Photo from FindAGrave.com by Des Philippet.
Elmer Pepperney was 21 years old and apprenticed to be a plumber when he enlisted in the Army on 18 November 1942. He was the son of Andrew Bernard and Lena Reiber Pepperney, and with his sisters Savilla and Norma, they lived in the Troy Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Elmer completed schooling through 7th grade before having to leave to learn a trade.
After going through boot camp, Elmer was assigned to Easy Company, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. The 99th Infantry Division was involved in some of the heaviest yet least reported fighting of the Battle of the Bulge. While officially the nickname of the 99th was the ‘Checkboard Division,’ they were called the ‘Battle Babies’ because of their inexperience in combat.
On 18 December 1944, Easy Company found itself at the center of an attack in the area of Elsenborn, Belgium. Elsenborn was on the northern flank of the German offensive, a last-ditch effort to stop the Allied advance and push them back into France. The lines were incredibly thin against the 277th Volksgrenadier Division and 12th SS Panzer Division, with only one fighting man for every 300 feet of ground.
Pvt. Jerome Nelson was in Elmer’s company and tells the story of his final engagement:
“There are, no doubt, many stories about various units that participated in the Bulge that no historian has ever written, only the surviving veterans will remember them. I am sure the story of Company E is not much different or unique than others.Company E was part of the lost battalion that held the line for 60 hours. Companies on each flank were heavily hit, especially B Company.Enemy small arms fire kept us well occupied. It knocked out our BAR, another round ricocheting off BAR Sgt. Sandridge’s helmet, leaving him speechless. Pfc. Stanley Krol was feeding his mortar non-stop. Platoon T/Sgt. Wallace called for artillery fire on our own positions, both received citations.To make matters worse, we had to physically constrain our battalion commander, who was determined to surrender. He later was relieved of command.In the meantime, our planes (three) began a strafing run on the enemy and one crashed 75 yards to our front. Enemy patrols did get through our thinly held line and captured about six men.Later we fought our way into Murringen but were ineffective because of fog and disorganized German units with their continuous shoutings. All this time we had no idea what was going on elsewhere and thought it was only a local fight.After nearly three days defending our position, hungry, sleepless and totally exhausted, we began a withdrawal. Capt. McGee, S-2, would lead the column, including stragglers, to Rocherath, Elsenborn. What happened next was pure hell!Friendly fire from our 155s was called to cover our exit from any German pursuit. The rounds fell short, decimating many troops on that dark December night.There are no words to describe the carnage, chaos and mass confusion. There was no escape. Moans from the dying filled the night. John Smith (Smitty) and I were rear guard and we stumbled over the men. Because of our injuries we remained with these casualties. The next morning we were hurt by more fire before we miraculously limped cross country to Rocherath. We had no idea where we were. How we made the one-and-one-half-mile walk alive, I will never know.In 12 days we sustained 87 casualties. Those KIA that night were Austin Burdick, Victor Carpenter, Rupert Harper, Peter Hubiak, Paul Kelly, John Klein, Forest Liston, Robert McNeil, Thomas Olds, Elmer Pepperney, Everet Pierce, Peter Raguckas and John Ryan. Herman Beck, Ewing Fidler and Raymond Sutton had been KIA earlier.I have the official morning reports.The video, “Return to the Ardennes,” by Dick Byers narrates this action.I would like to give a proud salute to these courageous men for their sacrifice – only remembered best by those who were there. Except for a Purple Heart, these men never received any awards. Many historians fabricate reports of the snow and cold. There was no snow in our area. I have friends who were at St. Vith, Bastogne and other areas and they tell me there was no snow. It came about a week later.”
Elmer is buried at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Henri-Chapelle, Belgium, alongside 153 other members of the 394th Infantry Regiment and 7,991 other service members killed during World War II.
His grave is located at Plot B, Row 2, Grave 38.
“The Untold Story of E/394.” Checkerboard. 99th Infantry Division Association. Web. 7 Nov 2012. <http://99div.com/direct/the_untold_story_of_e_394+3cbun+54686520756e746f6c642073746f7279206f6620452f333934>
1940 U.S. Federal Census, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Pittsburgh, Enumeration District 69-692, Sheet 3B, Household 56, Andrew B. Pepperney; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 12 November 2012), citing National Archives microfilm publication T627, Roll 3673.
“Elsenborn Ridge,” Wikipedia. Web. 12 Nov 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsenborn_Ridge>
“99th Infantry Division (United States),” Wikipedia. Web 12 Nov 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/99th_Infantry_Division_(United_States)>