Difficult situation? How’s your sense of humor?

Ed Pepping (l) and Al Mampre, together again in 2011.

Have you ever hear the story of the Band-Aid Bandits?

That’s the nickname medics Ed Pepping and Al Mampre gave themselves during WWII. It was better than what a lot of men called them …

Chancre mechanics.

(Wartime slang for someone who fixes an STD.)

Combat soldiers actually respect medics a lot. In the heat of the battle, medics are a soldier’s best friend.

And any combat soldier will tell you that medics are just as courageous as a fighting man. Medics aren’t permitted to carry a weapon, yet when the lead’s flying, their job is to run toward the bullets, not away.

The start of a great friendship

Ed Pepping and Al Mampre met each other on the first day of boot camp in the humid summer heat at Camp Toccoa, Georgia.

They became instant friends and have stayed friends ever since. That’s more than 70 years of friendship. Both men are over 90 years old today and are doing well.

They were eventually assigned to Easy Company, 506th, 101st, the elite group of paratroopers known as the Band of Brothers. I interviewed both men for my book, We Who Are Alive & Remain.

As medics, their main job was to do whatever they could to help a wounded man, and both Ed and Al did their jobs fervently, no matter how dire the circumstances became.

On D-Day, Ed parachuted into Normandy, cracked his head on the ground, and blacked out. As soon as he came to, he rushed to help a man with a big sucking chest wound.

That same day, Ed made his way to a church in Angoville au Plein that was being used as an aid station and patched up as many casualties as he could. Man after man came in. Legs and arms were blown off. Guys were shot up and bloody. In tribute, the people from the church have never washed the bloodstains off those pews—even to this day.

Al first saw battle when he parachuted in to Holland during Operation Market-Garden. Another man collided with him on the jump down. Al back was badly hurt but he kept going anyway.

Just before the troops reached Eindhoven, Lt. Bob Brewer was shot through the neck by a sniper and was presumed dead. Unconvinced, Al sprinted out to the field where Brewer lay, saw that he was still breathing, got some plasma out of his kit, and pumped it into Brewer’s vein although the men were still under fire.

Another rifle cracked, and Al took one just above his boot line. The bullet peeled the flesh off his leg all the way down to the bone. Both the lieutenant and Al were helped to safety by some nearby Dutch civilians.

Brewer lived, although his fighting days were finished.

Al healed up and rejoined the company a few months later in the harsh winter cold of Bastogne. He soon saved another man’s life after some explosives detonated too soon.

The secret of the Band-Aid Bandits

I asked these two veterans how they survived the war—not just physically, but in their souls. How did they keep from being so affected by all the horror they saw and experienced?

Strangely enough, both answered the same way.

“No matter how crazy it got we always tried to keep a sense of humor,” Al said. “If you didn’t have a sense of humor, you were gone.”

“We just shrugged and grinned,” Ed said. “That was the way we all were—full of zip and go.”

And that’s the lesson for any of us. As difficult as a situation becomes, choose to use humor as a coping device.

True, most of the Band-Aid Bandits’ high jinks came during training before they witnessed the horrors of battle. But not all.

Just check out some of their jokes and pranks:

* At Toccoa, they made catapults out of trees and tossed each other around to see how far a man could fly.

* A captain was set to be married. The night before the wedding, the medics anesthetized him, put his arm in a cast, and shaved off half his mustache. When the captain’s fiancée found out, she was actually happy—she’d never liked the mustache much in the first place.

* Once during jump training, the medics found a wild bobcat. In the interest of veterinary science they put paratrooper boots and a parachute on the animal and jumped out of a plane with him—claws and all. The conclusion? That bobcat was a real thrill-seeker. He enjoyed the wild ride down as much as the men.

* Right before D-Day, when Al was stationed in Aldbourne, he frequented a pub where Scotchmen came for drinks. Morning after morning the Scotchmen argued back and forth in their deep dialect. It was English, but not really, Al concluded, as he could never quite understand what they were saying.

One morning Al decided to join the debate. “Barumpt armph rut rut,” Al blurted. It was complete gibberish.

One of the Scotchmen glanced at Al, paused, then said with a quick nod of his head, “That’s right, Yank!” and kept right on with his conversation.

* In the harsh fighting of Bastogne, Al struck up a conversation with a German prisoner who spoke some English. Al tried to joke with him, just to set the man at ease.

“Hey, why don’t we change uniforms,” Al said. “Think about it: if I wear your German uniform they’ll send me to the States as a captive—then I’ll be home. If you wear my American uniform, we’re going to go to Germany, you know that, then you’ll be home.”

The prisoner thought about it for a moment then smiled. “Ah, the hell with you,” he said. “I want to go to America. You can go to Germany.”

Men of humor, men of honor

Al Mampre came home from the war in September 1945, married his childhood sweetheart Virginia in November 1945, and studied at Pepperdine, UCLA, and the University of Chicago. He worked as a psychologist and for International Harvester in their training department. The Mampres had three children together. He retired in 1978.

Ed Pepping came home in December 1945. He studied business and technology and became a draftsman for NASA’s Apollo Program, helping to send men to the moon. He married and had three children, and is still active today as a public speaker.

The big take-away from their story?

It’s not to say that these men laughed AT the hardships they encountered.

They laughed IN SPITE OF the hardships.

Both men would tell you that’s one important secret to surviving any difficult situation.

Question: how can humor help smooth over difficult situations? Have you ever laughed in spite of hardship? What happened?

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