Col George B. Peploe 38th Infantry
GEORGE BATEMAN PEPLOE was born in London, England on 14 November 1900. He was the youngest of four children born to Arthur Alfred and Mary Ann Peploe. When George was two years old, his father died. This tragedy resulted in the uprooting of George, aged five, with his brother Arthur and his sisters Agnes and Edith and their relocation to the United States. George’s first memory of his new environs was Ellis Island, where a friendly guard put a chalk mark on his nose. Water Port, New York was to be his new home. George and his mother took up residence on a farm where she had gained employment as a housekeeper, and his brother and sisters went to live with uncles on adjoining farms. He considered those 14 years the happiest and most rewarding of his life.
During high school, he became known as “Pep,” developed an interest in music and joined a “pick-up” band in his community. This interest in music, unaccompanied by talent, would change the course of his life. A school friend who had previously joined the Band and Field Music Detachment encouraged him to enlist. In the winter of 1919, he was accepted as a snare drummer in field music. His additional duty of company clerk placed him in daily contact with the company commander, Captain Van Deusen, who encouraged him to seek entry to the Academy through the Prep school. And so it was that a young, immigrant farm boy became a proud member of the Corps of Cadets.
Pep became involved in numerous cadet activities and “terrorized” many opponents as a member of the lacrosse team. In June 1925, he was commissioned a second lieutenant of Infantry. An interest in military aviation brought an initial assignment to Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas. Before long, he joined several classmates who had “washed out” and moved across town to Fort Sam Houston and duty with the 2nd Division. He directed his energies toward becoming the best platoon leader in the division. At one of the socials a classmate introduced him to Maurice B. Moynahan. George and Maurice were married in San Antonio on 20 June 1927. Within days of their wedding, they travelled to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where part of the Division was stationed, honeymooning along the way. Cheyenne was followed by Signal School at Fort Monmouth. While there, Maurice returned home to have her baby. Betty Jean was born in the Post Hospital at Fort Sam Houston, on 9 March 1929. As the story goes, Maurice didn’t want her baby to be born a “Yankee.”
Pep next was posted to Fort Niagara and then to the Phillipines and China. Returning to the States in 1934, he received various school, staff and command assignments at Forts Benning, Leavenworth, San Houston, Polk and Knox. His attention to training was noted by T. R. Ferenback in This Kind of War: “Peploe felt soldiers should train in peace time as they trained in wartime. For an army has only two functions, to fight or to prepare to fight.” Following Pearl Harbor, he was stationed at Fort Jackson, where new units were being trained for combat, and then went to the Pentagon in the War Department G-3 section.
His persistence in seeking a combat assignment netted him a berth as G-3, XIII Corps. The Corps fought through Holland, Belgium, France and Germany, terminating at the Elbe where they linked up with the Russians. He was preparing for combat service in the Pacific theater when the war ended. The reunited Peploes returned to Fort Knox for a short assignment. In 1946, Pep was assigned to the George C. Marshall mission to China and later to occupation duty as G-3, I Corps, Kyoto, Japan.
Upon returning to the States in 1949, he received his most cherished assignment, command of the 38th (“Rock of the Marne”) Infantry Regiment, 2nd Division. His success at training the regiment was demonstrated when the regiment was thrust into battle at the Pusan perimeter on 19 August 1950. The 38th took part in the fierce defensive battles along the Naktong River. It broke out along with the division on 16 September and finally came to rest south of Sŏul on the Han River.
Later, it penetrated deep into North Korea until the Chinese forced the entire Eighth Army to withdraw south of the Han River. The 38th’s valiant stand at the perimeter, coupled with its indomitable fighting spirit after the breakout, prompted the division commander, Major General Lawrence B. Keiser, to comment: “George Peploe, in my book, is the best regimental combat commander that I have ever seen in action. To his effective leadership, which he transmitted throughout the 38th Infantry, goes the credit for the heroic exploits of that regiment, which was second to none.”
His well-deserved rest after returning to San Antonio in November 1951 was interrupted by his daughter Betty’s 21 December marriage to Lieutenant Morgan J. (Jack) Cronin. Then it was on to an assistant division commander assignment with the 44th National Guard Division, followed by two assignments in Japan: first as Commander Southwest Command and later, with promotion to major general, as G-1 Armed Forces Far East. With the return stateside for assignment to Sixth Army came the decision to retire.
