Longtime Monument Resident and Distinguished WWII Veteran Honored After His Death at Age 104 |


MONUMENT • Retired US Army Air Corps Colonel Earl G. Depner was laid to rest last week with full military honors. He was 104 years old.

A funeral service and mass for Depner, a longtime Monument resident, was held at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Monument on January 28. The retired colonel died on January 23 at the age of 104.

A native of Billings, Montana, Depner was the third of nine siblings and graduated from Billings High School.

He volunteered for the US Army Air Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor, already possessing airplane piloting skills and experience, where he served with the 356th Fighter Squadron during World War II.

The Air Corpsman flew a P-51 Mustang on fighter sweeps over advancing Allied forces and escorted B-17 bombers over Germany.

Among his 100 missions during WWII, during a fighter sweep, a 20mm shell exploded near the nose of his plane, destroying its 12-cylinder Merlin engine and turning the 465mph Mustang into an overweight glider . Depner was forced to jettison the aircraft’s canopy and jumped out of the cockpit as the Mustang lost altitude. But first he forced the dying plane on a path to Allied lines.

Three years ago, at 101, he recalled that mission with crystal clarity for The Gazette.

“By then I had unplugged my oxygen mask, radio and seatbelt and jettisoned the canopy of the aircraft. All the while, I was losing altitude. I finally tried to get out,” he said. “The wind sent me back into the cockpit. So I got up on the seat and jumped.

Depner’s head slammed into the tail of the plane as he pulled on the launch cord of his parachute. He was unconscious for the fall to Earth.

“I came swinging in my parachute harness, three feet off the ground, my parachute caught high up in the tree kept me from hitting the ground. … The next thing I remember is that bad guy said, ‘He’s an American.’ So I look up and there’s one of our American soldiers.

His head hit the tail of the plane as he deployed his parachute, and Depner was unconscious during his descent to the ground. He fortunately landed on the right side of Allied enemy lines but had suffered multiple broken ribs. For this mission, he received a Purple Heart.

Slaughter was one of 100 missions he flew during the war, most of them in a P-51 he named after his Montana hometown of Billings Belle.

During other missions, Depner shot down a German fighter and destroyed 1.5 aircraft on the ground. He remained with the US Air Force after World War II and served in the Korean War. He retired as a colonel in 1965, after 24 years of service, but remained a pilot as a fixed base operator running an air taxi service.

Along with his wife, Rosanna, and their two sons, Depner moved to Monument in 1973.

Depner said he considers the day he married his wife, August 1, 1959, the proudest moment of his life. Rosanna died in February 1997 after the couple had been married for 38 years.

However, he credits Depner’s long life to his mother, who died a week before his wife died. “My mom lived to be 103,” Depner said at her 102nd birthday party at Jackson Creek Senior Living in Monument in November 2019. “She passed on some good genes. Other than that, I tried to live a normal life, as normal as possible when you are in the service.

Depner’s life at Monument was actively involved with St. Peter’s Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus service organization, of which he had been a member since he was 20 years old.

Depner told The Gazette in 2019 that war is not the answer.

“War is hell. And that’s my attitude,” he said. “Now I want to see peace prevail.”

According to his obituary, Depner “stayed active and on his feet until he was 100 years old.”


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