Thanks in part to a local high school's recent 50th class reunion, a part of World War II and U.S. Army history has been preserved in Sumter.
Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jack Folley and George Patton "Pat" Waters, grandson of U.S. Army Gen. …
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Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Jack Folley and George Patton "Pat" Waters, grandson of U.S. Army Gen. George S. Patton Jr., who successfully commanded the Third Army to the end of World War II, spoke Wednesday at U.S. Army Central headquarters on Shaw Air Force Base, which is called Patton Hall.
Folley and Waters did not serve together in the military, but they're linked in history. Folley's uncle, John Williford, was a member of the Army's 35th Infantry Division in the war, which was assigned to Patton's Third Army during its historic push across France and Germany at the end of World War II.
Folley and Waters are now friends and live four miles apart in the Mt. Pleasant area of Charleston County. Given their heritage, they naturally share a common interest in World War II history.
Several years ago, Folley's "Uncle John" gave him a box of war artifacts, which the Sumter native started going through a year ago.
He said he spent a few days looking through the collection, and the more he looked, the more "wowed" he was by it, and the more nervous he became.
"I thought, 'What are we going to do with all this stuff that is going to be meaningful to someone other than just a family member?'" Folley said. "It's so unique because there is so much World War II and Army history here."
He said he spoke with Waters on the collection and wrestled with various ideas.
A few weeks ago, Folley said he was in Sumter for his 50th reunion from Edmunds High School and was suddenly struck with the idea to pay a visit to Third Army headquarters, which relocated to Shaw in 2011.
It was a Saturday, so no personnel were working, he said, but Folley got contact information for a U.S. Army Central historian.
Fast-forward to Wednesday morning, and Folley and Waters drive up from Mt. Pleasant together and are in a conference room at Patton Hall, with Folley describing his uncle's artifacts. Waters and various U.S. Army Central historians and intelligence analysts took it all in.
The collection includes a Rand McNally/Michelin road map of Europe that his uncle bought at an area gas station and used during the war.
"He grabbed this map at the first gas station he got to because the 35th Infantry Division was already past the Army intelligence maps," Folley said. "They were moving that fast."
His uncle penciled an entire route of the push, starting from Omaha to the outskirts of Berlin, Folley said.
Also included in his uncle's box was a published list with dates of all the division engagements. Additionally, postcards of French towns were included in the collection, as well as all the letters stamped and dated that "Uncle John" wrote to and received from his wife.
"I have always said you could take this map and put it on a big board," Folley said. "Then figure out the pictures and the timelines and put those to the side, along with information from the letters and really map out a great story from start to finish."
Waters said he was amazed at seeing the former gas station map.
U.S. Army Central Intelligence Analyst Michael Clauss, also on hand, said the map's route details everything up to about the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge.
He said there are other stories of World War II soldiers getting gas station maps and using them.
"I have never actually seen one," Clauss said. "This is an amazing artifact."
More on their visit Wednesday
After looking through the collection of artifacts, Clauss took Folley and Waters on a tour of Patton Hall. The facility includes a historic tour from World War I to present day of the Third Army's accomplishments.
Regarding the more than 50 books written about his famous grandfather, Waters said he's probably read "parts of every one."
He said he only knew his grandfather when he was 5 years old. Patton died shortly thereafter on Dec. 21, 1945.
Waters said he's not an avid reader and prefers to listen to the stories about his grandfather.
"I lot of people study him," Waters said. "I listen because those people have studied him. Like Clauss today, he knows everything. I learned things today I didn't know before."
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