A WWI French 75 breech loading canon is manhandled into position at the Military Court Room by Tony Kugl, David Gray, John Rittal, Dax Nelson and Rick Bixenman Monday at JBLM.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- A pair of French 75 mm guns was recently returned to the front of the office of the Staff Judge Advocate on Joint Base Lewis-McChord -- and with them, a sense of history.

"It's just history," Directorate of Logistics Artillery Shop lead David Gray said. "You know what you have in your motor pool right now and then you look at these and you see how far we've come."
Gray and his team brought the two 1917 breech loading cannons back to their original location Monday, after a nearly nine-month project to restore them. The guns hadn't been refurbished in 20 years, and it showed. The barrels were covered in moss and the wheels were literally rotting underneath them.

"These things were so decayed it was ridiculous," Tony Kugl, a DOL Artillery Shop repairman, said.
The effort to restore them was no simple task, though. The cannons were considered the finest field gun of their time -- but that was in World War I, when the same kind of weapon was used by elements of Fort Lewis's 9th Infantry Division. Since then technology has changed quite a bit, and while the metal could be polished, painted and rebuilt onsite at JBLM, finding someone to create a pair of period wagon wheels to set them on was difficult.

"There're no wagons," Gray said. "It's not a job anymore."

When Gray and his team started looking for someone to help, they found a grand total of two possible options. In the end new wheels were custom made by a wheelwright in Texas who had helped restore antique cannons on military installations before.

"This is true craftsmanship," JBLM Army Museum Director Myles Grant said.

The Artillery Shop added one extra spin to the guns. Before the restoration, they were painted gray -- the color of the French Army that had produced them, and a sign that they were probably never used by in battle. Now they've been painted Army green.

Observers are happy to have them back. OSJA paralegal Brandon Aybar remembers the guns being there when he was still in the Army himself, and saw them every day from his office window.
"I didn't even know that they (the wheels) were wood," he said of their condition before they were refurbished.

But the guns remind Aybar of more than just his personal history on post.

"They look beautiful. It's this whole historic part of the Army," he said.

Marisa Petrich:

Page last updated Thu October 27th, 2011 at 18:50