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Restored cannon returns to local park

WORTHINGTON -- Nearly four years after a group of local residents began a quest to restore a small cannon on display in Chautauqua Park, the piece of artillery is back in place -- this time with a monument explaining its history.

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Among those serving on a committee to fund the restoration of a Japanese anti-tank cannon on display in Worthington's Chautauqua Park are Collin O'Donnell (from left), John Stewart, Cindy Brunk and Mike Kuhle. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Nearly four years after a group of local residents began a quest to restore a small cannon on display in Chautauqua Park, the piece of artillery is back in place - this time with a monument explaining its history.

In late 2013, local veteran John Stewart approached Freedom Veterans Memorial Inc. officials about the World War II-era anti-tank cannon. He’d seen it in the park for years, but didn’t know its history. He also knew that if action wasn’t taken soon, the wooden wheels that held the cannon in place would rot beyond repair.

Initial conversations about restoration focused on having the cannon professionally restored to working condition.

“If we did that, it becomes a museum piece,” said Stewart.

“Then we would have had to put it in a building to preserve it,” added Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle, who serves on the Freedom Veterans Memorial board of directors. “The meaning is the most important … not the final restoration quality.”

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The meaning of the anti-tank cannon is something local historian Ray Crippen shed light on prior to his death. In a December 2013 interview with the Globe, Crippen said the small cannon and a larger cannon - both captured from the Japanese in World War II - were given to the city of Worthington shortly after the war.

The large cannon was moved to the Worthington Cemetery years ago after being displayed near Sailboard Beach, but the anti-tank cannon remained where it was initially placed - in Chautauqua Park.

Crippen speculated the gifts had to do with a Civil War cannon that once belonged to the community. That cannon and accompanying cannonballs, which meant little to the people of Worthington, were donated during a salvage drive for World War II.
As Crippen recalled in 2013, someone in the military was so struck by the city’s gesture of donating the Civil War cannon, 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 in 2013. “They captured thousands of cannons, and what do you do with thousands of them? Send them around the country.”

The Japanese Army Type 94, 37-millimeter anti-tank cannon is one of just 3,400 manufactured between 1936 and 1941. It was captured from the Japanese Army during World War II and ended up in Worthington within a few years after the war. Weighing approximately 710 pounds, it was placed in Chautauqua Park without any special base underneath. Over time, the small cannon began to sink into the ground, causing the wooden spoked tires to decay.

Stewart said when the group decided on a basic restoration, several local individuals stepped up to offer their expertise. Alan Oberloh, who owned Quality Auto Body at the time, offered to sandblast and paint the military relic, while Brian Ling straightened one of the damaged axles. Marlyn Boots reassembled the wheels after connecting with a group of Amish people to make new wooden spokes, and Stewart focused on finding paint to match the color it had been during the war.

Without color photographs to guide him, Stewart discovered a website showing scale models of similar artillery. Once he had the color of the hobby paint, he found another website that provided color matching to hobby paint, and Oberloh said he could match the paint.

“It took time, but bit by bit it just got done,” said Stewart of the restoration. “Honestly, I think it was the best way to do it - it was all Worthington, Nobles County folks that did it.”

City staff, including Administrator Steve Robinson and Public Works Director Todd Wietzema, made sure a new concrete pad was in place and ready for the cannon once its restoration was complete, and Phillip Benson provided the business contact for manufacture of the small monument that now sits in front of the anti-tank cannon in Chautauqua Park.

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“I’m very happy with how it turned out,” Stewart said of the project. “It was encouraging to see people say, ‘We can do this.’ All along the way, people were willing to get it done.”

Kuhle offered his thanks to Stewart for bringing the idea forth and seeing the project through to completion. He said the Japanese anti-tank cannon is a symbol and a testament to all veterans who served during World War II.

Committee members, which also included Simon Koster, Collin O’Donnell and Cindy Brunk, worked together on the statement for the plaque.

“Everyone wanted to make sure it honored the World War II veterans here,” Stewart said. “The most important thing to say is we value those veterans.

“I know it’s an enemy cannon, but it’s a captured enemy cannon,” he added. “It wouldn’t be here today without men and women leaving home and sacrificing (during the war). My hope is they don’t see it as an enemy cannon, but the trophy for all of their sacrifices. They basically took the sword out of the enemy’s hand.”

Brunk, an Afghanistan war veteran, said she appreciated Stewart’s work to organize the group for the project and offered her thanks for all veterans - for the good they have done and continue to do for our country.

The plaque, installed last week in front of the anti-tank cannon, reads: “Between 1940-1945, hundreds of Nobles County residents left their homes to fight the enemies of liberty; many never returned. This Japanese type 94 37mm Anti-Tank Cannon was captured as a result of the sacrifice made in American lives and is dedicated to the World War II veterans of Nobles County sho shared in that struggle.” It includes the Bible verse from Isaiah 2:4, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

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