Mary Preston was hoping to fulfill a long-held desire of her late husband — to take a World War II-era Nazi flag to a prisoner of war museum in Georgia. The flag, brought home by Albert Preston from Germany at the war's conclusion, was stolen this month when thieves saw it laid out with other items to be auctioned off for an estate sale. The flag was never meant to be auctioned, and Mary Preston desperately wants it back. "If someone came to my house and brought it back, I'd hug 'em,” Mary Preston, 76, said Tuesday. "It's an important part of history.”
Symbol of serviceAlbert Preston's flag was more than a war trophy. It was a part of his experience as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps and as a prisoner of war. Preston was a flight engineer and a top turret gunner on a B-17 crew when his plane was shot down over Germany, Mary Preston said. He and another crew member hid in a forest for three days before they were found and helped by a farmer. They remained hidden until they were found by German SS troops and taken to a prisoner of war camp. Albert Preston was a prisoner for 13 months, his wife said. As the Russian army pushed west, prisoners were moved from Poland to Germany. While he was in Germany, a man approached him and gave him a flag as a souvenir, Mary Preston said. "He hid it in his clothes so they wouldn't take it away from him,” Mary Preston said. "He hung it up in his gun room, and it had been there ever since.” Taking back items from the battlefield signifies an important part of a soldier's life, said Stuart Jolly, retired Army lieutenant colonel. "Whenever I was in Iraq (for Desert Storm), I went through and picked up some helmets and uniforms I found and pieces of weaponry that I was able to bring back, and I just cherish that because it was a time in my life where I was doing something bigger than myself,” Jolly said. "I can only assume that this gentleman and his family felt the same way, and probably to her (Mary Preston), it probably just reminds her of him, and she cherishes it because he cherished it.” Albert Preston intended to donate the flag to the Andersonville National Historical Site in Georgia, where there's a museum dedicated to American prisoners of war. But he never got that chance, becoming ill with pancreatic cancer. He died in 2007.
'I hope they ... return it'Mary Preston hoped to make the journey to Andersonville herself. But estate sale auctioneers accidentally placed the flag with items to be sold, she said. "It wasn't the auctioneers' fault. There was just so much going on,” she said. Two men had gone to the Preston home in northeast Oklahoma City to preview the items for sale. When they left, the flag was gone. Mary Preston reported the theft to Oklahoma City police on Thursday. The flag is 3-by-5 feet and has a Nazi emblem on it, an Oklahoma City police news release states. "I hope they have a conscience and return it,” Mary Preston said. "The Lord will bless them if they just stop thieving.” Police ask anyone with information about the theft to call Oklahoma City Crime Stoppers at 235-7300. Contributing: Staff Writer Leigh Anne C. Manwarren