The coronavirus pandemic has taken many great people from the military community this year, particularly from the vulnerable elderly generation of World War II veterans. Colonel Steve dePyssler, an Air Force veteran who died just days after his 101st birthday in July, is one such loss whom we mourn today.
Col. dePyssler served in the armed forces for 38 years, becoming one of the only known Americans to serve in four wars – World War II, the Korean War, the French Indochina War, and the Vietnam War – and the Bay of Pigs invasion. He was awarded the Legion of Merit Medal four times for his “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.” Specializing in logistics and supply for the Air Force, he rose from private to colonel over nearly four decades.
“When I tell people I’ve held 20 different ranks, they always say that there aren't 20 different ranks. But in World War II, they had six grades that are no longer there and I held three of them,” he told Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, where he was known as the “unofficial Mayor.” After retiring from active duty, he spent 41 years volunteering in veterans’ services, becoming the Director of Retiree Affairs at Barksdale.
As part of his unpaid volunteering agenda, he helped widows and widowers of servicemembers understand their benefits and personal finances. The New York Times reports that he would give widows turquoise necklaces as a thank you for their family’s sacrifices. His widow is Gloria (Murdoch) dePyssler, to whom he was married for 75 years. He is also survived by his daughters, Carol Wendt and Stephanie Hoekstra, and two grandchildren.
Col. dePyssler was born on July 21, 1919 in Chicago. His birth father was murdered when he was eight years old, so he took the name of his mother’s second husband. He was a state boxing champion in high school before attending Loyola University Chicago. But he left college to join the military in 1941.
"Colonel Steve dePyssler was and is a true legend and hero,'' said Bossier City, LA Mayor Lo Walker. "His history of voluntary public service is without peer. His decades of assistance to military members and their families, without pay, is indicative of his genuine care and concern for all of them during his years as director of the Retiree Office for Barksdale Air Force Base.”
His generosity drove his lifetime of mentoring and humanitarianism. He personally funded the Northwest Louisiana Veteran Home Subsistence Fund with $50,000. The fund has since grown to over $225,000.
“Col. dePyssler loved all veterans, but his heart was always with the Air Force and his heart was always with Barksdale,” said Retired Army Col. Joey Strickland, Secretary of Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, during a memorial ceremony in July. “His service to veterans brings to mind one of my favorite quotes. General Omar Bradley in 1948 when he was serving as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs said, ‘We are dealing with veterans, not procedures. We are dealing with their problems, not ours.’ That is just what Col. Steve dePyssler did every day. I always knew that I could count on him for anything I needed to get done for veterans, especially here.”
The veteran continued to volunteer on base even after his 100th birthday, serving other veterans and their families. His advice for living a whole century? He told ABC:
"Keep busy. Help people. Take care of your family.”
Last year, he said, "My goal is to help one person a day for as long as I live. That's my goal. And has been for years and years and years.”