Looking Back

World War II’s “Second Front”

By Gordon Hopkins
Some citizens are looking to resurrect a long vanished item from Fairbury City Park in downtown Fairbury: a cannon once used in the Spanish-American War.
The idea came from Mickey Suey of the Fairbury Museum Board, who presented it to the Fairbury Public Works Committee at a meeting on Tuesday, August 15, 2023, “We have plans to add a replica cannon that was in the park from 1907 to 1943, melted down during World War II for the scrap drive.”
Suey was a driving force behind the Veterans Memorial in City Park, dedicated earlier this year, and hopes to make the cannon a part of the memorial.
During Word War II, an ongoing scrap drive was held throughout the country to support the war effort. In Jefferson County, there were scrap collection booths at the county fair and scrap rallies and competitions to collect the most scrap against other states were held.
One of the biggest items collected for the scrap drive was the bank vault from the First National Bank, made famous after being robbed by the Barker-Karpis gang in 1933. It weighed an estimated 12,000 pounds.
Another big chuck of metal donated to the scrap heap was the 20,000 gallon tank donated by the People’s Natural Gas Company, estimated to weigh five tons.
According to a report in The Fairbury Journal, the cannon weighed 3,584 pounds. While not quite as hefty as those other items, it was still a significant contribution to the war effort.
Morale was as much a part of the scrap drives as the metal in those days. In 1942, newspapers proudly pointed to Nebraska, which produced 111 percent of its quota and ranked 14th in the nation. The October 1, 1942, issue of The Fairbury News included a story on the scrap drive. The headline read, “Jefferson County Citizens Open ‘Second Front’ as scrap Drive Gets Underway This Week.”
However, there were some regrets after the fact. James Denney, a reporter in Fairbury for The Omaha World-Herald during World War II and, later in the U.S. Army Air Forces, European Theater, later reflected, “So I did a feature with a camera (even then I was taking pictures) in which we titled the story, Fairbury, Here’s Your Scrap. And I went around and, unfortunately — I’ve always kicked myself a little bit about this — one of the things that I proposed as part of our scrap was a cannon we had in the city park that had been used in the Spanish-American War, and sure enough Fairbury gave it up for scrap after I did my story. . . . After the war was over, and I came back, I always had a feeling in my heart, ‘What a dumb thing it was for me to do.’”
Where the idea came from to scrap the cannon is not entirely clear. Denney’s account is not entirely consistent with others’ recollections. The scrap drive story from The Fairbury News, for example, noted there were a number of people suggesting the cannon go on the scrap heap.
“There have been a number of inquiries as to the origin of the out-moded piece of ordinance, but by far the greater number of questions have been concerning its future military career,” wrote the unnamed reporter. “The majority seem willing to get along without the big gun, preferring that it be turned into the scrap metal collection, for shipment to Berlin or Tokyo.”
Interestingly enough, W.F. Cramb, editor of The Faibury Journal, would later put the blame on the Kiwanis Club. He wrote in 1943, “We recall in the enthusiasm of the scrap drive one of the luncheon clubs of Fairbury got worked up to the point where they stole a cannon out of the City Park. Perhaps the cannon was useless and will do more good as scrap in the war area than in the peaceful precincts of the city park, but the moral aspect of the matter was not good for the community. No doubt the youngsters who got away with the clapper of the Christian church bell and ran off with the lawn mower, were prepared to defend their action by pointing their fingers at the local luncheon club who stole the city park cannon.”
Speaking of Cramb, he had previously recommended a different wartime use for the cannon. In a column published December 11, 1941, he wrote, “With all this excitement about war, conscription, Co. (Company) D off to the maneuvers, it’s strange no one in Fairbury has started a move to have that old cannon at the entrance of City Park, limbered up, oiled and cleaned, ready for business.”


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