The recovery of the WWI German Mortar on 7 July 2016 by Virginia National Guard soldiers assigned to the Combined Surface Maintenance Shops at Bellwood, Virginia is significant as we are now in the middle of the WWI Centennial ceremonies and celebrations. The Virginia National Guard recently celebrated the 100th Anniversary of its deployment to the Mexican border as part of the campaign against Pancho Villa and unveiled, in cooperation with the Virginia War Memorial, an exhibit describing that campaign. Somewhat ironically, today Virginia Guardsmen are training at Fort Bliss, Texas, in preparation for another deployment to Southwest Asia.
In April 2017 we will celebrate and honor the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into WWI. In August 2017 we will also recognize the birth and organization of the 29th Division at Camp McClellan. The Virginia National Guard served in the 29th Division in WWI and played an important role in the Meuse-Argonne campaign that brought the war to an end. Over 5,700 soldiers of the 29th Division were killed or wounded in the Meuse-Argonne fighting.
In gratitude for the US’s role in WWI, the Republic of France sent some of the captured German equipment to the US Government and the US Army to serve as permanent symbols of the shared victory. This 'minenwerfer' heavy mortar was one of the cannons that were presented to the US Army and the Virginia National Guard. It was on display in front of the Petersburg National Guard Armory from the 1920s to the early 1960s. When the Armory was partially demolished and the site turned over to a Petersburg business, the mortar was carried away and lost for many years.
Thanks to great cooperation between the law firm of White and McCarthy, the auction house of Tranzon Fox, The US Army Center of Military History, and the soldiers of the Virginia National Guard we were able to return this historic symbol to its rightful place of honor. After refurbishment the mortar will go on display at the Virginia National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters and will serve as a perpetual reminder of the sacrifices made by all Virginians in WWI.
- A. F. Barnes, CW-4 (ret) VaARNG, VANG Command Historian