May 20, 2016
When Andover added a sign to its Veterans Monument Park in 2011, veteran Gerry Wright felt it needed more to fulfill its purpose of honoring veterans.
Wright, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1969-70 and led the effort to add the sign, has tried since then to help the town acquire a military artifact.
Working with the Department of Army Donations in Michigan, Wright nearly obtained a 5,000-pound, 105 mm howitzer from Texas but was unsuccessful.
Now an answer has been found, much closer to home.
VFW Post 2046 in Manchester is preparing to close, and Wright asked the post’s commander, Bob Russell, if he could restore the 37 mm cannon used in World War II and give the weapon a new home in nearby Andover.
With Russell’s approval, Wright brought the black cannon to Andover on Thursday as local veterans, who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, proudly congregated to witness its move.
The cannon’s trek to eastern Connecticut began when Tech. Sgt. Duke Baldwin liberated the field cannon from Japanese troops in the mountains of the Solomon Islands.
Japanese forces constructed airbases and security barriers throughout the nation comprising hundreds of islands in the Southwest Pacific to protect their flanks in New Guinea.
American soldiers proceeded through jungles and thick swamps to defeat the Japanese forces overlooking the valley, and sequestered the cannon, which would reside in Manchester for over 70 years.
Baldwin, of the 169th Regiment, 43rd Division, dismantled and packed the materials in a crate headed for the states through the U.S. Navy. The cannon was then donated to the East Center Street post in 1945, as the company’s commander, Capt. George Elliot, was a Manchester native.
As recognition for the unit’s success, U.S. Route 7 between Norwalk and Danbury was named the 43rd Infantry Division Memorial Highway.
Although the cannon is finding a new home nearby, there is work to be done, Wright said.
A wheelwright from Hebron specializing in restoring delicate equipment from wartime agreed to fix the cannon — appraising the project around $3,000. He will perform general maintenance and fix broken spokes, with a completion date yet to be determined, Wright said.
Donations for the restoration can be sent to the town, he said, as the project will need public support to cover the costs.
Wright is also searching for new information about the events associated with the Japanese cannon, mainly from the descendants of Baldwin and Elliot.
The cannon still belongs to the government. The town of Andover recently received a lease agreement saying it is custodian of the weapon. The U.S. Army deed requires those responsible to send yearly photographs to ensure the relic remains in stable condition, he said.
Wright has worked over the past 10 years to help veterans cope with the missions of sustaining democracy through grim circumstances.
He said the cannon’s presence is bittersweet but recognizes it will help veterans heal from the hardships experienced in warfare.
The new display at the town’s monument park will highlight the country’s triumph in WWII, Wright says, adding it will bring greater meaning for those who have served.
“There could very well be a World War II veteran in Andover, and when they see the plaque and the dedication — it could help them heal,” he said.