The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 669 got an early Veteran’s Day present Friday in the form of a military shell to replace the one that was lost last year.

The present is compliments former Rock Island Police Lt. Bill Sowards.

“Last year they were going to the LeClaire show and they were driving their deuce and a half out there and when they got there the artillery shell they used in the show was missing.”

Gary Porter, of VVA 669, said he may have forgotten to put the tail of the truck up because the 105 mm howitzer shell fell out along with a couple of chairs.

Retracing their path they found a chair that had been run over, but they never found the shell, Porter said. “Someone must have taken it. We never found it.”

Recently though, Sowards said he went to a gun auction in Aledo and right there in front was a huge shell. He told his wife, Edna, he was going to bid on it to see if he could get it to give to the VVA as a replacement. The bid was $80.

While the VVA had a 105 mm shell, the shell that Sowards purchased is much, much bigger. It turned out that Sowards had purchased a shell for the 203 mm M110 Self-Propelled Howitzer. The shell weighs more than 200 pounds and given the charge put behind it can be shot beyond 15 miles. It also could be tipped with a small nuclear device.

Sowards didn’t know any of that when he purchased it.

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“The lady in charge of the show told me I was going to have to move it,” Sowards said. “I told her I was going to pick it up and that had my Ford Explorer out there. She asked me, ‘Who’s going to help you.’ I told her I’d just do it myself.”

When he tried to lift it, Sowards said, “Oh my God, this sucker is heavy. I got a dolly and was trying to get it into my Explorer when a young fellow came along and helped me get it in.”

Sowards said a friend of his sandblasted it, primed it and painted it a military color.

Friday morning at the Hardee’s 1419 38th St., Rock Island, Sowards presented the shell to the members of the VVA’s honor guard, including Porter.

“Wow,” said Porter when he and his fellow veterans saw what Sowards had brought them. Porter grabbed the tip of the shell and tried to lift it.

“That’s a much bigger shell than what we had before,” he said.

Frank Perez, President of VVA 669, said that he has seen one of those projectiles in action, and said the “metal and shrapnel go flying” in all directions.

“This is really something special,” Porter said as he and his fellow VVA members looked the shell over.

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