Learn more about the University of North Georgia
Vintage World War II artifacts are often seen in museums, or in a collector’s personal collection. In some cases, their condition isn’t pristine.
A few cadets at the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus showed that tackling a restoration challenge involving World War II antiques was hard work, but well worth it.
Cadets West Johnson, Richard Hite, Justin McDuffie and Jordan Word — along with the Parents Association of UNG, Phi Alpha Theta (national history honor society) and the Corps of Cadets — restored, unveiled and dedicated two World War II-era 57 mm anti-tank M1A1 cannons to the Dahlonega campus on Saturday morning.
Johnson, a senior at UNG and brigade historian, said the restoration process was a “yearlong project” that came up when a renovation to Gaylord Hall, an old barracks on campus, started taking place. The cannons sat in the way of the hall, but weren’t in good condition.
“When they were moved out of the way, there was a decision made that they were going to scrap them, or they were going to restore them,” Johnson said. “Preferably, restore them. Have them sent off. I had just gotten my gunsmith degree, so I volunteered to take on the restoration project.”
Johnson said he saw an opportunity to enlist the help of both cadets and civilians, the civilians being the history honor society.
He said the group ran into trouble with a “dangerously high-concentration” of lead paint used on the cannons. He said that made getting the cannons ready for transport much more difficult.
“They sat outside for 60 years,” he said, “and before transport we had to completely break them down. Moving a bolt that hasn’t moved in 60 years was a difficult task.
“When they decommission weapons, they have to weld every bolt. So we had to go in and cut and re-shape a lot of the bolts in order to break the welds.”
Johnson also said the funding for the project was paid by the Parents Association of UNG and the Corps of Cadets, but he also used some out-of-pocket money to help fund the project.
He said the dedication of the cannons was also a way to pay tribute to U.S. veterans on Veterans Day weekend.
“These were the weapons that were fought with and fired by our grandfathers in World War II,” he said. “I hope people take away a sense of not only the work that went into them, but also the history behind them.
“I could care less about whether people appreciate the work. I just want them to see that a piece of history was saved, and how important that piece of history played in the world we have today.”
Johnson called Hite and McDuffie his “right-hand men” because of their knowledge of weapons.
Both Hite and McDuffie are combat veterans. Hite served two tours of duty in Iraq; McDuffie served one tour in Afghanistan.
“Johnson asked me if I wanted to help him on the project because I have experience in heavy machinery and heavy weapons in the Army,” said McDuffie, a sophomore at UNG since he completed his tour.
“Going through that process, working on them, we have something here at the school that we did that’s going to be here until they restore them in probably another 60 years.
“It has our name on it. We can come back, one day, with our family and say ‘Hey, we did this’. We left our legacy at the school.”
McDuffie also said it was special to have two combat veterans working on the cannon together.
Hite, sophomore at UNG, called the experience fun.
“We came out here and we all worked on it,” he said. “It was a chance to bring something back to life that was dead. Now, that we’re done, it’s going to be here for years to come, which is really what it was about, to keep it living on.”
Hite also said it was good to see the ceremony on Veterans Day weekend because it pays tribute to those who have served in war, but also to those who will be serving.
“It has been amazing to watch over the course of time,” said Gayle Evans, president of the Parents Association of UNG. “With identifying who would help restore it, the funding that was required and all of that has just been amazing.
“To see them today, it’s just fantastic.”