The old man of Easy Company is gone.
Ed Mauser of Omaha, the oldest surviving member of the 101st Airborne Division's famed Band of Brothers unit in Europe during World War II, died at his home Friday. He was 94.
Mauser, who parachuted into France on D-Day and fought across Europe, was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer in late December.
“It was a long trip, but everything comes to an end,” he said in a recent interview.
Edward “Babe” Heffron of South Philadelphia, Pa., an Easy Company veteran, said he was saddened by Mauser's death.
“It's a shame,” Heffron said. “Ed was a good soldier. He went through his share of hell.”
Mauser's death leaves 35 known living veterans of famed Easy Company.
Mauser was a retired watchmaker who lived in relative obscurity for more than six decades after World War II. He was on the final Heartland Honor Flight to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., in April 2009.
Then he stepped from the shadows of history as an Easy Company paratrooper — a veteran of the Band of Brothers — in a World-Herald story during the Fourth of July weekend in 2009.
The next 18 months were a whirlwind of remembrance and celebration for Mauser. He was in demand to attend military reunions and tours across the United States and Western Europe.
He made two trips to Europe, following Easy Company's trail from its training base in England to places where he fought and bivouacked in Normandy, Holland and Belgium and on into Germany and Austria.
Thirteen months ago, the Strategic Air & Space Museum near Ashland, Neb., brought in Mauser and five other Easy Company veterans for a Band of Brothers gathering. It was Mauser's first reunion with Army buddies since the war ended in 1945. He also attended Band of Brothers events in Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Florida.
Last spring he received a second Bronze Star, a second Purple Heart and 10 other overdue awards and pins for his military service from 1942 to 1945. He was a special guest at Omaha's Memorial Day ceremonies.
His final hurrah was riding in a Corvette as grand marshal of Bellevue's Veterans Day Parade in November.
“He got the attention he deserved,” said Bill Williams of Omaha, who organized the Honor Flights.
The 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment's Easy Company participated in some of the war's most critical battles. After the predawn jump from low-flying C-47 aircraft into Nazi-occupied France in 1944, the company spearheaded the Market Garden and Rhine offensives and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. They liberated a concentration camp and occupied Adolf Hitler's Eagle's Nest retreat in the Bavarian Alps.
Mauser was a private first class and rifleman in Easy Company's 2nd Platoon. His two Purple Hearts were for shrapnel wounds suffered in Belgium.
Easy Company's story was chronicled in Stephen Ambrose's 1993 best-selling book “Band of Brothers” and a 10-part television miniseries in 2001. Writers for the miniseries interviewed Mauser, but he wasn't personally featured.
Easy Company veterans soon were feted at conventions, reunions and tours across the country and in Europe. But Mauser didn't make those trips. His wife, Irene, was ill during much of the period, and he didn't leave her side. She died in 2008.
Mauser's daughter, Laurie Fowler of Bellevue, said his dedication to his wife exemplified the meanings of love and marriage. She said her father rarely talked of his war experiences until revealing he was an Easy Company veteran.
“I got to see dad in a new light,” she said. “I got to see how he became the person he was, not just because of the Depression, but the war.”
Mauser said the highlights of his recent trips to Europe were the people he met.
“He said he now has more friends than he ever had,” his daughter said. “His friends brought him so much joy. Through it all, my dad remained humble and proud. My dad is a hero to me and my family in so many ways.”
Lynn “Buck” Compton of Mount Vernon, Wash., was Mauser's platoon leader. They parachuted from the same airplane on D-Day.
“We had a lot of esprit de corps in our outfit,” Compton said. “We were pretty close, and we were proud of our unit.”
Don Malarkey of Salem, Ore., also served in the same platoon with Mauser.
When he heard Mauser was ill, Malarkey said: “He was a very quiet person. Time goes on. Nothing you can do about it.”
Mauser was a native of Peru, Ill. He was working in the wristwatch department at the Westclox clock factory in LaSalle, Ill., when the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He was drafted into the Army about six weeks later at age 25.
His first Army outpost was with the horse cavalry at Fort Riley, Kan., which soon transformed into a mechanized cavalry unit. Mauser was sent to Fort Benning, Ga., and volunteered for paratrooper training.
After the war he went back to work for Westclox and married Irene Furlan. Both were children of Slovenian immigrants. They were married 58 years.
Mauser moved the family to Omaha from Illinois in 1960. He repaired watches and learned the jewelry business at the Time Center shop. He was a member of the American Legion in Millard.
He went to horse races at the old Ak-Sar-Ben track. And he faithfully rooted for the Chicago Cubs.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include son-in-law Michael Fowler of Bellevue and two grandsons, Robert Fowler of Jacksonville, Fla., and Travis Fowler, a University of Nebraska at Omaha freshman.
Funeral services are pending at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, 3122 S. 74th St.
Until his recent diagnosis, Mauser regularly visited with friends several mornings a week at a neighborhood Hy-Vee Supermarket. He lived alone in his home in the Westridge neighborhood.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Mauser's commanding officer rallied his soldiers by telling them, “I need you to hang tough.” The commander was Dick Winters, who died earlier this month .
Mauser didn't fear death. “I gotta hang tough.”
He proudly basked in the Band of Brothers glory on behalf of his platoon and company comrades, but he rejected attempts to paint him as a gallant warrior.
“No. I was no hero. I was one of the guys. That's all.”
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