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Shepherd Builds Key Facilities

An aerial photograph shows construction at the Glynco Naval Air Station by Shepherd Construction Co. When completed (below) hangars would house blimps that patrolled the Georgia coast searching for German submarines.

In 1940 the United States was more than a year away from entering the war, but preparations were already beginning. Two of Yancey Bros. Co.’s oldest and largest customers, W. C. Shepherd Company and MacDougald Construction, began working on projects that were vital to the military and would change the face of Georgia.

In June 1940 Congress authorized purchase of a property forty miles southwest of Savannah for an anti-aircraft training facility that would become known as Camp Stewart. Three months later W. C. Shepherd started work. Harold Shepherd, who was twelve years old at the time, remembers his father’s company delivered Caterpillar equipment from Atlanta to distant sites by rail. Clyde Shepherd Jr., Harold’s brother, oversaw construction of Camp Stewart. In addition to Shepherd’s regular crews, thousands of Civilian Conservation Corps workers cleared the area, which included more than 200,000 acres for firing ranges.

Clyde Shepherd Jr. remembered later the military paying all those men in cash. “They had to bring a Brinks truck in there,” he recalled. Many of the workers were coming in from the surrounding area, which was one of Georgia’s poorest regions, and welcomed the cash payments in the midst of the Depression.

A year later, in September 1941, W. C. Shepherd Company transported its Cat®equipment to begin work on the Georgia Army Air Depot (now Robins Air Force Base) sixteen miles south of Macon, clearing the site and building runways, hangars, and quarters. The War Department had approved the base to provide supplies and maintenance, as well as training, as part of a long-range plan in case war broke out with Japan. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, instantly accelerating Shepherd’s construction timeline. The project was completed, and over the course of the war, employees at the Georgia Air Depot repaired virtually every type of military aircraft flying, and trained 60,000 field repair mechanics to work in theaters of war around the world.

While construction continued on the Georgia Air Depot, Clyde Shepherd Sr. traveled to Washington, D.C., to discuss a project on the Georgia coast that was shrouded in mystery. The job turned out to be at the airfield that would become the Naval Air Station on St. Simons Island (now Malcolm McKinnon Airport).

Then on April 8, 1942, war reached the coast of Georgia. In the waters just off St. Simons Island, a German submarine fired a torpedo into the 9,200-ton tanker Oklahoma, and an hour later hit the 8,000-ton Esso Baton Rouge. The next morning the same submarine sank the SS Esparta fourteen miles south of Brunswick. In fact, German submarines sank hundreds of supply ships along the Atlantic seaboard in the early years of the war.

The War Department determined that blimps, flying above convoys of ships, could provide the most effective protection. Clyde Shepherd Sr., in partnership with Carroll Griffin, won the contract to build a blimp base in Brunswick. The base included two hangars that were both 1,000 feet by 300 feet, and about 200 feet high. Shepherd also built a runway for fixed-wing planes at the base.

From the Glynco Naval Air Station an eight-blimp fleet, the Airship Squadron ZP-15, escorted thousands of ships up and down the Atlantic coast. Other blimps were brought to the Georgia facility for maintenance. Not a single ship was lost in Georgia waters for the remainder of the war.

Shepherd crew grades the runway for the St. Simons island airport in 1938.

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