Medal of Honor recipient is buried in Winchester Cemetery
Published 12:27 pm Monday, April 3, 2017
When the dart landed on the Winchester Cemetery, it was a breezy but warm March afternoon.
At the entrance of the cemetery the bustle of traffic on Lexington Avenue could be heard. Straight ahead, the sun glistened off the gold letters on a red historical marker.
The marker towers over a variety of neatly landscaped colorful flowers and shrubs. At the base of the marker one can sit to truly take in the story on the rear side.
As one reads the story, you can’t help but ponder the bravery of Pfc. Harold G. Epperson.
Harold G. Epperson was a Marine who served during World War II. He was killed on Saipan giving his life to save his comrades.
It was around 11 a.m. in Winchester when more than 6,000 miles away Epperson was drawing his last breath.
At 20, Epperson was killed in action on June 235, 1944, after throwing himself on a Japanese hand grenade to protect fellow American soldiers.
For his actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military decoration. He is buried in the Winchester Cemetery.
Epperson enlisted from his hometown in Ohio at 17. His remains were interred in Winchester to be near family members who moved to here after he joined the military.
Today, the local Marine Corps League and VFW Post No. 2728 bear his name, as does the exit-94 interchange over Interstate 64.
A historical marker at the entrance of the Winchester Cemetery commemorates Epperson’s great sacrifice.
Another local Marine, Roy Bates, played an integral role in calling attention to Epperson’s noble death.
“I supposed I had a little bit to do with that,” Bates recalled in a phone interview with the Sun Sunday afternoon.
Bates said his desire to recognize Epperson came from his experience of another Kentucky Medal of Honor recipient’s recognition.
“It was around 2001,” Bates remembered. “I was a member of the Dan Daley Marine Corps League Detachment in Lexington.”
The commandant there, Don Dixon, was a very busy man and happened to double book himself, Bates said.
“One day he called me and said he’d made an error in his scheduling,” he said. “He was due in Washington to speak at the same time he was due in McKinney, Kentucky. He was supposed to speak in McKinney at a ceremony for a Marine who was awarded a Medal of Honor for his service in Korea.”
Dixon asked Bates to go in his place to read the citation recognizing Pfc. William Baugh.
“The only thing in McKinney is a caution light and a volunteer fire station,” Bates said. “But a lot of important people came out to recognize Baugh. A lot of home folks came out of the hills and hollers to be at that ceremony. It was such a moving experience and I had never seen anything like it. They named the highway there after him, the firehouse, everything in the neighborhood was named after William Baugh.
“I thought it was a tremendous outpouring of camaraderie.”
At the time, Bates was serving as chaplain at the Clark County Jail and came across former mayor and fellow Marine veteran Gene Kincaid one morning.
“We had prayer and we talked and I shared with him what I had just experienced,” Bates said. “I didn’t know much of anything about Harold Glenn Epperson and his Medal of Honor.
“I told Gene how moved I was. I told him our town should be ashamed to have an honor like this in our community and not know anything at all about him.”
Bates set out to rectify that.
He got in touch with officials in Frankfort who confirmed a historical marker could be placed in Epperson’s honor.
It would cost about $2,200, though.
Undeterred, Bates enlisted Kincaid’s help in finding local donors to fund the marker.
“We got all the money together and we invited all the vets organizations in the community to come and we made contact with the cemetery board who allowed us to place the marker there,” Bates said.
From there, recognizing Epperson continued as Bates was eventually charged with putting together a local Marine Corps Detachment.
“Don Dixon wanted me to try to contact all the former Marines and Navy corpsmen and chaplains if we had any and get a Marine Corps League in Winchester,” Bates said. “I found 53 Marines. It took about three or four years.”
The local Harold G. Epperson, Medal of Honor, Detachment No. 1113, Marine Corps League was chartered in 2002 with Kincaid as the first commandant, along with Ed Burtner, Chuck Witt and Bates as the first officers.
“In the early part of our life we grew to about 118 members,” Bates said. “We had something like close to 40 life members, and there’s a rule that if you have 35 life members in your detachment, it can never be canceled. There will always be a Harold G. Epperson Marine Corps League Detachment here.”
The detachment has been active in honoring its namesake over the years. They placed a bronze marker on Epperson’s grave and worked to have the exit-94 interchange bridge over Interstate 64 bear Epperson’s name.
And at 11 a.m. every June 25, the detachment gathers for a ceremony honoring the precise date and time of Epperson’s sacrifice.
Bates said, as a former Marine, it has been important for him to continue honoring Epperson over the years.
“I was born and raised here and had never heard of Harold Epperson,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about anyone around here having a Medal of Honor. That meeting that I filled in for Don in McKinney was the reason that all this got started.
“After talking to Gene about how neither of us knew much about him, we decided to do something about honoring that boy. And we did. That’s the reason for all these things.”