Restoration sought for historic cannon in Worthington
WORTHINGTON — A handful of local individuals are hoping to gain community interest in restoring a World War II cannon captured from the Japanese Army and donated to the city of Worthington more than 60 years ago.
The Type 94 37-millimeter anti-tank gun was a gift shortly after World War II ended and placed near the shelter house in Chautauqua Park, where it has remained ever since.
Now sunk several inches in the ground, the cannon’s wooden wheels are rotting and the piece is in general disrepair. The condition caught the eye of local veteran and First Covenant Church Minister John Stewart, who then approached the Freedom Veterans Memorial Committee regarding interest in the restoration project.
“It would need to be totally sandblasted and the wheels need to be replaced,” said Stewart, who has already made contact with a military vehicle repair and restoration specialist in Albion, Ind.
Ron Leatherman, who has restored numerous military pieces over the years, called the anti-tank gun a “rare piece,” according to Stewart.
The online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, states that just 3,400 of the cannons were made between 1936 and 1941. It weighs approximately 710 pounds, is 9 feet, 6 inches long and 3 feet, 11 inches wide.
Leatherman has agreed to restore the cannon, having some of his Amish employees build new wooden wheels for the piece while he gets the gears and mechanisms back in operating condition.
When Stewart met with members of the Freedom Veterans Memorial Committee about a month ago, he was met with interest from the group.
“I’ve always seen (the cannon) sitting out there as a kid and always wondered about it,” said Simon Koster. “I realize it’s Japanese, but it’s still part of our history. I’d like to see it preserved.”
Mike Kuhle agreed, adding that the cannon not only needs to be restored, but requires a proper foundation and a plaque stationed near it to explain to community residents and visitors the historic significance of its display.
“Right now, that cannon sits out there, but nobody knows anything about it,” Kuhle said. “It’s something we need to refurbish, preserve and get the proper story put out there on it.
“It represents a sacrifice our servicemen made in World War II,” he added. “I think it’s an important piece of history.”
Former Daily Globe Editor and local historian Ray Crippen said the community received the large cannon, located in Worthington Cemetery, shortly after the end of World War II — in either 1946 or 1947. The second, smaller cannon in Chautauqua Park arrived a short while later. Both were captured from the Japanese during the war.
As to why the two cannons ended up in Worthington, Crippen speculates it had something to do with a Civil War cannon that once belonged to the community.
Dating back to the early settlement of Worthington, Crippen said the community’s Union veterans of the Civil War had organized the Grand Army of the Republic.
“In the first years, Worthington had the largest GAR post in Minnesota. We had a flood of Civil War veterans here,” Crippen explained.
At the time, the community wanted a memorial or monument to remember the Civil War veterans, he added, and that’s when arrangements were made to get a Civil War cannon.
“When it got here, they didn’t have enough money to pay the freight bill for it,” Crippen said.
For decades, the cannon stood in the Worthington Cemetery, with a pyramid of cannon balls stacked nearby. However, without any sign or information explaining the cannon’s significance, the community never had a real attachment to it, Crippen believes.
Then, during the salvage drives of World War II, someone decided the cannon and cannonballs could be sent off for scrap.
“They loaded them on a train car and it was gone,” Crippen said.
As he recalled, someone in the military was so struck by the gesture of donating the Civil War cannon that they assured the community it would get a replacement cannon after World War II was over.
“So, they replaced it with a Japanese cannon,” Crippen said. “They captured thousands of cannons, and what do you do with thousands of them? Send them around the country.”
For years, the larger cannon pointed out over Lake Okabena from an area between what is now Sailboard Beach and the bicycle bridge.
Not long after the large cannon arrived, the second, smaller Japanese cannon was given to the community. Its resting place ever since has been next to the shelter house in Chautauqua Park.
“It’s been gradually sinking into the ground ever since,” said Crippen.
The eagle stationed with the cannon came from the former White Eagle gas station, which was located in the community decades ago.
Crippen said he thinks it’s “wonderful” that a group is interested in restoring the small cannon.
“It’s been a part of Worthington for many, many years,” he said. “They certainly shouldn’t let it fall into decay.
“I don’t have any great feeling for Japanese cannons, but if you’re going to have one, have it in good repair,” he added. “I believe the Japanese Army was the only one that used that kind of weapon. I don’t think there were little German, American or Italian cannons like this.”
The cost to restore the anti-tank gun will be approximately $8,000 to $9,000, said Stewart. That cost will include Leatherman’s research of the piece to restore it to its original color paint scheme, as well as to replace any potential missing parts. The cannon would be restored at Leatherman’s facility in Indiana, and Stewart said someone has already volunteered to transport the cannon there.
The group, which also includes Colin O’Donnell and Cindy Brunk, hopes to raise the money necessary for the restoration soon so the work can be completed and the cannon returned to the community in time to showcase at next year’s King Turkey Day parade.
Donations may be made toward the cannon’s restoration by writing a check to Freedom Veterans Memorial Park, marked for cannon restoration, and sent to the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, 1121 Third Ave.
The committee is also seeking any additional information about the cannon. Anyone with information is asked to contact Stewart at 376-5411, Kuhle at 360-9012 or the Chamber office at 372-2919.