On 31 July 1956, George Bateman Peploe stood on the parade field receiving his retirement honors. His decorations, which included the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star with two oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Air Medal and Army Commendation Medal, gave testimony to the type of service he had rendered. Atop the ribbons was his most cherished award, the Combat Infantry Badge.
Maurice and Pep headed back to San Antonio, built a home and settled in among family and friends. Hunting, fishing, golf, gardening, traveling and a host of other activities kept him fully occupied. He stayed on top of issues, analyzed, commented, and wrote to elected officials until the day he died. The Cronins were stationed at Fort Sam Houston and remained in San Antonio after Jack’s retirement in 1975. For over 20 years, frequent visits, Sunday dinners, excursions with the family, the telling and retelling of old stories, all punctuated with the laughter of children, brought great joy to his retirement years. He was a devoted and loving husband, father, grandfather and greatgrandfather. On 21 May 1992, as he came in from the back yard, he heard a voice beckon him, saying, “Come with me, Pep, we’re going to join your comrades and the Rock of the Marne.” Being the splendid soldier he was, he obeyed.
The Cronin Family
September 1, 1950
To the north of Freeman's 23d Infantry sector stood Keiser's green three battalion 38th Regiment, which had been in Korea a total of eleven days.
The 38th was commanded by West Pointer (1925) George B. ("Pep") Peploe, fifty. Unlike Hill and Freeman, whom the Pentagon had foisted on Keiser at the last minute, Peploe was a "Keiser man" who had commanded the 38th since August 1949. However, like Hill and Freeman, Peploe was a "staff officer" who had never commanded troops in battle. In World War II he had been G3 of a Stateside infantry division of the Armored Command at Fort Knox, and of XIII Corps, which fought in the ETO.[9-31]
Those who knew Peploe well admired his professional competence and coolness under fire, but they had mixed and contradictory recollections of him as a person. His 2/38 commander, West Pointer (1937) James H. Skeldon, thirty-six, judged him this way:
"I considered Pep to be an extremely able C.O. who was courageous, peppery (hence his nickname, Pep), smart, aggressive, analytical, cynical, vindictive at times but amenable to reason."
Another West Pointer who served under Peploe remembered:
"He was a driver, not a leader. He would rip into you, but he wouldn't balance it out with praise. He'd try, but when it came to praise, he'd freeze up and people would wind up mad at him."
Peploe's S3, Warren D. Hodges, twenty-seven, thought Peploe was able and brave but could be "impetuous." Hodges told this story to illustrate the latter characteristic:
"When we were first facing the North Koreans on the Naktong, some of the GIs, showing good initiative, fashioned rafts and swam the river in darkness to make probes in enemy positions. In the process they
lost their helmets and shoes and other equipment. Since they had gulped some river water, they were advised to get typhoid boosters. Pep, unaware of all this, happened to come along when the men were in the aid station getting the shots. Seeing them without helmets and shoes, he laced into them something awful. Later, when he was briefed on the initiative they had shown, he gave all of them medals.[9-32]
November 26, 1950
While the PVA 120th Division commenced its attack on the US 2nd Infantry Division's center, the PVA 119th Division was also trying to drive a wedge between Kujang-dong and Tokchon. In a series of confusing battles between the PVA 119th Division and the US 38th Infantry Regiment, the patrolling A Company of the 38th Infantry Regiment was first splintered under Chinese attacks. Adding to the confusion, Chinese reconnaissance teams resorted to sweet musics and dancing to lure the Americans into exposing their positions, and the resulting Chinese counter fire caused the loss of the G Company on the 38th Infantry Regiment's center. The Chinese had also penetrated the 38th Infantry Regiment's left flank, blocking the regiment's retreat route in the process. By the morning of November 26, Chinese troops were spotted all around the 38th Infantry Regiment.
The Chinese promptly withdrew as the morning came on November 26, and a counterattack by the 38th Infantry Regiment later reopened the road to the rear. When the ROK 3rd Infantry Regiment of the ROK 7th Infantry Division suddenly appeared in the 38th Infantry Regiment's sector, Colonel George B. Peploe of the 38th Infantry Regiment realized the right flank of the US 2nd Infantry Division and the entire Eighth Army had collapsed. Under orders from Major General Laurence B. Keiser, commander of the US 2nd Infantry Division, Colonel Peploe immediately took command of the ROK 3rd Infantry Regiment while trying to refuse his right flank. At the same time, Colonel Paul L. Freeman of the 23rd Infantry Regiment had also tried to lead his regiment to capture Chinaman's Hat, but without much success.