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Discovery of lost WWII records uncovers highly decorated soldier's past

The VFW Post in Perry found original World War II documents, including a signed citation from Lieutenant General George Patton, and returned them to the man's family

PERRY, Ga. — A piece of history is back where it belongs---

The VFW Post in Perry found original World War II documents, including a citation from Lieutenant General George Patton written to a Sergeant First Class in the Army.

They say, once you join the military, you're always in the military.

You're a family.

"You cannot let this go by and just pass this on, or let it sit around collecting dust. It had to get back in the proper hands of the family members," Berry said.

Last month, while cleaning out boxes, VFW Post 6126 member Sarah Weede found a citation from Lieutenant General George Patton.

"I was floored! I was like what? It wasn't something that someone would just randomly get rid of, if they truly knew what it was, so we think they were given to us by accident," Weede said.

Weede showed it and other documents in the box to VFW Post Member Roland Berry.

Together, they started learning about Sergeant First Class Earl Thurston.

"We were curious about why the records would be there, so we opened up the records and started looking at them. We were taken back. You will be amazed. Would anybody have the type of courage today to do what he did? And, I am sure there are others in the military that do, but this was an extreme valorous event for this Segreant First Class," Berry said.

Thurston served in World War II and the Korean War.

Along with General Patton's signed letter, they found Thurston's birth certificate, the deed to his home, original honorable discharge papers, a document signed by former President Jimmy Carter, and more. 

"This Sergeant First Class attacked a position by himself, a German position with a pistol and a bayonet by himself," Berry said.

Lieutenant General George Patton awarded Thurston with a Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest medal of valor offered by the military.

"This document was dated 10, April, 1945. You can see it is an original, original signatures and everything," Berry said.

Thurston also earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a good conduct medal, and a medal called ETO, European Theatre of Operations medal.

"We found newspaper clippings and we found pictures of his unit that he was in; and the regiment book that talks about the entire history of where he went from World War II," Weede said.

As Weede and Berry learned more about him they started a mission of their own, tracking down Thurston's family.

"They were extremely grateful. Some tears?! Wouldn't you say Sarah? There were a lot of tears, a lot of tears," Berry said.

Mission accomplished.

They gave Thurston's granddaughters the records that were misplaced so long ago.

"We are very humbled to be a part of it. And, very grateful for all the help in getting these records back to the family. For them to know that and see that; and to read the citation of how he got it was amazing. Because they were very touched that we found the records. You know, they were able to get part of their grandfather back that they didn't know," Weede said.

"We think the records telling the story about their grandfather, where he went, what he did, the units he was assigned to; and the valor that he did to earn and be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which is America's second highest Medal of Valor. One of the reasons why we wanted to get the records to the family members, so their family on down the line will know what their grandfather accomplished during World War II," Berry said.

It's a story about a misplaced box of history introducing a hero to future generations.

Berry served United State Army and the United States Army Reserves for 26 years.

Weede served in the United States Air Force and she is currently in the United States Air Force Reserves.

Weede and Berry plan to give them a keepsake box for his granddaughters.

The family had Thurston's medals, but they did not know about his records.

"We were able to you know complete that puzzle, by giving them the citations and showing them the history of how he got this and what it means," Weede said.

Berry said a retired Perry High School teacher and Facebook helped them find Thurston’s grandchildren.

"We weren't sure where the granddaughters were, but one was here in Perry and one was in Warner Robins," Berry said.

Sergeant First Class Thurston died in 1979, at age 57.

He died of pancreatic cancer.

Thurston is buried at Fort Benning in Georgia.


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