Thanks to two local men and West Mifflin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Intrepid, a ceremonial howitzer near Kennywood Park recently received a much-needed facelift.
Ken Curcio and Garrett Tomko, both from West Mifflin, refurbished the monument earlier this month as part of a community service project. The howitzer sits in Mitchell Paige Memorial Park at the intersection of Homeville Road and Commonwealth Avenue, and is seen by thousands of motorists as well as students at nearby West Mifflin Area High School.
According to VFW Post 914 Commander Jake Bradich, the results couldn’t be better.
“Like the men and women who serve in our armed forces, you always expect a piece of military hardware to look sharp,” said Bradich, an Army combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. “I’m glad we’re able to help honor our veterans in this way, and I thank everybody in the VFW and in the borough who helped make this possible.”
Back in its prime, the M101A1 howitzer was a weapon to be respected. Once muscled into firing position by a crew of six-to-eight artillerymen, it could be made to pump out 30 rounds in three minutes --- each roaring toward its target at nearly 500 yards per second.
Over the last 16 years as a monument to West Mifflin’s heroes, however, the howitzer had collected an unsightly amount of rust and dirt. Curcio, a Marine who served with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force during the first Persian Gulf War, knew it was time to act.
“It needed (to be) painted really bad,” said Curcio, who also cares for the unit’s ceremonial M-1 Garand rifles as armorer. “I figured it is here to represent everybody in West Mifflin who served fighting for our freedoms. Even if it is never going to fire a shot again, it should at least look like it could.”
As thorough as any armorer might be given the scale of the effort, Curcio directed the revamping project. Underneath the camouflage color scheme are two primer coats of olive drab green. Prior to any paint being applied, all rust was scraped and sanded away.
The total cost paid by VFW Post 914 for paint, tape, exterior plastic covers and tools was around $200. All of the labor was donated by Tomko and Curcio.
According to Curcio, the younger Tomko handled the bulk of the heavy work, which took three days.
“He did most of the scraping and the two undercoats,” said Curcio, who holds a second job at VFW Post 914 as adjutant. “I did the camouflage top coat as I’ve have much more experience doing those.”
Now with its fresh coat of paint, West Mifflin’s artillery piece stands proudly next to the memorial that honors the borough’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and merchant seamen. Commander Bradich added that since the weapon arrived at the park from Blue Grass Army Depot in Lexington, Kentucky, its purpose is more solemn than it was decades ago when it served with an active unit.
“The howitzer here is silent,” he said. “It is the hope of all veterans that weapons like this howitzer will someday be silent forever.”
For more information about VFW Post 914 and its activities, contact Commander Bradich at (412) 464-9838.
Originally published July 19, 2017.