CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Augustus “Gus” Epple was born in October, 1925, in Paterson, New Jersey, an industrial city that would become a center for war production during World War II. Epple’s family moved from Paterson to Ridgewood, New Jersey, site of a Wright Aeronautical Corporation aircraft engine plant during the war. Epple was attending a high school football game when word came of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At half time there was an announcement that all military personnel should return to their bases, and the band played the Star Spangled Banner. Epple graduated from Ridgewood High School and was accepted as a student at Cornell University.
Epple recalled that twenty-three seniors in his high school class enlisted before graduation, and that many girls in his class worked rolling bandages for the war effort. In April, 1943, following an army pre-induction qualifying test, he was advised that he would eventually be drafted, and in August, 1943, he voluntarily enlisted in the army.
Epple took his basic training course, which included extensive physical training, with rope climbing and obstacle courses, at Fort Benning, Georgia. In subsequent advanced training, he was assigned to an 81mm mortar platoon, where he trained to become a mortar crew man. The mortar, he recalled, consisted of three basic pieces: base plate, tube and bipod. After extensive training in mortar gunnery, Epple was eventually assigned to the 345th Infantry Regiment of the 87th Division, where he performed additional duty as a jeep driver.
After landing at Le Havre, France, Epple worked alternately as a jeep driver and a mortar gunner. He recalled that the winter of 1944-‘45 was extremely cold, with frequent snow. Epple was issued a field jacket, a bedroll and blanket, and boots and galoshes. He recalled wearing three layers of clothes to keep warm, and changing his socks frequently. He used his helmet as a washbowl and frequently slept in snow covered forests. He remarked that his father was the editor of the Ridgewood News newspaper and used excerpts from Epple’s wartime letters in articles.
Epple recalled being involved in the Battle of the Bulge, where his division entered the fight on December 29, 1944. Following that fight, the division moved into Luxembourg and crossed the Rhine at the end of March, 1945. Epple showed the interviewer several photos of his 81mm mortar in the snow, the battle area he fought in, and soldiers marching in the snow. He recalled that German machine gun fire was particularly heavy, and that his unit captured several enemy prisoners.
After his honorable discharge from the army in February, 1946, Epple worked in an office in New York as a messenger and eventually rose to become director of manufacturing and production for a magazine group and subsequently worked as a printing salesman.
Epple initiated a Battle of the Bulge veterans’ organization in New Jersey, with members encouraged to visit local schools to speak to students about their experience. He sent out letters to many schools offering to provide veterans to give talks and got an 80% response. At the time of his interview, he was still encouraging his comrades, who ranged in age from 78 to 93 years old, to speak at schools.
At the conclusion of his interview, Augustus Epple said he regretted the use of the atomic bomb on Japan, but noted that it did end the war. He received the following awards: Combat Infantry Badge, ETO medal with three battle stars, American Service Medal, European-African-Middle-Eastern Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal and the Bronze Star. He said that he is planning to bequeath his medals to his 11 year old grandson.
Augustus “Gus” Epple passed away on April 1, 2017.