17th Armored Engineer Battalion in World War 2

17th Engineers during World War 2

Mr Ralph Kephart

The story of Ralph Edward Kephart

Company E, 17th Armored Engineer Battalion
Army Serial Number: unknown

Born: 31 march 1921, Fayette – Oelwein, Iowa


Birth record

Ralph Edward Kephart

United States Public Records
Name Ralph Edward Kephart
Event Date 01 Jun 2001
Event Place Hazleton, Iowa, United States
Birth Date 31 Mar 1921
Address Hazleton, Iowa 50641
Address Date 01 Jun 2001
2nd Address Hazleton, Iowa 50641
2nd Address Date 01 Sep 1998
3rd Address Hazleton, Iowa 50641
3rd Address Date 08 Jul 1974-01 Jun 2001
Possible Relatives Margaret E Kephart, Margaret Emma Kephart
Affiliate Identifier 187445587



US Sensus 1925

W E Kephart
  44 Married Head 1881
  Floyd Kephart Male 16 Single Son   1909
  Fern Kephart Female 14 Single Daughter   1911
  Gladis Kephart Female 13 Single Daughter   1912
  Ralph Kephart Male 3 Single Son   1922
  Elizabeth Kephart Female 35 Married Wife   1890
US Sensus 1925

US Sensus 1925

US Sensus 1940 

  William C Kephart    Male 59 Married White Head Iowa  1881
  Elizabeth Kephart   Female 53 Married White Wife Nebraska 1887 Same House
  Ralph Kephart   Male 19 Single White Son Iowa 1921 Same House
US Sensus 1940

US Sensus 1940 

Ralph was a Mechanic at a Garage in 1940 when he was 19 years old. 

Intervieuw: Kephardt The Courier

(Waterloo, Iowa, United States of America) · 15 Dec 2014

Kephardt The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa, United States of America) · 15 Dec 2014

Kephardt The Courier (Waterloo, Iowa, United States of America) · 15 Dec 2014

93-year-old remembers details of service in Europe 

Fortunately, a few days after Kephardt and com-rades were ordered into Bel-gium, the fog lifted, Amer-ican planes hit the German positions and ground forc-es advanced, stopping the Germans short of their goal: seizing Allied fuel installa-tions to keep the offensive going. German tanks and other vehicles were aban-doned in the field, stalled and out of gas. “I don’t think the Germans thought they were going to win the war” at that point, Kephardt said. “But what they were trying to do was make a better peace — give it one last push and maybe they could sue for peace” on better terms, as opposed to unconditional surrender. But Kephardt said Allied leaders like Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Harry Truman would not have allowed the Nazi re-gime to remain in power and “weren’t going to settle for anything but unconditional peace The human slaugh-ter going on in the Nazi con-centration camps was be-coming more widely known at that point. “We got into one of those camps. We lcnew what it was. You can’t imagine what those Germans were doing;’ Keph-ardt said. “Now, the (regular) German soldiers were pret-ty nice guys and I talked with several of them. But I’ll tell you, the ones that were bad were those SS troops” who
ran the death camps and made up some of the forces fighting in the Biller. The German defeat there allowed Kephardt and his comrades to resume their march into Germany and secure an Allied victory the following spring. Within the Second Armored Division, Kephardt served in Compa-ny E of the 17th Armored En-gineers. Their job was to place por-table floating pontoon bridg-es at liver crossings so troops and tanks of the 2nd Ar-mored could advance into Germany. He entered Eu-rope at Omaha Beach a few days after D-Day. Part of his job was run-ning a generator that sup-plied the air pressure to in-flate the large pontoons un-der the bridge deck. They also plugged holes when pontoons were shot up by the enemy. Crews always kept their rifles near, he said. Kephardt served three years in the Army, including service in North Africa and Europe, and earned six bat-tle stars for the various cam-paigns he was involved in. His outfit received a Presi-dential Unit Citation for its quick work in setting up a bridge crossing of the Rhine River into the heart of Ger-many in March 1945. His closest call came a short time later, when Ger-man artillery shot up and sunk their bridge as troops were about to cross the Elbe River. Two companies of U.S. troops who had already crossed had to be retrieved by boat to be saved from the Germans. Many were. Some weren’t. During the artillery barrage,
Kephardt and a buddy, tak-ing cover under their trucks, decided to make a break for a stone house they thought would provide better shelter. “We got to the door of that house, and an explosion blew us both right into the house. In fact, it blew me over the top of him;’ Kephardt said. “We stayed in that house and they hit that house two or three times and we de-cided we’d better get out of there They and two oth-er comrades taking shelter grabbed a truck and escaped. Kephardt said he took a piece of shrapnel in his head but never sought a Purple Heart. “It didn’t hurt me. It just burned,” he shrugged. “That was the worst deal I ever got into. They just blew hell out of stuff!” His unit withdrew several miles to be re-equipped and returned to the same cross-ing — only to now find it oc-cupied by Soviet troops who had advanced upon the Ger-mans from the other direc-tion. The war was over. Kephardt recalls the pre-sumed Soviet allies to be less than hospitable. “They weren’t too friendly” he said. They denied the Americans a crossing at that point on the Elbe, forcing them to ford at another location. Also, Kephardt recalls being stuck in American sector of Ber-lin at the war’s end for sev-eral weeks when the Soviets blocked a main road out of the city. Kephardt, a lifetime me-chanic and retired instruc-tor at Northeast Iowa Com-munity College in Calmar, is a very healthy 93-year-old. Born in nearby Oran in Fay-ette County, he has lived in
Hazleton since 1933, save his military years. He loves to tinker with computers, play guitar and electric bass and carve wood. He and wife Marga-ret both still drive and trav-el. Widowed and remarried, he has two sons, living in Ce-dar Rapids and Minneapolis, and several grandchildren. Some effects of his mil-itary service are appar-ent. He used to startle easi-ly from sleep, and Margaret says he’s still a light sleeper. When he returned from ser-vice, he told his mother nev-er to touch him to wake him, only to call him, because he didn’t know how he’d react. Though names fade, he still recalls his brothers in arms. He was given a chess set by a friend in North Africa who taught him how to play. That buddy told him to keep it un-til he saw him again. Keph-ardt still has it He also recalls a buddy in Europe who nursed him back to the health and kept him fed for several days when he took deathly ill. “I’ll tellyou one thing: No-body can believe it unless you’ve done it. Nobody can believe how close you can get to another guyp Keph-ardt said. “You get pretty close to a guy, see. You get awful close to somebody else because that’s all you’ve got!’ Then there was the Dutch family Kephardt and his friend never got to share Christmas dinner with. But the family’s gesture in itself was an expression of grat-itude for something even more precious the American soldiers shared with their hosts: freedom.

Intervieuw recording from Grout Museum District on Vimeo.