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Howitzer welcomed at Airpower Museum

Vietnam Veteran Ken Wales of Westchester with the

Vietnam Veteran Ken Wales of Westchester with the newly acquired 155mm Long Tom Howitzer at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale. Wales, 60, said he'd once manned a similar version as a cannoneer with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Pleiku. Seeing the big steel gun again was "bittersweet," he said. (Aug. 7, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

Decades after American troops last fired a Long Tom 155-mm howitzer in conflict, dozens of mostly Vietnam-era veterans, union officials and a congressman Tuesday welcomed the rare artillery piece at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale.

The Long Tom and the weapons systems descended from it were mainstays of the American arsenal starting in World War II, capable of hurling a 95-pound shell 26,000 yards, said Lee Holland, a civilian Army employee and former president of the international Military Vehicle Preservation Association. "It was capable of causing a horrific amount of damage," he said in a phone interview from Virginia.

In remarks at the ceremony, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) said the weapon was a "critical part of our history," and he hailed the troops it protected.

Jack Ahern, an official with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30, which helped secure the gun, said the weapon is a reminder of the veterans who returned to find either union jobs or no work at all.

"It's an awesome thing," said Tom McGlennon, 65, of Huntington Station, who said he'd served in an Army 105-mm artillery battery in the Mekong Delta. "You know what they say about artillery: It brings organization to what otherwise would be absolute chaos."

Victor Diaz, 70, of Lindenhurst, said he'd been an Air Force man, making supply runs to restock fire bases in Vietnam. "At night we used to hear them . . . It was comforting and scary at the same time."

Ken Wales, 60, of Yonkers, said he'd once manned a similar version as a cannoneer with the Army's 1st Cavalry Division in Pleiku. Seeing the big steel gun again was "bittersweet," he said.

He remembered moments of terror when the enemy penetrated the barbed wire surrounding his position. And he recalled the assembly-line precision of his eight-man fire crew: 10 seconds for a crew to hoist the shell, prep, load and fire the gun. The barrel was swabbed, and the process was repeated.

Forward observers called in adjustments over the radio. When the aim was true, the gun crew got the command to "fire for effect," or drop as much ordnance as fast as possible on a target.

Wales seldom saw the result. "You'd hear it on the radio," he said. "Casualty counts."

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