William E. Kepner is a decorated veteran who served on active duty for 45 years. He retired after a long military career, earning a Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, three Legions of Merit, Distinguished Service Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. He also received decorations from five nations outside the United States, including Britain, Belgium, France, Poland and China.
Kepner began his military career in 1909 by enlisting in the Marine Corps, where he served until 1913. In 1916 he became an officer in the Indiana National Guard.
In 1918, Kepner commanded a company with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF)—the official name for American forces that fought in World War I—at the Battle of Château-Thierry, the first major battle of the war involving the AEF. He led the 3rd Battalion of the 4th Infantry in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, one of the last Allied combat actions of the war. The P-47 Thunderbolt Pilots Association details that Kepner “was engaged in most of the battles where the Americans were involved”, which, in addition to the aforementioned events, included offensives in Aisne, Champagne, Marne and Saint-Mihel.
After World War I, Kepner spent a decade training in balloon and airship piloting, earning him promotion to major in October 1930. He participated in four international balloon races, winning the first place in two races, second place in one race and third. place in the other. He completed flight school in 1932, which allowed him to fly fixed-wing aircraft for the Army Air Corps.
As a pilot, Kepner is celebrated as a pioneer. He piloted Major Ira C. Eaker 2,600 miles across the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific on an experimental flight. He also attempted to break the record for highest altitude in a manned balloon and set new standards for ground-to-air support for fighters and bombers during World War II, especially in the period before, during and after. on D-Day. He participated in 24 combat missions throughout the war.
Kepner received his highest rank of lieutenant general in June 1950 and became commander-in-chief of Air Force Alaska Command the same year. He retired from military service in February 1953.
Kepner died in July 1982 in Orlando, Florida.
We honor his service.