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World War II veteran talks to students

By Paula Dibley
Rowan-Cabarrus Community College
It was 70 years ago when Jack Kepley’s life changed forever. Dec. 7 marked the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval fleet in Pearl Harbor, which launched our nation into World War II.
“My biggest fear was that the war would be over before I graduated high school and could get there,” said Kepley, now 87. “I needn’t have worried, though. Soon enough I found myself graduating on a Friday with orders to report on Saturday.”
In honor of the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College hosted Kepley, Salisbury native and World War II veteran. He participated in 202 of the 262 days of action freeing the islands from the Japanese. In total, he served three years fighting in the jungles of New Guinea, the Philippines and other Pacific islands.
“While most of my friends were sent to Europe, I was sent to the Pacific,” said Kepley. He saw action in some of the bloodiest battles of the war, taking back islands in the Pacific that had been overrun by the Japanese in the early days of the war. “It took us 33 days to cross the Pacific Ocean!”
Kepley, who grew up on South Main Street, said that he used to hunt rabbits in the very area where the event was being held at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. Kepley entertained the crowd for more than an hour with rousing stories of his adventures and misadventures overseas.
“I didn’t want to come here and talk about the bloody things. That’s what the books are all about. It might have been war, but it was still life and life goes on,” said Kepley.
But Kepley, a U.S. Army veteran, admitted that much has changed since he served in World War II.
“I do feel like our country has lost its sense of patriotism. Back then, everyone pitched in and helped. Literally everyone was affected by the war. With 13 percent of the country fighting in the armed forces, everyone knew someone or had someone in their family who was fighting overseas,” said Kepley. “And we all sacrificed. Gasoline and tires were rationed — you could only get four gallons of gas a week. Imagine how far that’d get you today.”
Kepley has addressed Rowan-Cabarrus students in the past regarding his war- time experiences, including the human element often left out of text books.
“We are so grateful to Mr. Kepley for joining us again this year on the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor,” said Dr. Carol S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “It is important that Rowan-Cabarrus students have the opportunity to hear a first-hand account of someone who served during World War II. This is another example of our instructors constantly looking for ways to make education more real and relevant for our students.”
Kepley made the rank of staff sergeant during his time in service and then returned to Salisbury after the war. After graduating from Catawba College and marrying his high school sweetheart, he then went into the insurance business.
“Our nation changed dramatically 70 years ago and it is fitting for our school to take a moment to think about what the attack on Pearl Harbor means for our history. World War II veterans are becoming few and far between. This is essentially a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students that I’m glad they could embrace,” said Robin Satterwhite, humanities and fine arts program chair, who arranged the event. “I hope that it provides a deeper appreciation for the war and what men and women like them went through.”

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