Vet relates time with Atomic Cannon

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles profiling those who have ever served in the U.S. military, be it overseas or stateside. Every Thursday, a new profile will be published in the T-R.

Clemons native Richard Perry volunteered for the U.S. Army draft in 1953, and assumed that after basic training he would be sent to Korea. And although the rest of his unit made that trip, a six week bout with pneumonia kept him in the hospital in Oklahoma and that led to a new experience for him.

“I recovered from my illness just at the time that the peace treaty was signed and no more troops were sent to Korea, so I was the only man from my unit that did not go,” Perry said. “I was then assigned to the 867th Artillery Division and our unit was the first to test the M65 280mm Atomic Cannon (known as Atomic Annie) on May 25, 1953 in Nevada at the proving grounds.”

Perry’s unit then shipped to Germany and he spent the remaining part of his two years in service there. He served as a radar operation for the atomic cannon – tracking to see where the shell went.

Since there were no forward observers with the cannon, the fire was also directed by radar.

“My radar unit was often two football fields behind the cannon, but it could vary.” Perry said. “An atomic round could travel up to 20 miles and a high explosive round could go as far as 23 miles down range.”

Perry said that on the first base in Germany the mood was secretive, but that by the second location where a tanker unit was also stationed that level of secrecy decreased.

“We were there to stop the Russians form advancing, but they had learned about our testing of the cannon in Nevada and so they kept a very close watch on us as well,” Perry said. “We never had to use the cannon in combat – just got to test it for one week each year and orders to practice fire it could come in the middle of winter.”

He went on to explain that the unit had to be off base within 30 minutes once the order to test fire was given — this being so the Russians could not get to them if this was a real combat situation.

“When the gun went off, we knew that we were being closely watched by the Russians to see where the shell went,” Perry added.

Perry has plenty of pictures of the cannon and also knows of many sites on his computer that talks of the famous gun. He pointed out that it was 84 feet long with a 38.5 foot barrel and weighed 83 tons. It was moved by a truck in the front and back of the unit. The W9 warhead that gave the name “Atomic Annie” was 11 foot wide, 55 foot long and weighed 803 pounds.

“I really was not in combat so did not feel I was really is war, but I was there and I put in my time,” Perry said.

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Do you know a military veteran who should be profiled? Send your suggestions to Editor Jeff Hutton at: jhutton@timesrepublican.com or contact American Legion Post 46 Commander Randy Kessler at: iapost46commander@gmail.com