Norwich Artillery Battery has a blast on St. Barbara’s Day

Norwich Artillery Battery members fire their howitzer, one of 23 rounds shot on St. Barbara’s Day. Kellie Lincoln Photo

Norwich Artillery Battery members fire their howitzer, one of 23 rounds shot on St. Barbara’s Day.   Rebecca Friend photo.

The Norwich Artillery Battery (NAB) went out with a bang this past St. Barbara’s day with a howitzer show, firing rounds of blanks that rattled the town of Northfield.

St. Barbara is known as the patron saint of artillery and she is celebrated every fourth of December by artillery units all around the world.

The story of St. Barbara goes back to the Middle Ages when she was going to be executed and her executioner was struck by lightning. St. Barbara then became known as the saint of loud powerful noises, and artillery obviously falls in that category.

Many NAB members had never heard of St. Barbara until they joined the battery. Take Shane O’Neil, 20, a junior studies in war and peace major from Glen, N.H.

“Before joining NAB I never had any idea who St. Barbara was,” said O’Neil. “If you asked me in the past, I wouldn’t have even known there was a day for her.” But O’Neil, like many other members of NAB, enjoys putting on their loud yearly performance. “I’m super excited to participate and be loud,” said O’Neil.

Kadmin Hueg, 19, a sophomore criminal justice major from Lisbon, Conn., was absolutely ready to participate in this year’s event as well. “My favorite part is making stuff go boom; just pulling that cord and feeling the power behind that gun,” said Hueg.

The event, which draws a lot of viewers, is lots of fun for the university, but at the same time means a lot to some individuals. Explained Dryden Phelps, 20, a sophomore studies in war and peace major from Charlotte, N.C., “This event is important to myself and my family,” said Phelps. “My uncle and grandfather are both Red Legs (a term begun in the U.S. Civil War, where artillery soldiers had red stripes on their uniforms). My uncle is artillery for the Wyoming National Guard and my grandfather was a member of the 755th Artillery in Korea.”

Phelps stated that both his uncle and grandfather celebrate the holiday wherever they are. “The artillery is a family,” said Phelps. “When you join, it’s with you forever.”

NAB has been running this event for a couple years, and planning an event like this is complex. “It’s really extensive on how the planning is done,” said Phelps. “It basically all starts when the command staff sits down at the beginning of the year and finds out how many rounds we have.”

“After we figure out how many we have, we then need to figure out what song we’re going to play while the cannons go off. We also need to synchronize it correctly too,” said Phelps.

There were three gun teams at the event, one on the salute gun and the other two on the howitzers. “The teams have to follow along correctly,” said Phelps. “This takes timing, logistics, everyone has to work like a clock to do this. It gets pretty complex.”

Phelps said that all the hard work paid off though: “It’s so worth it because when you pull that cord and those cannons go off, it’s an indescribable feeling.”

The feeling that Phelps was describing was the ear-rattling sound of 75 millimeter blanks being fired. Jackson Grzywacz, 21, a senior political science and Chinese major from Cross River, N.Y., was in charge of guarding the shells before they were set off.

“We’re using 75 millimeter shells for two of the howitzers, both which have seen action in multiple wars,” said Grzywacz, who noted the NAB had 23 rounds to use and intended “to put on a show!”

Tom Demeri, 19, a sophomore criminal justice major from Kinnelon, N.J. worked on the salute gun with Phelps, which was a change from previous years. Getting the blank rounds involves a petition by Norwich to obtain the rounds.

“We got tons of rounds this year,” said Demeri, who thought that Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley might have played a role. “I can’t prove General Milley was wicked impressed by our performance last year and that’s why we got so many rounds, but I like to think that.”

“This year, the ceremony of Saint Barbara’s Night was dedicated to two fallen Norwich artillerymen, 1st Lt. Sean Putnam and Cadet Evan McBreairty,” said Alex MacMullen, 22, a senior criminal justice major from Groveland, Mass., who is NAB’s executive officer. “ These two individuals strove to be the very best and always placed others before themselves.”

MacMullen explained that the two were among the founding members of the Norwich Artillery Battery and being able to honor them was important.

In the end, the show couldn’t have gone any better for NAB member Michael Woods, 19, a sophomore criminal justice major from Fort Bragg, N.C. “The event went great, we even had an extra round left over,” said Woods.

“My favorite part that we did was fire off both howitzers off at the end of the music we were playing,” said Woods. “It was a crowd pleaser.”

Woods also said for anyone who has never seen NAB fire off the guns, to definitely come and check it out. “When you see it once, you’re going to want to keep coming back again.”

Woods hopes that all the men in women in the field of artillery had a great St. Barbara’s day and noted even if someone missed the show this year, “If you didn’t get to see us, you still probably heard us.”

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