Back to Top Skip to main content

D-Day through the eyes of a combat medic, 73 years later

Edwin “Doc” Pepping, left, and Albert “Al” Mampre, right, both served as combat medics attached to Easy Company during World War II. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Pepping) Edwin “Doc” Pepping, left, and Albert “Al” Mampre, right, both served as combat medics attached to Easy Company during World War II. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Pepping)

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

They trained with infantry soldiers, carrying first aid kits instead of weapons. They dodged bullets to tend to wounded soldiers, sometimes with whatever supplies they could find. And even in the midst of thick combat, they remained steadily focused on their mission of saving lives. They were the combat medics of World War II.

No amount of training or planning could have prepared them for the casualties inflicted during the largest amphibious assault in history: the Allied invasion of Europe, commonly known as D-Day.

“Boy Scouts was the closest thing to medical training I had before that,” said Private First Class Edwin Pepping, who was just 21 years old at the time. “But you didn’t have a chance to be nervous.”

In preparation for ground combat after Pearl Harbor, the United States Army hurried to create a ready force. Medical units made up of individuals of both military and civilian background were gathered and trained. Their duties included treating minor injuries, applying splints and tourniquets, and bandaging wounds.

Known as “band-aid bandits” to their comrades, Pepping and Staff Sgt. Albert Mampre were attached to Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division also known as the “Band of Brothers.”

Seventy-three years ago today, the U.S. took part in the invasion of Normandy, which would ultimately be the turning point of the war in Europe. More than 13,000 aircraft and 5,000 ships were used in the D-Day landing, which was part of Operation Overlord. In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Pepping boarded a C-47 transport for the big jump. But as often happens in combat, the plan didn’t go as expected.

“We were supposed to be dropped at 700 feet at 95 miles per hour, which was enough to get our parachute to open and get our equipment down safely, but they dropped us at 300 feet at 165 miles per hour, which is almost impossible to survive,” said Pepping, who turns 95 in July.

As Pepping jumped, he was hit by a high speed gust of air that ripped 125 pounds worth of supplies off of him. His parachute opened at the same time, causing him to violently spin before falling to the ground. He hit the ground so hard that his own strapped helmet flew back and knocked him in the neck, leading to a concussion and three cracked vertebrae.

After landing near the town of Angoville-au-Plain behind Utah Beach, Pepping spent the next several hours helping another medic, Willard Moore, bring severely combat-wounded soldiers to a makeshift aid station in a nearby church. Moore drove the jeep while Pepping loaded his wounded and nursed them until they got back to the church, he said.

“There were so many catastrophic wounds that a lot of the time it was beyond us to do anything except to see if we could get a doctor to help,” said Pepping. Two other medics treated patients at the aid station. They used whatever medical supplies they could find after losing most of theirs in the jump, and they treated whomever they found – American, French, and German alike. Together, they saved more than 80 lives that day.

“When we flew into Normandy, we met some very, very serious cases and a lot of the time we didn’t know exactly how to handle them,” said Pepping, adding that it taught him perseverance. Today, the church serves as a memorial. The blood stains where the wounded were laid remain on the pews.

“A sense of humor is really what saved us,” said Pepping, who said the biggest lesson he learned as a medic was to duck. “You couldn’t make it through the war without it.” Although medics were unarmed, they were identified by the Red Cross symbol on their helmets and arm bands. Even so, they weren’t always spared as a target.

Mampre, who had to miss the jump on D-Day after coming down with a severe infection just a few days before, went on to receive the Purple Heart for action in Holland. After spotting a wounded lieutenant in a field, he was told the soldier was dead and best left alone. Mampre ran out to him through heavy gunfire and found him alive. Despite being shot through the leg, he and the lieutenant made it to safety and survived.

“I’d do it all over again,” said Mampre about being a combat medic. “But if they need me again at 95 years old, boy we’re in trouble.” 

You also may be interested in...

1918 Spanish Influenza

Video
10/16/2018
1918 Spanish Influenza

The 1918 Spanish Influenza killed 21-50 million people worldwide, and there's a surprising connection to military medicine.

