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Veterans memorial project sparked by cannon

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It started with a cannon.

Marmet resident Charlie Humphrey, a Korean War veteran, said longtime friend and fellow lover of history, Peggy Jacobs, approached him after a recent town council meeting to ask him about moving the town's cannon to another location.

The cannon, which was originally placed at the old grade school and later moved to a park, wasn't in the best shape.

Jacobs said the cannon was moved to Riverview Park where members of the American Legion kept the cannon up and maintained the area around it for a number of years. The cannon didn't belong to the Legion, it was loaned to the city in the 50's by the Army.  

But Jacobs, 81, said many of the members have died.

"It was just sitting there," she said of the cannon. "It needed some paint and things and would be better seen by the public if we moved it. A lot of people didn't even know it was there."

She thought she'd found a good place for it.

"This lady came to me after the council meeting and asked would it be all right if we moved the cannon to the veterans' memorial at the recreation building," Humphrey said gesturing to Jacobs. "We wanted to do that, but there wasn't any room there."

They began looking for other places for the cannon, combing over pieces of property owned by the city. They spoke with Johnny Walker, another town resident and veteran, who helped find a tract of land in the curve near the intersection of W.Va. 61 and W.Va. 94.

The property is state-owned but they were permitted to use the land once they told the state what they planned to do with it.

The veterans hitched the disabled 105-millimeter gun to the back of an SUV and towed it up MacCorkle Avenue to its new location. Walker said NAPA parts store donated a few cans of paint to repaint the weapon a dark shade of olive drab green.

"You can see it whether you're coming into town from the Turnpike or leaving town," Walker said. "You wouldn't believe how many people didn't realize we had this thing."

But they wanted to do more.

"Through Charlie and Peggy talking, we thought why not put up flags and a monument for everyone who served," Walker said.

Humphrey and several friends set about cleaning the city's World War II memorial in 2011.

Humphrey asked the city for years to clean up the memorial, which bears the names of the 359 town residents who served in the war and the 11 who were killed. He said it was in deplorable condition, but the town never moved on the project.

So the Army veteran took matters into his own hands. He and several others restored the memorial on their own time and on their own dime.

This project is larger scale and donations would go a long way, Jacobs said. An anonymous donor already has pledged a large donation.

Walker drew up a rough sketch of the project they have planned. They want to install three flagpoles -- for the American flag, state flag and POW-MIA flag -- with solar powered lights to keep the flags illuminated at night.

The group would mount the cannon on a cement base. They also would erect a black granite monument that would represent each of the five branches of the armed forces and would be dedicated to all Marmetians who served at wartime and peacetime.

A later project would be to build another structure that would speak to each conflict and provide information on the cannon. They plan to sell coins engraved with the names of those who served, their branch and rank, and then mount them on a plexiglass-covered display.

"This was an idea that got larger than I thought it was going to," Jacobs said.

Her late husband, Forrest, served in the Navy during the Korean War, but she said his service had nothing to do with her involvement.

"I'm just for the veterans, period," Jacobs said. "I knew all those people in the legion."

Humphrey said they wanted to get the project done by Memorial Day, but Jacobs doesn't think that's possible. She said there's a lot of work to be done in a week's time.

Humphrey said he planned to order the flagpoles this week. He secured a state flag and was working on getting a POW-MIA flag. He expected the granite memorial to be finished within the month.

For more information on the memorial project or how to donate, contact Charlie Humphrey at 304-949-2458.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.

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