World War II gun finally retires
Pallavi Agarwal | Highlands TodaySEBRING - A forgotten World War II-era machine gun that languished for 21 years in a police department property room and five years in a Highlands County barn has finally retired in style.
Published: October 4, 2012
Published: October 4, 2012
The restored 50-caliber, 86-pound, black-lacquered Colt automatic weapon is now stationed on a tripod outside the American Legion Post 74 office, 528 N. Pine St., Sebring, guarded by chains and a surveillance camera and embellished by plaques.
While we will never know the quirky historical journey the gun took from a landing boat in the Philippine Islands during the Second World War, how it got to its Sebring home is a labor of love.
It all started in 2006 when the Veterans Services Office in Sebring was looking for a monument to place outside its new building, said Harry Marsh, who is the former Post 74 commander and now serves as its adjutant.
A retired police officer, Marsh started making phone calls and sending emails.
He got lucky one day.
A Miami detective told him about a rusted gun, seized as evidence in 1984 or '85 during a sting operation on Cubans who also were Bay of Pigs sympathizers.
When the gun was found, it was sitting in their closet, still in operating condition. While he can't say for sure, Marsh thinks it was used during the Cuban Missile crisis.
Owning a machine gun is against the law, so the police got hold of it. For the next 21 years, the gun just stayed in the property room of the Miami Police Department, which was reluctant to get rid of it because of its historical value.
When Marsh agreed to take over the gun, the detective drove it to Sebring in his pickup truck in exchange for lunch.
But its final journey had not yet come to an end.
Thinking the weapon might unleash bad memories among veterans, the VA's office scrapped plans to install it outside its building and decided to donate it to a local veteran group.
For five years the artillery, which is cooled through jackets that let in and let out water, sat in Marsh's barn, like an "old piece of junk."
Its lead paint was completely rusted. Even its model number was buried under layers of old paint.
One day the Sons of the American Legion Post 74 decided they wanted to do a project. Marsh had the perfect idea.
His son, Darryl, who is a SAL member, agreed to do the work if the Sons and the Legion paid for the restoration.
For more than a year, Darryl Marsh put in 120 man hours, stripping off the lead paint, painting and welding it and closing off the breach and the barrel so the gun can't be fired.
After five rounds of pressure washing the gun after stripping its paint, its model number was finally revealed.
Then Harry Marsh got on the phone with a naval historian to dig up the gun's past.
A paper trail showed the machine gun was issued to the Department of the Navy prior to WWII. Records indicate it was assigned to Flotilla Six in the Philippine Islands.
Wednesday, Marsh and the Post 74 Legion Commander Ed Bates thumbed through a scrap book they put together on the gun — from its 1927 patent diagram to before and after photos, to the history of flotilla boats in the Pacific conflict.
Even its property evidence sheet from the Miami Police Department is enclosed along with the receipts from the restoration.
Harry Marsh had always hoped the gun one day would get an honorable discharge from his barn.
He's happy and proud that did happen.
A plaque that sits outside the gun reads: "Dedicated to all veterans by the Sons of the American Legion Squad 74 …"
"It's a reminder that's why we are here … because someone gave their life and manned that gun," Marsh said.
And he's more than happy to give it another shot in the arm.
"Now it gets another 100-year life," he smiled.