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Shok Valley medic to receive Medal of Honor

Article
9/26/2018
Former Army Staff Sgt. Ronald J. Shurer II will receive the Medal of Honor at an Oct. 1, 2018, White House ceremony for going above and beyond the call of duty April 6, 2008, while assigned to Special Operations Task Force 33 in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. (Photo courtesy of Ronald J. Shurer II)

A former medic with the 3rd Special Forces Group will receive the Medal of Honor

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Military doctors and the president

Video
9/4/2018
Military doctors and the president

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln's first responder was a military doctor? Military medicine has come a long way since Lincoln's assassination. Watch this video to learn more.

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Paul Revere

Video
7/3/2018
Paul Revere

Before his midnight ride, Paul Revere was an amateur dentist. See how his work during the Revolutionary War inspired the use of dental identification on the battlefield and beyond.

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Vietnam Vascular Registry helps veteran reunite with doctors

Article
3/13/2018
The Vietnam Vascular Registry, developed by Dr. Norman Rich at Walter Reed General Hospital, documented and analyzed blood vessel injuries in Vietnam. Each patient entered into the registry was assigned a consecutive number and given a vascular registry card, such as this one. (Courtesy photo by Dr. Norm Rich)

The Vietnam Vascular Registry, developed by Dr. Norman Rich at Walter Reed General Hospital, documented and analyzed blood vessel injuries in Vietnam

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History | Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences

New exhibit at military medical museum features gas warfare during World War I

Article
2/21/2018
Two soldiers participate in gas warfare training at Fort Myer, Virginia in 1917. Soldiers were drilled to maintain “gas discipline” and use their gas mask at the first instant the presence of chemical agents are detected. (Reeve 001061, Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine)

A new exhibit at the NMHM reveals how American military medicine responded to chemical warfare on the battlefields of France during the Great War

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Hospital corpsman disregards own life to save Marines

Article
7/5/2017
Richard Dewert’s gravestone at Massachusetts National Cemetery. (Courtesy photo by Gary Boughton)

Early in 1951, DeWert received orders to the 7th Marine Regiment, a unit known suffering more casualties than just about any other Marine unit during the Korean War

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Dr. Charles Drew, Father of Blood Banks

Article
2/9/2017
Dr. Charles Drew (bottom row, center), an African American researcher, revolutionized the way the medical community stored blood products during World War II. Often referred to as the “Father of Blood Banks,” Drew developed ways to process and store blood plasma in what we now call blood banks. (U.S. National Library of Medicine photo)

Drew, an African American researcher, revolutionized the way the medical community stored blood products during World War II

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Dr. Charles Drew: The Man Who Saved a Million Soldiers' Lives

Video
2/9/2017
Dr. Charles Drew: The Man Who Saved a Million Soldiers' Lives

During African American History Month we celebrate Charles Drew, who revolutionized the blood collection and distribution process and developed large-scale blood banks, allowing medics to save untold numbers of lives during World War II. Drew’s methods are still used to save lives in the armed forces today.

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History

Defense Health Agency Overview

Presentation
2/9/2017

Defense Health Agency Overview

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History | Research and Innovation

Overview of Air Force Medical Service

Presentation
2/9/2017

Overview of Air Force Medical Service

Recommended Content:

Research and Innovation | Military Medical History

Overview of Coast Guard Health Services

Presentation
2/9/2017

Overview of Coast Guard Health Services

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History | Access, Cost, Quality, and Safety

Overview of Navy Medicine

Presentation
2/9/2017

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Military Medical History

History of military medical advancements in brain injury treatment

Article
12/19/2016
Army Sgt. Liliane Milo, a medic with 4th Infantry Division, checks in Soldiers for Military Acute Concussion Evaluations.

Much of our TBI awareness stems from progress in brain injury research by military medicine

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History | Traumatic Brain Injury

Remembering Pearl Harbor 75 years later

Article
12/7/2016
Harold Mainer, now 95, was stationed on the USS Helena when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Arkansas native was only 20 years old at the time and had joined the Navy a year before. He served in the Navy throughout the war and was honorably discharged Jan. 17, 1947. (Photos courtesy of the Mainer family)

Navy Medicine played a critical role during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Today, MHS honors the 75th anniversary

Recommended Content:

Military Medical History
<< < 1 2 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 2

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.