For nearly 20 years, any student who has taken one of Gary Gill’s history classes has had the opportunity to hear the story of how a real Nazi flag made it all the way from Germany to Thomaston, Georgia. The artifact was given to Gill by his life-long friend Harville Shepard, who found the flag while serving overseas in World War II, and it has given many students the chance to touch a piece of history that they would normally only see behind glass in a museum.
“I was going through Germany in a tank,” said Shepard, recounting how he came upon the flag. His unit came upon what looked to be a shallow grave, possibly being used to hide items the Nazi’s didn’t want to be found. When Shepard and the other soldiers went to investigate, he spotted part of the flag, dug it up and decided to take it home with him. After serving in a field artillery unit for the United States Army from 1943 until 1946, Shepard came back to Thomaston and the flag was packed away. It was not until he and his wife were cleaning out their house in the summer of 1994 that she asked what he intended to do with the flag and Gill was the first person to come to mind.
Gill was more than happy to incorporate the flag into his history lessons, noting it is something that his students remember for many years to come.
“For the last 20 years I have used it in classes when we were studying not just World War II, but have also worked it in when studying local history as well. The students love it; there isn’t a class I have taught that I haven’t used it,” said Gill.
For many years Gill sent students to interview Shepard about his time serving overseas to give them a firsthand perspective of the war. He told them of how he landed in England the day before his 19th birthday on March 8, 1944 and saw his first night of combat on the 4th of July that same year. He was supposed to be in Normandy on D-Day, but his unit was delayed because they did not have all of the tanks needed, however he served through every other major battle of the war. Shepard stated he had many close calls, but thankfully was never injured while overseas.
“I came so close many times, but was never wounded,” said Shepard. “The Lord has been good to me and took care of me.”
In honor of all the help Shepard has given to Gill and his students over the years, the veteran teacher wanted to find a way to give something back. He was able to find a way when the Upson-Lee High School Key Club (of which he is the advisor) decided to make monetary donations to several organizations in town. One of those organizations was the local VFW Stanford Ellington Post 6447 of which Shepard is a member. Gill, along with the students in the club, gave a $500 donation in Shepard’s name as a way of saying thank you for all he has done for Gill’s classes over the years.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1