Historic Fort Sill cannon to receive restoration

Published: Sep. 14, 2010 at 6:55 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2010 at 1:25 PM CDT
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FORT SILL - One of the most historic and visited cannons at Fort Sill is getting a facelift Tuesday, as crews and forklifts moved "Atomic Annie" to a facility where it will be sandblasted to remove the old paint and new paint is put on.

Atomic Annie arrived on post in 1964 and is the only cannon to shoot nuclear missiles in the U.S. Nuclear Missile Test Program.

The cannon's original name was "Able Annie", meaning it was able and ready to fire.  However, once the Army shot a nuclear artillery round at Frenchmen's Flat, Nevada, they christened it "Atomic Annie" since it was the only cannon out of the 20 large guns made, to fire an atomic shell.

It has taken more than 10 years for this to happen, moving Atomic Annie and preparing it for its new home in Fort Sill's Artillery Park.  Fort Sill National Landmark Museum Director and Curator Towana Spivey says it took so long to get it done because there was no money to do it.

"We did fundraising through outside organizations," said Spivey.

Atomic Annie is a 280mm nuclear artillery gun made as a deterrent to the Cold War in the late 1940's and 50's.  In 1953, Able Annie and a backup gun called "Sad Sack" participated in Project Upshot-Knothole in Nevada.

"The project involved firing nuclear rounds, 15 kilotons equal to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan at the end of WWII," said Spivey.

After the testing was finished, Able Annie became Atomic Annie.  Then, it and Sad Sack came back to Fort Sill.  But, Spivey says somehow, the two were switched, and for the first 10 years on display, Sad Sack was thought to be Able Annie.

"A reporter was doing a story on Atomic Annie and the firing of the atomic projectile in Frenchmen's Flat, Nevada.  When they checked the serial number they found the wrong gun," said Spivey.

When experts traced Annie's footsteps, they found the error originated all the way back to Germany.  Soon after in 1964, what some could call "AWOL Annie", returned to its rightful place at Fort Sill.

"The so-called imposter, Sad Sack, that had been on duty here for 10 years was loaded up and sent to the Smithsonian."

And that is where it currently resides.  Spivey says the project is near and dear to his heart because of a family connection.  Several Fort Sill gun crews went to Frenchmen's Flat, but only one fired, and his great-uncle was in charge of that one.

"Atomic Annie is a very special piece in the collections and it has special meaning to me."

Spivey says they will restore Atomic Annie to look like it did after it fired the nuclear rounds, but he is not sure if everything will be the same.  He says when it was Able Annie, it had a nude woman on the side.  Right now, they have not decided if they will repaint the lady, because it could be too risqué for visitors.

Spivey says it takes about three months to finish painting and then Atomic Annie will be moved next to the new Fort Sill Artillery Museum.  Later, other cannons now on cannon walk will join it.