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Augie Paul Koepke

Augie P. Koepke

Augie Paul Koepke

Augie Paul Koepke was born October 11, 1913, and spent his early years in Topeka, Kansas. His paternal grandparents had immigrated to Kansas from Germany. His father, Bernard, was born in 1889; his mother, Fay, c. 1895, both in Kansas. As of 1915, the young family was renting in Topeka, next-door to another family of Koepkes, apparently Bernard’s parents and three siblings, including a thirty-year-old male, August, probably Bernard’s older brother and the man for whom Augie was named.

According to Bernard’s draft registration card, dated June 5, 1917, he was working at that time as an electrician for the Topeka Sand Company. Three years later, according to the 1920 federal census, he was a railroad switchman and the family had added a second son, Robert. They moved circa 1926 to West Palm Beach, Florida.

Both Augie Paul and Robert joined the Navy. Augie Paul enlisted June 22, 1936, in Norfolk, Virginia, and served on a ship that evacuated Americans from Spain during the Spanish Civil War.

USS-George-F.-Elliott

The USS George F. Elliott at Portsmouth, Virginia, New Year’s Day 1942

He re-enlisted in July 1940, again in Norfolk. Within the space of two weeks in August 1942 he survived the sinking of two ships — the transport USS George F. Elliott, set afire by a Mitsubishi bomber and scuttled off Guadalcanal on August 8, and another, smaller transport, the USS Lakatoi, which foundered amid rough seas and sank off New Caledonia on August 21. After the Lakatoi went down, Koepke and his shipmates spent eleven days afloat on a lifeboat and two rubber rafts, subsisting on, and nearly exhausting, a cache of canned peaches and tomatoes, hard tack, chocolate, thirst tablets and water. One man died, apparently as a result of drinking salt water, something Koepke would years later warn his children against. (One of Koepke’s shipmates from both the George F. Elliott and the Lakatoi, Bosun’s Mate 3/c Jack Scovil of Peoria, Illinois, wrote a day-by-day account of the ordeal. To read it, click on the Crew tab on the home page, then on Jack Scovil’s Lakatoi Journal, which should appear to the right of Koepke’s name on the drop-down menu.)

Sent back to the States along with most of the other Lakatoi survivors, Koepke was assigned by the following summer to the Macaw and was on hand July 16, 1943, four days after the ship was commissioned, when a boom cable aboard the ship broke and struck civilian rigger Vincent Leonis of Alameda, by one account severing his arm. Leonis fell into the Oakland estuary, and Koepke, aided by another sailor, RM3/c Leo Kelly, jumped in after him and saved him from drowning.

Koepke was one of the 22 men aboard the Macaw when she sank at Midway on February 13, 1944, and one of seventeen survivors.

That July, he reported for duty aboard the USS Seagull (ATO 141), a minesweeper, on which he served for the rest of the war. In March 1945 he was promoted to chief bosun’s mate. He stayed in the Navy another eleven years or so. His last assignment was an aircraft carrier based in Norfolk, Virginia, with a name that must have resonated with him, the USS Midway (CV-41). “He loved it,” said his daughter JoAnne Lord, who used to play hide-an-seek with her sister amid the planes on the deck on Sundays when the family ate dinner aboard the ship. “It didn’t sink.”

After mustering out, Koepke followed his father into the employ of West Palm Beach’s exclusive Bath and Tennis Club, where the elder Koepke served as general manager and the younger as a botanist and groundskeeper. An avid golfer, Koepke paired up with various minor celebrities in pro-am tournaments in Palm Beach and thereabouts and shot two holes-in-one.

Lord’s description of her father  jibes perfectly with the recollections of a number of his shipmates aboard the Macaw. He was personable, outgoing, a strong personality and boon companion who never knew a stranger, a lover of parties given to drinking too much, a ladies’ man and a fabulous story teller. “That man could talk to a wall,” she said. “You enjoyed being around him.”

Augie Koepke died at age 70 in May 1984, survived by his second wife, Amy, four daughters and six grandchildren.

 

2 Responses to Augie Paul Koepke

  • Dick Scovil says:

    My uncle Jack was a ship mate of Augie Koepke on the USS Elliott. Jack wrote a daily hand written dairy of the 11 days in the life boats. I have the original dairy. The local newspaper here in Peoria IL is doing a story on this dairy tomorrow in their daily edition as a Veteran’s Day story.
    I found this information on Augie as a result of my research trying to help the reporter with the story. Thanks for providing it as it tied together some facts I did not have. Regards,
    Dick

    • budovich says:

      To read Jack Scovil’s diary entries re the ordeal at sea of the Lakatoi survivors, go to the Crew tab at the top of this page, scroll down to Augie Paul Koepke and click on Jack Scovil’s Lakatoi diary.

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