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Interpreters bring history to life on Sill

Families crouched in the cool of a shade tree to watch "Minutemen to Missiles" interpreters bring history to life Saturday  proof of Army firepower's enduring fascination.

Maj. Jason Washburn, the operations and training officer for 434th Field Artillery Brigade, brought all four of his children to see the live fire demonstration while their mother was getting her hair done. They're stair-stepped in age, starting with daughters Marti, 11, and Chris, 8, then J.J. or Jason Jr., 7, and another daughter, Daralynn, who will be 4 next month. This was their first time to witness the event put on by the Fort Sill Museum Directorate and its volunteer supporters.

"I love the old history to it, and seeing them actually get to do it," he said.

Museum Director Frank Siltman said the French 75mm field gun revolutionalized artillery and "turned field artillery into what we know today." Washburn recalled being introduced to this weapon in college, where he saw it used to fire off ceremonial rounds.

"It was 'Old Cotton,' named after Lt. Gen. Whitman Cotton," said Washburn. "This has been a good day. It's definitely something I'll bring my wife back to do again."

The Fort Sill Half Section employs its French 75 in the same way, and its soldiers took part in the military timeline event. Staff Sgt. David Palmer, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Half Section, brought over the quarter horse named Ralston for the children to meet, and he had groups of three soldiers rotating through hourly due to the heat.

Field Artillery Museum Director Gordon Blaker demonstrated the British-made flintlock nicknamed the "Brown Bess" that was used during the Revolutionary War. Its 12-step loading procedure was reduced to nine steps by the time of the Mexican War, as shown by museum staffer Correy Twilley. It was still a smooth-bore weapon, but it used a more reliable ignition system, the percussion cap.

"The Army had switched to a buck and ball round by this point, so it was a .69-caliber ball with three .30-caliber buckshot rounds, so I actually have to invert the round to put it in (the musket), then ram," Twilley explained. Half-cocking the trigger substituted for the modern-day safety.

Frank Siltman showcased the rifled weapon of 1861, which had a spiral groove cut into the barrel that put spin on the projectile, greatly increasing its range and accuracy. His son, Jonathan Siltman, introduced the next technological improvement, the 1872 "Trapdoor" Springfield, which looked similar to the musket but had a trapdoor that opened the breech for insertion of a metallic cartridge. This increased the rate of fire by tenfold. He also showed the 1892 Springfield, also known as the Krag-Jorgensen rifle, "probably the smoothest bolt action ever devised."

1903 Springfield

Air Defense Artillery Museum Director Jonathan Bernstein carried the development of firearms onward through the 20th century with the 1903 Springfield that was used until shortly after the end of the Korean War. Jean Garand developed the semi-automatic M1 in the 1920s and it was adopted by the Army in 1936, though it didn't go into mass production until World War II; Gen. George Patton called it "the finest battlefield implement ever devised" because it gave the U.S. a significant advantage in firepower over its adversaries.

WWII vehicles on display

This was the second year that members of the Camp Howze Military Vehicle Preservation Association of central Texas have brought their WWII vehicles to Fort Sill's "Minutemen to Missiles." Their mission is to preserve, restore and educate the public about WWII and the vehicles used in it. Kenny and Suzanne Bezner of Lindsay, Texas, brought a 1941 Plymouth P11 sedan that he turned into a military staff car for a group that participates in an annual parade for Medal of Honor recipients in Gainesville, Texas. Kenny Bezner said his original intent was to make it look as much as possible like a car that would have been used at Camp Howze, an installation built in 1942 next to Lindsay, Texas, for infantry and artillery training during WWII. It was torn down in 1945.

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