MONUMENT, Colo. — It’s a shrinking generation, World War II veterans. Earl Depner, who fought in both WWII and the Korean War, will celebrate his 104th birthday on Friday, Nov. 12.

The Monument man is originally from Billings, Montana, and joined the Army Air Corps. when he was 24-years-old after Pearl Harbor.

“I feel fairly lively to be 104,” Earl said on Thursday, Nov. 11.

Earl was based in Boxted, England but traveled to various European countries and the Congo. He has earned many awards, including the Purple Heart in WWII. He was escorting bombers to bomb an oil refinery when his plane was shot down over France. One bullet hit the coolant tank, and his plane wasn’t going to make it back to England.

“He stood up on the seat, he said he closed his eyes instinctively he jumped and thought he hit the tail and then he pulled the ripcord the whole time the airplane is going down,” George Depner said.

Earl’s son George added that he landed in a tree near enemy territory. When he fell he went unconscious and woke up to an American soldier with a gun in his face asking if he was an American. Where he landed had been occupied by the Germans just three days before. Earl had felt his ribs grinding together and later found out he had broken seven ribs.

“I got some bumps and bruises, but that’s all. No bullets hit me, thank the Lord,” Earl explained.

Earl also flew one mission in the Korean War before retiring as a Colonel in 1965. He was a pilot for 24 years.

“I love to fly airplanes, but there’s a time came when I wasn’t safe to fly anymore, so I had to quit,” Earl said.

His favorite fighter plane was the P-51 Mustang. Earl admits he was never afraid to fly. George says Earl hasn’t changed over the years.

“It is nice to know that he still remembers that stuff and still recognizes as much as he can,” George added.

Earl is amazed he’s lived more than a century. He said his secret to living long is a loving family and good genes. His mother lived to be 102.5 years old.

“I have a long-living mother, which is probably the key,” Earl said.

His kids and grandkids plan to share his stories, even the ones that have faded away.

“I got so many memories. I can’t remember them all,” Earl said.

The Depners will celebrate Earl on Friday with a Subway lunch, and cake. They also plan to have Zoom calls with his six grandchildren. He also has two sons.

Until three years ago, Earl was also very active in St. Peter’s Church in Monument. He now resides in Jackson Creek Senior Living Center in the memory care unit.