ANACORTES — The World War II-era howitzer that resided at Causland Park since about 1960 may be gone, but much like General Douglas MacArthur said after leaving the Philippines it shall also return.
City crews removed the howitzer from the park in early August to allow volunteers to begin restoring the historic piece.
Steve Doebler, who works at the Anacortes Wastewater Treatment Plant, is among those set to undertake the restoration.
“All these volunteers coming together for this project is cool,” Anacortes Parks and Recreation Director Jonn Lunsford said. “He (Doebler) approached us about doing this because the cannon has some rust and wear issues. It has been there for quite a while.”
The hope is to have it back in place in a year.
“Veterans Day of 2021 is my preference,” Doebler said.
Doebler will be joined in the restoration by his son Ian and military historian Kirk Skaggs of Kent.
“There are a lot of ways to address it,” Doebler said. “It’s like eating an elephant. Seeing as how it is going to be an outdoor, static display, we are going to approach it a little bit different than if it were to be displayed say at an indoor, climate-controlled atmosphere.”
It is, however, still a revered memorial and will be treated as such.
“This is something that represents the fallen troops, the great pains that were felt and spent by them to protect the freedoms we are so appreciative of,” Steve Doebler said. “It represents all that. These things mean a lot.
“We take this project very seriously. This is much more than a bunch of guys in their garage drinking beer.”
While the Doeblers may by relative newcomers to restorations such as this (they have restored a military vehicle), Skaggs has been called upon by the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum in Everett as well as the LeMay America’s Car Museum in Tacoma. He also has an extensive, personally restored collection of military vehicles.
Now Skaggs’ focus will be on the restoration of the 1942 pack howitzer, which Skaggs said was in “phenomenally good condition” considering how long it had been on display, and at the mercy of the elements.
“It has weathered fairly well,” he said. “They did a good job preserving it when they put it on display. They did what they needed to do. That is the primary key here. If you coat it correctly for the weather, it will last for a while. If you use good materials, it will last.”
Once the team has a plan of attack is in place, it will begin disassembling the howitzer, following an original operating manual as well videos on YouTube.
“As we start to break it down, there are a couple of pieces we have to be very careful with,” Skaggs said. “Anytime you are dealing with a gun, they have to absorb all that fire energy, so there is a large spring underneath here that we do not want to bother. That is the part we leave alone.”
There is another part that will be left completely alone — the breach-block, which was welded in place by the Army upon decommissioning the howitzer to keep it from being fired again.
“We will never touch anything that is done to the breach end,” Skaggs said. “That is (the Army’s) requirement. That’s why it says ‘Do Not Touch’ directly on it.”
The group will remove any rough corrosion and repaint it.
“Yes, it will be green once again, its original color,” said Steve Doebler. “This is what happens when a piece of equipment from the Army gets dropped into a Navy town. It gets painted grey.”
Skaggs took it a step further.
“The color is what they call 070 Olive Drab,” he quipped.
The team will look for any internal issues and address those as necessary.
This particular howitzer rolled off the assembly on Sept. 25, 1942, and is called a pack howitzer because it can be disassembled into six pieces — to be placed upon mules originally — then reassembled where needed.
That ability to be dismantled will aid in its restoration.
This particular pack howitzer, however, takes the “pack” to another level. Stripped down for further weight reduction, it was deployed from aircraft.
“This is an Airborne version and basically the main difference between this one and the ground-use one is the frame,” Steve Doebler said. “This one is lighter. You can see all the holes that are in it. That is to reduce the weight.”
Ian Doebler said he’s excited to be involved with the project.
“This is definitely very cool,” he said. “You definitely don’t get to work on a howitzer every day. It’s an important project for a lot of reasons.”
These types of howitzers are still in use today, mostly in ceremonial roles.
When it eventually returns, the plan is to have the gun in a different configuration.
Though it has been “towed” position, the team plans on placing it in more of a “standing watch” position, with the barrel moved forward and elevated.
“That would give us a little more control over what it would have looked like when the veterans were actually using it,” Skaggs said. “That’s important.”