Sitting at the entrance to the main campus area in Lyndon is a 105mm Howitzer, a solitary reminder of the military school that once existed on the grounds. The cannon, known to some former cadets as the Thomas Jefferson Evans IV memorial cannon, has remained silent since the fall of 1956.
As I think back on that fall day, I can remember only about five minutes of the entire day, but those memories are as vivid 47 years later as if they had happened today. Jeff and I were members of the Guard Detail, he was the Corporal of the Guard and I was the Private of the Guard. During the afternoon, we argued about who would fire the cannon during the Retreat Ceremony. Finally, someone suggested that we flip a coin to decide the question. It seemed to be a reasonable solution, so we flipped a coin and Jeff won.
As the Battalion assembled for dinner formation, Jeff and another member of the guard detail left for the flagpole. I collected the reports from the formation and returned to the Guard House. I seem to remember that the cannon was to fire and then the bugle call "To the Colors" was sounded as the flag was lowered. The cannon shot was late and when we finally heard the report, it did not sound normal. Within seconds, Jeff came running around the corner of the Edison building toward the Guard House. His actions were strange, he should have been lowering the flag.
Jeff burst through the Guard House door holding his left arm and screaming. His hand was badly mangled and bleeding profusely. I pulled out my handkerchief and wrapped it tightly around his left arm in an effort to stop the flow of blood. Someone yelled for me to get Maw Fowler. I covered the distance between the Guard House and the Infirmary in near record time. I met Maw as she was the leaving the infirmary for the mess hall. I told her that Jeff had been seriously injured and she rushed off to the Guard House. The rest of the evening is a total blank. Jeff eventually lost the middle finger on his left hand and much of the mobility in the fingers that remained.
Jeff related two different accounts of the accident because I doubt that he actually knew what happened. The Howitzer used a simulator loaded with a blank 12-guage shotgun shell to supply the sound. The simulator was placed in the muzzle of the cannon and the lanyard went down the barrel and out the breech. When the lanyard was pulled, the simulator fired. On this particular occasion, the simulator misfired. In an effort to clear the stoppage, Jeff reached up and pulled the simulator out of the barrel with his left hand. Whether he bumped the firing mechanism while removing the simulator from the barrel or the lanyard caught on the breech and released the firing pin is a question for which we will never have an answer. Whatever caused the simulator to fire, it discharged it's full force into the palm of Jeff's hand.
To my knowledge the cannon was never fired again. It took a swim in the lake a few nights after the accident, an act of revenge by those who had no other way to show their frustration and anger. After numerous other late-night excursions around the campus, school officials anchored it in place. I never see the cannon without thinking of Jeff and wondering what if that coin had landed differently.
Note: During his senior year, Jeff was one of the Color Sergeants responsible for raising and lowering the flag every day.
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