Watch the Joy on WWII Vet's Face as He Fires a Howitzer for First Time Since the War


In January we lost Claude Cawood.

Don’t go digging through your memory bank for the name. Unless you were a family member or a friend, it’s not likely you knew him. According to his obituary in the Monroe (Michigan) News, Cawood was born in 1921, married at 23 and had two children. He was in the Army in World War II where he “served three years in the Philippines supervising and directing an 8 man crew in the tactical employment of the M105 Howitzer.”

And then comes an interesting detour in the obit: In 2018, it mentions, he got a chance to “visit soldiers supporting the Northern Strike exercise at the Camp Grayling and the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center.”

It’s an odd thing to include in the summation of one’s time upon this vale of tears. And yet, the visit was important, not just to Cawood, but to an audience of people who ordinarily wouldn’t have paid attention to his service, his family or his life. Over 70 years after he last fired a howitzer, the then-97-year-old veteran would get another chance to fire a few rounds — and become a viral sensation in the process.

“Oh, I love that thing,” Cawood said of the howitzer in a video documenting the experience. This time it was the M777 howitzer, a much newer version of the artillery piece.

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“Every now and then,” he said of his experience during the war, “I would go up and pet it.”

“Personally, just looking at him and having those conversations with him, it’s just like having a conversation with one of my soldiers,” Staff Sgt. Jacob Berard said. “It’s like he never left.”

“It’s our heritage, right in front of us,” he added. “And to see his joy and excitement reliving those memories, we knew he was an old redleg at heart.”

A redleg — a military term for an artilleryman, passed down from the Civil War where they wore a red stripe down their pants. That’s how deep the tradition goes. It’s a fraternity within a fraternity, an institutional reminder of how deep those waters run and how far back the source of the river is. The video of Cawood’s encounter in northen Michigan was a glimpse into a world few of us would see.

According to BedfordNow, his encounter with the modern version of his trusty weapon was just part of Northern Strike, a 5,000-strong combat training exercise featuring troops from 11 states and six countries.

If you heard about it at all, it was likely because of Cawood and his joy at encountering the military equipment he so loved one last time.

“He had such an exuberance when he was talking about it,” 1st Sgt. Jeffrey Lemire said. “His affection for the weapon was so genuine.”

You can see that — and the joy on his face when the artillery shell was fired. Seven decades on from fighting Axis forces and saving democracy from encroaching night, Cawood could still light up at the profound burst of resonant bass the firing of an artillery shell produces.

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There was so much more to Cawood than a viral video of him firing a howitzer as a 97-year-old.

He worked for Monroe Public Schools for 23 years and was the head of maintenance for the Monroe YMCA for a decade. After he retired, he worked at Ace Hardware.

He attended the Calvary Assembly of God for over 20 years. He volunteered there. He volunteered other places, too — including at the Jackman Road Elementary School in Temperance, Michigan, where he would read to students and sometimes spend the day. His obituary said that he “would go in early so he could be with the children eating their breakfast at the school.”

That’s the Claude Cawood most of us wouldn’t have known. Watching the old redleg fire an artillery piece and interact with a new batch of soldiers protecting America from its enemies, you got the feeling you did, however. And whatever the case, it was awesome to see him fire his weapon for the last time.

“It makes me appreciate it even more that people like him are still around,” 1st Sgt. Lemire said. He isn’t anymore, sadly. There are some World War II vets left; let’s make sure we remember them while they’re still here.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture