Legion post's howitzer, stolen in 1982, was buried in nearby yard

Cannon returns from grave

October 06, 2006|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,sun reporter

For more than two decades, over crabs or cans of light beer, the men of American Legion Post 180 in Rosedale have kicked around this question: Who stole the cannon?

Only a few of them remember the days when the World War II-era, 1,500-pound howitzer sat in front of the post. That was before the morning in May 1982 when it was discovered missing, a hacksaw blade left in its place.

Now the cannon is back. And, apparently, it never traveled very far. It was found buried in a backyard about a mile away.

"It looks pretty good for having been in the earth for 24 years," said Leo Dietrich, a Korean War veteran. He and several other Legion members stood around the post parking lot last week, trying to figure out what to do with the rusted, dirt-encrusted gun.

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, a young married couple has been at work on a different task: filling a gaping hole in their backyard.

Most American Legion posts display some type of inoperable artillery, members say, and some even boast helicopters or jets on loan from the government. In the early 1950s, the Rosedale post received a pack howitzer on loan.

Legion members displayed the cannon in front of the hall to honor veterans of World War II - the war the weapon was reportedly used in.

"Heavy loss," read the headline of the May 7, 1982, article in The Sun that described how a Legionnaire had arrived the previous morning and realized that the cannon had been taken.

It had been filled with concrete so it couldn't be fired. Iron rings had been welded onto its wheels to prevent them from turning, according to the article - which also reported that deep tread marks were left on the lawn.

Somehow, the cannon was hauled to Corkley Road, a quiet, tree-lined street three right turns and a left away from the Legion hall on Seling Avenue.

Melvin Haynes, 58, a resident of that street, said rumors have long circulated that the gun was taken as a prank.

Shortly after Michelle Patrylak and Michael Hansen, both 24, moved into their home on Corkley Road last spring, some neighbors let them in on another detail - the cannon was rumored to have been buried in the backyard of their home.

"I didn't believe them," said Patrylak. She said that her husband, though, was fascinated by the thought of a piece of heavy artillery lurking under their lawn.

As he worked outside, Hansen studied the ground for clues, then discovered what appeared to be a half-buried pipe in the grass between the maple tree and a stand of bamboo, Patrylak said.

Hansen could not be reached, but his wife told the story of his discovery.

Hansen got out a shovel and started to dig. When a long, tapered barrel and the tops of two battered tires emerged from the earth, he knew that he had found the cannon. He rushed into the house to tell his wife.

"I was like, `All righty, then - there's a cannon in the backyard. What are we going to do with that?'" Patrylak said.

Get it out, Hansen answered. And so, for nearly a month, he spent an hour each evening digging in the backyard. But the cannon - which is about 11 feet long and 3 feet tall - proved to be too much for one man with a shovel. Hansen invited over a friend with a backhoe and, after a half-hour of tugging and wiggling, the cannon popped out.

That's when a neighbor noticed and told the guys at the Legion. Bill Tavik, 70, the post commander, called police, who arrived with a tow truck and hauled the howitzer to the parking lot behind the post.

"Holy mackerel," Ron Hoey, 75, recalls thinking when he saw the cannon. "I work in the kitchen on Mondays - spaghetti night - and I looked out the window, and it was sitting there."

These days the cannon looks as if it's been through, well, a war. The barrel is dimpled with rust and caked with clay-colored dirt. One tire lolls at an odd angle.

The Legion members said that they had given up hope of recovering the cannon long ago. In the mid-1990s, the post was given a 10-foot-tall gun from a World War II-era ship to grace the lawn.

The barrel of that gun points high into the Rosedale sky.

"We shoot low-flying planes when they pass overhead," Bill Johnson, 77, joked.

Some of the men ask why, with such a good-looking weapon out front, would they go through the effort of cleaning up the rusty old cannon?

"We're all in our 70s at this point, and no one has the energy to clean the dirt off of it and paint it," Tavik said. However, he has decided to leave the decision up to the executive board.

He acknowledges that some of the men are itching to restore the cannon.

"If they decide to clean it, there's a lot of guys that are anxious to ch-ch-ch and brush it off," Tavik said, scrubbing the air with an imaginary brush.

Hoey, a big man with a 50-year-old tattoo of a dragon lurking under the sleeve of his polo shirt, wants to take a power washer to the howitzer.

That's the way the men clean off crusty pans from the kitchen, he said.

Then they could replace the torn tire, paint the cannon olive-drab and display it in the back parking lot, he said.

Dietrich thinks that maybe the members will hold a ceremony to welcome the cannon back to the post. "Every once in a while, they get hot and heavy into the pomp-and-circumstance thing," he said.

Jim Steeg, 84, the former post commander, said that he thinks the cannon should stay.

"I think that we ought to keep it," he said, "because of the character of it, because of the story behind it."


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