Herb Peppard, a Second World War veteran from Truro, N.S., who was part of an elite special service force and was awarded the U.S.’s highest civilian honour, has died.
He was 98, just a few weeks shy of his 99th birthday, when he died on Wednesday morning.
“He has so many remarkable stories and he’s just one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known,” said Janice Dickson, who wrote a biography of Peppard called Herb Peppard: The Eternal Man.
Peppard grew up during the Great Depression in Truro at a time when his family couldn’t afford books for school.
He was working in a lumberyard on a cold and rainy day when a train pulled up next to him bearing signs saying, “Hitler Here We Come,” said Dickson, recalling a story Peppard told her during one of her many interviews with him.
The train was carrying soldiers to Halifax.
“They were making fun of him for being outside and so the very next day he signed up,” Dickson said. “He thought, ‘I want to be on the inside and with those young soldiers.'”
The Devil’s Brigade
His enlistment started a stellar military career that culminated in his membership in the Devil’s Brigade, a U.S.-Canada combined force that was trained to do hand-to-hand combat, climb mountains, parachute down on targets and become demolition experts.
The special service force was called the “black devils” by Germans after members of the brigade snuck behind enemy lines in Italy under the cover of darkness, their faces blackened with boot polish, to eliminate targets.
“I recall him saying he didn’t even quite know what the force was when he first became part of it because it was so secretive,” Dickson said.
Peppard helped gather bodies from no man’s land during the war, hoping the band on his arm would keep the enemy from firing at him — one of the “really dark moments” he shared with his biographer.
“He said that it haunted him for a long time and he would think of that moment and it was sort of hard to shake.”
Peppard was was in Bulford Camp in England on VE-Day and sailed home to Halifax afterwards, taking the “milk run” train home to his family in Truro.
‘Lived life to the very fullest’
After returning to Canada, Peppard eventually married his sweetheart, Greta, and had three children.
He later got an education degree, became a bodybuilder, a poet, a singer and a newspaper columnist and travelled extensively.
“He really didn’t slow down at all,” said Dickson. “He’s just a very boisterous, outgoing man who sees the best in everyone and really lived life to the very fullest.”
In 2015, Peppard was one of 14 Canadians who received the highest civilian honour awarded in U.S. — the Congressional Gold Medal, for his time with the Devil’s Brigade.
Later that year, CBC News interviewed Peppard at a reception in Truro, where he was one of 50 Canadians to receive a Canadian flag from the prime minister marking the flag’s 50th anniversary.
Even though Peppard fought for Canada under the Red Ensign, he said he was happy to receive the flag.
“We had another flag, but this one is beautiful and it distinguishes us as Canadians with that maple leaf and I love that,” Peppard said in 2015.
“He was a character, he really was,” said Gus Cameron, a representative of a veteran’s group called UN-NATO, which Peppard joined about five years ago. “He was a smart man and I’m missing him big time.”
Cameron said the last time he saw Peppard was on Tuesday night. The last time he had a conversation with him was on Sunday and he said they were talking about how Peppard had been feeling tired.
“I said, ‘What do you think is going on, Herb?’ and he says, ‘You know what, I think it’s just my age,'” Cameron said.