Recently, we lost a pillar of our community with the passing of Bill Kimbrell. On Jan. 31, we lost a true American hero with the passing of Steve Epps Sr. I doubt there are many folks in Fort Mill who did not know Kimbrell and the many positive things he did for our town. However, since Mr. Epps lived most of his life in the Lancaster and Chester communities, I would like to share a little about another native son of Fort Mill.
Epps was 84 years old when he died Jan. 31, and he worked almost his entire adult life. He enlisted in the Army right out of high school, and then earned a degree from Clemson University after World War II was over. He went to work for Springs Mills right out of Clemson and was with the company for more than 50 years. Even after he retired from Springs, he continued to remain active in the Southern Textile Association, as well as work as a consultant for companies that supported the textile industry.
Epps managed many plants for Springs in the tri-county area during a time when plant managers were feared by many of the folks who worked for them. However, Epps was never someone to be feared. He was one of the nicest, most courteous, most respected gentlemen I have ever met. He never met a stranger, and he considered it an obligation to mentor and coach those who worked for him.
Clemson has never had a bigger fan than Steve Epps. He was passionate about everything having to do with the Tigers. He attended all of the sporting events he could, both home and away. He served on the Clemson Board of Visitors as well as the National Alumni Council. His favorite color was anything orange.
Epps also was very active in the communities where he lived. He was a Rotarian and served as a school board member. He was a past chairman of the board for Founders Credit Union. He truly believed in giving back to the community in which he lived; however, since Epps was a member of the "Greatest Generation," he gave a lot more.
Epps and a friend decided to enlist in the Army and go off to fight in World War II when they got out of high school. Being adventurous young men, they decided to sign up for the new Airborne units that were being formed to help repel the Nazi invaders. During their in-processing, his friend was sent back home due to a health condition, but Epps was off to train with the 82nd Airborne's 505th PIR.
On June 6, 1944, Mr. Epps and the rest of his unit jumped out of airplanes over coastal towns on France's Normandy coast. They were part of the largest invasion force that has ever been assembled and had just begun the liberation of France and the rest of Europe. His unit landed near the small town of St. Mere Eglise. The unit was scattered for miles, and they were unorganized due to loss of command and control. However, through pure grit and determination, these men began banding together and organizing themselves back into fighting groups. By early morning, they had liberated St. Mere Eglise and were already opening routes for the soldiers that were just then landing on Normandy's beaches. The movie "The Longest Day" depicts many of these events that Epps witnessed firsthand.
I felt compelled to write this letter for two reasons. First, I am grateful that Epps was willing to spend so much time mentoring his "young pups." We enjoyed many lunches at the Wagon Wheel and other local diners talking about his past experiences. Being a history buff, I usually turned the discussion to his exploits during World War II. I remember many lunch hours that ran a little too long because I was so captivated with his real-life accounts.
Second, I encourage everyone reading this to seek out a veteran and get him to tell you his story. According to the Associated Press, we are losing veterans of World War II at a rate of about 1,100 per day. There are about 2.5 million left living today. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to know Epps and hear his stories, and I hope you have the same opportunity with another true, American hero.
May God bless the "Greatest Generation," and farewell to Epps! I am so proud to have known him as a friend.