By Maya Rao •

The little cannon in Worthington's Chautauqua Park is not a sight to behold.

For one, the wood wheels are rotting; then there is the red painted on the hub of the wheel that makes it "look a bit ridiculous, more like something from Buck Rogers … like some retro thing," as one local pastor, John Stewart, put it.

But it has become something special to some of Worthington's veterans and to Stewart, who is leading a mission to restore the Japanese 37-millimeter antitank gun from World War II. As the generation that fought in the war dies off, he said, "it's just a reminder of the sacrifices that were made."

The provenance of the cannon actually dates to the 1860s, when the county's chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic wanted a memorial to honor its contributions in the Civil War, according to historian Ray Crippen. The veterans arranged to have a wartime cannon transported to Worthington by rail.

"Then World War II came and they had these enormous scrap metal drives and everyone responded — everyone was a patriot," said Crippen, who fought in the Korean War. " … Because it was something of a community sacrifice, the federal people in charge of the scrap campaign promised at the end of the war they would get something back."

Thus came the cannon that sits in Chautauqua Park.

Stewart, a Marine who trained in Okinawa, Japan, in the 1980s, became intrigued by it when he moved to Worthington a decade ago and began asking around. He approached veterans in town to secure support to restore the wheels, sand blast it and repaint the cannon to reflect its original look. Stewart also wants to put the structure on a concrete pad to prevent it from further sinking into the ground, and erect a plaque explaining soldiers' wartime sacrifices.

"I think most of them hadn't realized that it had deteriorated that much. … It's been outside in the elements for nearly 70 years," said Stewart, a pastor at First Covenant Church in Worthington.

He aims to have it restored by Veterans Day. With the help of donations, the effort has secured $3,000 so far, and there are already talks with Hansen Wheel and Wagon Shop in Letcher, S.D., to do the job.

"It's not a community treasure — not that kind of thing at all – it's just a funny little gun," Crippen said. "And if you drove by it, you might not notice it, but you might notice it, and say, 'What is that?' … It's a curiosity."

Even Stewart acknowledges it must have been obsolete even back in World War II.

With its small wheels and spindly form, he said, "it's kind of a diminutive weapon."

In fact, he added, "It's almost like a child-size cannon because it was meant to be just towed behind … a light truck."

Simon Koster, commander for the city's VFW Post 3958, said he's made donations for the restoration because it's historically significant, "even though some people have commented about it being Japanese artillery."

"We as Americans don't do a lot of preserving," he added. "We are a throwaway society; everything is disposable."

A Vietnam vet, Koster noted he's taken honor flights with men who fought in World War II and has visited Pearl Harbor.

"They did a lot for us," he said of the soldiers, adding that having the cannon in Worthington "means a lot."

Maya Rao • 612-673-4210