Sharp-eyed Brookfield residents may have noticed that the cannon that has long stood sentinel at the corner of Brookfield and Forest avenues outside the Grossdale Station is missing.
On the afternoon of Aug. 17, a Brookfield Public Works crew aided by a crane from a local tree service, lifted the World War II-era artillery piece from its concrete pad and onto a flat-bed trailer, which drove it away.
But the absence, it turns out, will be just temporary.
The cannon will be heading off to Knight’s Body Shop in Lyons (the same company helped restore the Korean War-era Sabre Jet in Ehlert Park) for a refurbishment. And the crumbling 81-year-old concrete base where the cannon was mounted is being removed and replaced.
According to Brookfield Village President Kit Ketchmark, who is also president of the Brookfield Historical Society and was onsite observing the removal of the cannon on Aug. 17, the plan is to reorient the cannon about 90 degrees to face in a southeasterly direction. It previously faced slightly southwest, directly into the path of a tree.
In addition to repainting the cannon, Ketchmark said he’s planning on reaching out to the Illinois National Guard to see if there a way to get replacement tires and rims for it.
“I think sometime within the next few months we’ll have a shiny cannon there again,” Ketchmark said.
The cost for the refurbishment and concrete work is being funded through a donation by the Brookfield American Legion Edward Feely Post 190. About a year ago, said Ketchmark, the post donated $10,000 to the Brookfield Historical Society to be used in part to replace the concrete base for the cannon.
The donation, it appears, was the swan song for the post, whose commander, Hubert Noble, died in September 2015 at the age of 89.
“As they were disbanding things, they were looking to make donations, and they brought up the concrete under the cannon,” Ketchmark said.
It was through the efforts of the Brookfield American Legion post that there was a cannon on the site in the first place. The post was chartered in 1919 following World War I and was named after Edward Feely, the first Brookfield resident to die overseas while in the service.
On Oct. 13, 1935, the post donated a World War I-era cannon – the book Brookfield, Illinois: A History maintains that the cannon was a 6.5-ton British field artillery piece – which was placed in front of what was then the Brookfield Village Hall.
A plaque mounted on a concrete marker in front of the gun dedicated the cannon as a memorial to “all who served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States.”
A Chicago Tribune article published Oct. 4, 1942 included mention of that dedication.
“Al Freitag, past commander of the Brookfield post, recalls that when the cannon at the village hall was dedicated in 1935 the occasion was marked by one of the most patriotic demonstrations ever held in the suburbs,” the Tribune reporter wrote.
The article containing that information was headlined “Relics of West Towns will go as steel scrap.” Responding to a shortage of war materials during the nation’s first year of involvement in World War II, suburban American Legion posts conceived a “cannon caravan” for Sunday, Oct. 11, 1942 after which the Brookfield cannon and several others would be melted down for the war effort.
A few days before the event, a Chicago Tribune article on the scrap metal shortage stated that the suburban American Legion posts had “completed arrangements for a parade Sunday noon to display 23 or more cannon and other World War mementos which will be shipped to the Carnegie-Illinois steel mills.”
At some point after World War II, it’s not clear exactly when, a replacement was found for the original cannon. It was set on the concrete base in front of the village hall and the original plaque from 1935 remained intact. A tag on the cannon barrel states it is a 3-inch M9 gun manufactured at the Rock Island Arsenal in 1943.
While it states “M9” on the barrel, the gun appears to be an M5 anti-tank gun. More than 2,000 of the guns were manufactured between 1943 and the end of the war. They were distributed to tank destroyer units in the U.S. Army in both Italy and Northwest Europe.