, even the fancy one I bought when I was at Fort Bragg…although it didn’t last long.”

1908a“I bought the watch from Efird’s Department Store in Raleigh (NC). Since I had my wings as a paratrooper and was making the big bucks, I had some money to spend. And since Sobel didn’t let us off the base very often, I had even more to spend this trip. So I had a portrait taken at Efird’s and bought myself a nice watch at the same time. Realize that this was a really big deal for me, since I had grown up during the depression.”

“Soon after, we made a routine practice jump. As you exited the plane, you were supposed to cross your arms over your stomach. This was to prevent your arms from getting caught in the suspension lines as they came out. Unfortunately, I had my arm out just a little bit too far. The metal connecting link between the risers and the suspension lines smacked the watch as the chute deployed. I looked down and there was the band holding the back of the watch to my arm…but the face and the guts of the watch were completely missing…just an empty back.”

No Timex commercial here….

Memories of Upottery

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I have received some inquiries lately from some friends across the pond regarding Dad’s memories of his time in Upottery. When I asked him, the first thing he said was that the food was really good, that they ate like kings for the few days they were there.

He went on to relate a lot of the same things to me that you see in “Band of Brothers”…the Brits walking around in German uniforms…the delay of the invasion…etc.

There were two things we discussed that I have not heard mentioned elsewhere….

1) Dad talks about how he woke up on the morning of June 4th and being astounded at how the scores of planes on the field suddenly had the (3) invasion stripes  painted on them. A lot of people didn’t sleep that night. They were added so that the allies could recognize each other in the air.

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2) Then there is the story that many have heard, about how he was pulled off the headquarters plane…the one with Thomas Meehan aboard…at the last minute…and put on another one. When we talked about it, we assumed that they did not want too many medics on the same plane. Ernest Oats, was the medic that stayed on board. Had Dad stayed on that particular plane, I would not be writing this to you now… Continue reading

The First Interview

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When Dad started to share some of the stories I had never heard before, it wasn’t long before I realized it was time to sit down and capture as much of it as I could on tape so that it could be preserved. The first time I sat down with Dad and the tape recorder, I noticed something very interesting. Dad was sitting there telling his story, looking across the table at me…then he got to the part where he jumped out of the plane on D-Day. As he described hitting the ground, without realizing it, his expression changed. He lowered his head, his brows became furrowed, and the words started to come out a little more labored.

He talked about how he had come in fast and hard and had gotten a concussion. Amazingly, I could see the effects of it on his face. Or maybe some of it was the stress of entering the war zone.

Since Dad has started to recall these things repeatedly when we goes to events, things come out more readily. It is interesting how the mind is like a muscle…the more it is exercised, the better it works.

The Bulldog of Fort Benning

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After basic at Toccoa came jump training at Fort Benning.

The pilots at Fort Benning had a pet bulldog…sort of a mascot. They told us that when the paratroopers in training would be floating down from the sky he would be running around in circles wagging his tail furiously and barking up a storm. Upon landing, he would go running up to the closest paratrooper for a scratch behind the ears.

Bulldog

The pilots started to take the dog up during training jumps…and had a dickens of a time keeping him from following the men out the door of the plane! Then someone came up with the idea of creating a dog sized parachute, complete with static line. On the training jumps, the pilots would hook up the dog’s static line…wait for the jumpers to leave the plane, then let him go. The dog would go careening toward the door at the back of the plane, skid to a stop, turn, “peel out”, get traction, and sail out the door.

Dad tells of seeing the dog barking and wagging all the way to the ground…then running up to the closest paratrooper for his usual scratch.

It is a story that is better told by Dad in person…and if you get the chance to meet Dad in person…it is worth asking him to tell it.