November 29, 1898 (Bridgeport, CT) – December 7, 1941; 43 years old
Married to Lillian Mabel Pepe on January 6, 1932 in Portsmouth, Virginia
Service number 2063596
USS OKLAHOMA (BB-37)
Received the Purple Heart Medal. In the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.
The 1920 census lists Stephen as “Fireman” at the Groton Navy Base. There is a gap in information found about his service record from 1920 until 1930. He served aboard the newly commissioned USS Northampton (CA-26) from May 17, 1930 until his transfer to the USS Oklahoma on April 30, 1940. NOTE: The USS Northampton ended up being sunk during the Battle of Tassafaronga (Guadalcanal) in November 1942.
From The Hartford Courant October 8, 2018
A Bridgeport sailor who died aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma when it was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was laid to rest with full military honors Monday at the Massachusetts National Cemetery on Cape Cod.
Stephen Pepe, a water tender first-class, was a 43-year-old career sailor whose job was tending the oil-fired boilers on his ship. He was below deck at the time of the Japanese attacked, which propelled the United States into World War II.
A few minutes before 8 a.m. on December 7, 1941, the first Japanese torpedo slammed into the Oklahoma, one of seven battleships moored along Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor. As many as eight more torpedoes, launched by torpedo bombers, would strike the Oklahoma, ripping open its port side, flooding compartments below deck and causing the massive dreadnought to roll over.
The order was quickly given to abandon ship. Within 20 minutes of the first torpedo strike, Oklahoma had capsized. More than 400 sailors and Marines were trapped inside the thick, steel hull.
In the days after the attack, rescue crews got 32 men out alive. The remaining 406 were declared missing, among them Pepe. Of the 1,353 sailors and Marines aboard the Oklahoma, 899 survived, 22 were killed and 26 wounded in the attack.
The widow of one of Pepe’s ship mates told a reporter in 2011 that Pepe saved many of his crew mates’ lives as water filled the doomed Oklahoma. Working with a sailor who’d gotten through a porthole, Pepe shoved men through, sometimes breaking their collarbones, but saving their lives. As the water rose, Pepe disappeared.
In 1947, 388 sailors and Marines who served on the Oklahoma remained unaccounted for. The remains of the unknown dead were combined and buried in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu.
In 2015, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began working to identify all of the unknown remains from the USS Oklahoma and since then many the remains have been returned to families. Scientists from DPAA and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA, anthropological analysis and other evidence to identify Pepe.
WT1c Pepe is buried in Massachusetts National Cemetery, Connery Ave, Bourne, MA; Section 56, Plot 4.
USS Oklahoma memorial, Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, HI; photo from findagrave.com
The horrendous number of deaths on the USS Oklahoma—429— was second only to the 1,177 men who perished aboard the USS Arizona. For almost 60 years, there was no memorial to commemorate the men or their ship. Part of the Oklahoma sat submerged near Ford Island while many of her crew lay in unidentified mass graves. At the Punchbowl cemetery, where countless young servicemen rest, no one knew exactly where the Oklahoma crew was buried. Beginning in 2000, USS Oklahoma survivors, members of the USS Oklahoma Memorial at Pearl Harbor Committee, and hundreds of others came together to create the memorial. On December 7, 2007, the memorial was formally dedicated as an enduring reminder of the Oklahoma and her crew.
Buried in Massachusetts National Cemetery, Connery Ave, Bourne, MA; Section 56, Plot 4. Photo by webmaster July 24, 2020.