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Called a 'disgrace,' cannon yanked from McCormick Park

Members of the St. Helens VFW requested the cannon be removed prior to Veterans Day

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - The war memorial in McCormick Park dedicated to veterans will have no cannon on display for now, at the reqest of the Veterans of Foreign Wars St. Helens Post 1440. A World War II cannon was replaced with a 1900s nautical cannon earlier this year being taken by a former St. Helens resident.Seven months after a World War II cannon was stolen from McCormick Park by a man who claimed the city had no right to display it, a replacement cannon has been removed at the request of the St. Helens Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 1440.

In February, Chuck Hegele, a cannon collector and former St. Helens resident who now lives in Terrabonne, took a decommissioned cannon belonging to the VFW, claiming the cannon had not been decommissioned thoroughly and could be used to fire live ammunition.

Hegele claimed he was a “person of responsibility,” a status he said was granted to him by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that allows him to manufacture weapon replicas, which he does as a hobby, and that he was authorized to possess the cannon.

City staff said Hegele had requested the city allow him to take the cannon in exchange for a replica, but without prior authorization he loaded the World War II cannon onto a truck and took off with it.

He was arrested for first-degree theft several days later.

Hegele replaced the World War II cannon, a 105 mm Howitzer, with a white, cylindrical cannon which is modeled after an early 1900s nautical cannon. The World War II cannon, which was obtained by the VFW in the 1950s, was a dark, metal cannon with thick wheels and a bar protruding from the back to balance it.

Critics of the replacement called it an eyesore and out of place.

Earlier this month, the VFW requested the cannon be removed from the park before Veterans Day on Nov. 11., said Gene Hester, the judge advocate for the VFW post.

“We wanted it removed before Veterans Day because it was a disgrace for it to even be there,” Hester said.

Pending the charges against Hegele in court, Hester said he would not comment much on the case. The goal is to have the World War II cannon throughly reinspected and eventually reinstated as a war memorial at the park, he said.

For now, the cannon remains in storage at the St. Helens Police Department office as evidence until the case is prosecuted.

The Howitzer cannon, on loan to the VFW from the federal government, had once been displayed at the intersection of Columbia Boulevard and Highway 30 for several years until the highway was widened in the 1990s. It was then moved to McCormick Park, where a new World War II memorial was

built to showcase the cannon in 1997. The cannon served as a memorial dedicated to veterans who served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.

The city has custodial rights over the cannon via an arrangement with the VFW.

The nautical cannon is being held in locked city storage.