105-mm Howitzer Cannon not yet returned while decommissioning procedures take place locally

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - The Veterans Memorial in McCormick Park has been without its World War II 105-mm Howitzer cannon for more than 18 months after it was taken in February 2016. A court case filed against the man accused of taking it delayed its return. Currently, the cannon is undergoing decomissioning procedures locally, but it is unclear how long that process will take. Six weeks after a court case involving a Terrebonne man accused of stealing a World War II cannon from McCormick Park was dismissed, the cannon has yet to return to the Veterans Memorial it was taken from.

St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss said Tuesday, July 11, the cannon was released to Rob Heller of Heller Enterprises last week to perform inspections and decommissioning procedures before it could be returned to the park.

Heller was not available for comment about the status of the decommissioning process, and staff at the store said they did not know how long the project would take. David Nelsen, a quartermaster for the St. Helens Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1440, said he was also unsure when the cannon would be returned.

Charles Hegele, 68, of Terrebonne, who was accused of stealing the cannon from the park in February 2016, pleaded not guilty to felony theft charges and ultimately agreed May 31 to pay a $38,000 settlement to have the case dismissed.

During the trial, the St. Helens Police Department kept the cannon in its garage lockup as evidence. The 105-mm Howitzer cannon was decommissioned before the St. Helens VFW obtained it in 1957. When it was taken last winter, however, Hegele worked on it, requiring it to be decommissioned again as a safety precaution.

In the meantime, the VFW is working in conjunction with St. Helens city staff to develop plans for an expansion to the Veterans Memorial in the park. The city received a $46,770 matching grant in April from Oregon Parks and Recreation's State Historic Preservation Office, or SHPO, to renovate and expand the memorial. Details are still preliminary, Assistant City Planner Jennifer Dimsho said, but there will be a dedicated display place in the memorial for the cannon.

Nelsen said VFW Post 1440 has no immediate plans for money received in the settlement, but has it earmarked to be used in some capacity for the park memorial.

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