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Kids have a cannon barrel of fun at battlefield program

August 01, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

SHARPSBURG - The troops who lined up at the battle cannons Saturday at Antietam National Battlefield weren't army regulation, but they'd have to do.

Luckily, the plans didn't call for any fighting.

Park Ranger Christie Stanczak led a youth education session on how cannons used to work and how people used to communicate before the advent of computers, cell phones and just plain phones.

Stanczak first said she'd give the youngsters a break. Army troops who were cannoneers - a specially trained group that armed and fired cannons - were required to be at least 5 feet 7 inches tall for safety reasons, she said.

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"I'll give you a medical dispensation," she said, letting the dozen or so youngsters off the hook so they could join the fun.

One boy watched as the first group of children took instructions from Stanczak on how soldiers safely could load the cannon. Although the cannon was real, there was no real ammunition and no gunpowder.

"I wanna be in charge of the ammo," said the boy, Patrick Willock, 7, of Smithsburg.

In the next group working the cannon, Willock actually was in charge of the thumb guard. Willock was given a leather guard that fit over his thumb, which he stuck in a hole on top of the cannon.

That job, Stanczak said, was important because it deprived the inside of the cannon of air, which could cause ammunition remnants to ignite, injuring or killing the cannoneers.

The crew next went through the motions of clearing out the remnants of the ammunition using a corkscrew-shaped gadget attached to the end of a long pole - the "worm" - and then cleaning the inside with a wetted-down sheepskin sponge, also on a rod.

Once the motions of loading the ammunition were over, the sponger used the opposite end of his tool to pretend to ram the ammunition in. Then, inside the same hole that Willock covered with his thumb, another volunteer stuck a pin inside that would light the ammunition with friction when it was yanked out.

"Boom," the group yelled, acting out the fruits of their imagination.

Linda Willock, 48, Patrick Willock's grandmother, said Saturday's program was the second she and her grandson have participated in at the battlefield.

"I think it's fabulous," Linda Willock said. "It's almost one-on-one information."

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