Ed Wilson was a buddy of mine in the First World War, back in 1918. He called on Friday night, saying he wanted help snatching the cannon again. Of course, I said yes. Then he told me the circumstances. Turns out, with the current war on, the city had removed the cannon from the town square in Asheville to turn it in as scrap to be donated to the war effort. Colonel Don had put up a fuss and made them return it to the square. Ed thought melting it down would be a better use for it. He disagreed with Colonel Don, who could be a loud kind of a prick sometimes. Colonel Don says it was a memorial from the last war. Seems to me it was more of a souvenir.
Ed and I captured the damn thing in France. Colonel Don got it back to the states, which was some neat sleight of hand on his part. He managed some back-channel stuff to get it released by the Army, and then he got it installed in Asheville, right in the middle of town as a war trophy. In my way of thinking, it would be better to show off an American cannon in the middle of town instead of a German one.
With another war on, why shouldn’t we send it back to them … as an American tank?
After talking with Ed, I made plans to come to Asheville for a couple of days while we set up the heist. I booked a room at 100 Biltmore Ave., just down the street from the square. I met with Ed the next day and we went over the plan. Ed had an old Ford flatbed farm truck with a winch, and he had lined up two guys I didn’t know.
That night I walked up to the square and watched for interference. When Ed and the guys got there, I waved them in. Ed calmly backed the truck up to the cannon and watched, leaning out the driver’s window while the guys threw cables on it. It was pretty easy. The winch did the hard work. They cranked it up a ramp into the truck bed. We had it loaded in two minutes. I had a tarp ready to throw over it and chains to secure it. Then we just drove off. Nobody stopped us.
We were four guys crammed into that truck cab, nervous at first, but laughing when we got out of town and the tension eased off. There was a scrap metal drive going in every city in the whole country. We figured it would be best to get the cannon out of the state, so we dropped it in Spartanburg, SC and then went out for a beer.
We talked about the battle in France. The two guys helping were younger and wanted to hear the story. It was a hell of a fight, right at the end of the war in 1918. Fifteen of our guys were killed that day, including Bobby Short. We beat the Germans, though, and took their cannon. Not two hours later the war was called off. It was November 11th. Son of a muddy bitch, but we were happy it was over.
Old Colonel Don, he pitched a fit when he heard the cannon was missing. He had to know it was one of us, but he couldn’t prove it. It could’ve been anybody. Ed left a goodbye note signed “That old Ex-German cannon” with a little explanation so everybody would know it was going to the war effort. It wouldn’t be sitting in anybody’s front yard. No sir, that’s one patriotic naturalized American hunk of steel going back to Germany where it can do some real damage.
This is a work of fiction based on a story in Hidden History of Asheville compiled by Zoe Rhine, from a chapter titled The Old German Cannon on Pack Square by Laura Gaskin.