AUGUSTA, Maine — Rusted, scratched and neglected, a World War II era howitzer sat unattended. It had been locked away in its trailer, shoved behind a warehouse, and all but forgotten.
Earlier this year, a request came to retired Master Sgt. Frank Norwood, the Maine Funerals Honors coordinator. He wanted the Honor Guard and the howitzer for an important ceremony to take place this summer.
As it stood, the howitzer did not meet the high standards of the Maine State Select Honor Guard without undergoing some major work.
Once again, showing their dedication to always upholding the highest standards, the Honor Guard will reveal a completely restored 1941 75mm M116 howitzer today. They will use the restored cannon in a ceremony to honor Vietnam Veterans at Head of Falls Park at the Two Cent Bridge in Waterville.
“I told them, if we are going to fire a mission, we are going to do it right. We want this refinished,” said Norwood, who resides in Manchester. “We don’t do anything around here that’s just half done.”
Originally one of three howitzers in the state’s possession, this is the only one still in existence, said Sgt. David Chabe, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Maine State Select Honor Guard. “It has bounced from field artillery units, to infantry units, the military police, and finally came to stay with the Honor Guard three years ago.”
“I went to look at this howitzer, and literally, the breech block was just solid rust,” said Chabe, a native of Buckfield, about his first encounter with the cannon. “Perfection is our goal, excellence will be tolerated.”
With help of Sgt. Doug Grant from the Combined Support Maintenance Shop, Honor Guard members took the block apart piece by piece so that every nut and bolt could be stripped from the unit, said Chabe. Endless hours were spent removing multiple layers of paint from the entire unit, sandblasting, sanding and even grinding the bare metal to work out the rough edges.
“Then we had to repaint every individual piece,” said Chabe. That part took nearly two weeks. After that, it was time to put the whole thing back together.
“We didn’t have the printed manuals on the howitzer, they stopped making the equipment and now the manuals are obsolete,” said Chabe. “A lot of what we did was guesswork. Ingenuity and putting our heads together is how we got it back in one piece.”
The howitzer will be put to use for the first time during today’s Vietnam Veterans Homecoming 50th Anniversary Ceremony in Waterville. During the ceremony, the veterans will cross a bridge to symbolize their flight home over the ocean.
“We will be doing a 21-gun salute,” said Chabe. “This is the kickoff, the start of an 11-year, 50th anniversary of Vietnam. Each of those years is a 50th anniversary to someone.”
“A 21-gun salute is the highest possible honor we give, and these guys that returned from Vietnam and didn’t get the proper welcoming, they deserve the highest honor that we can give,” said Chabe.
Participants, including family members of deceased veterans will gather 5-5:45 p.m. today at the Winslow Gazebo Park at 114 Benton Ave. They will proceed across the Two Cent Bridge, and be individually announced as they enter Waterville Head of Falls Park.
The howitzer will be a part of the Maine Honors Program. A specific list of criteria for its use is being compiled in order to narrow down requests to ensure that it is used only for occasions of greatest importance.