In this photo that was included in the donation of an 1898 Wincester squirrel rifle to the ABAC Musuem of Agriculture in Tifton, Roy Dean Wehunt of north Georgia is shown in his World War II Army uniform. Wehunt joined the Army at age 18 and survived the war, returning home to die in an auto wreck in 1947. (Special photo)
TIFTON — A mint condition late 1890s squirrel rifle isn’t the sort of artifact that drops into your lap out of the blue.
At least, it doesn’t happen often.
But that is what Polly Huff, curator of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College’s Georgia Museum of Agriculture found when she opened a mysterious, long box dropped off at the museum by UPS.
“The rifle was quite a surprise,” Huff said. “And the story that went along with the rifle was really heartwarming.”
Inside the box was an 1898 Winchester squirrel rifle. A letter included in the box said the owner was a Cherokee County native named Roy Dean Wehunt, born in 1925. There also was a photograph of Wehunt and a 70-year-old poem by the man as he transitioned from a north Georgia farm into World War II military service.
“The picture was of Pvt. 1st Class Roy Dean Wehunt in his uniform,” Huff said of the faded photo. “The poem was very touching because it described the change taking place in his life from that of a simple Georgia farm boy into a soldier.”
Wehunt served in the 3rd Army Division, 15th Infantry Regiment, Company A under Gen. George Patton’s command. The regiment served in Europe and by May 1945, 16 of its personnel had received the Medal of Honor, including the most decorated solider in U.S. history, Audie Murphy.
After the war, Wehunt came back to north Georgia and married Helen Ruth Adams of Fannin County. While delivering papers for The Atlanta Journal in 1947, the World War II veteran was killed in a traffic wreck.
His son Stephen, who inherited the rifle, married Laveta Margret Waters, a 1969 graduate of ABAC, and the couple reside in Fayetteville. They decided to donate the rifle, photo and poem to the museum operated by her alma mater.
“My dad was a simple farm boy and he loved farming,” Stephen Wehunt wrote in the letter that accompanied the rifle. “I am sure that if he had gone to college, he would have chosen ABAC.”
With funding from a donation from the Wehunt family, the museum will open a display of the rifle — along with a plaque, photo of Wehunt, the poem and his biography — early this month.