Norwich Observes St. Barbara's Day with Cannons, Ceremony

howitzer in actionOn the evening of December 4, 2003, The Dog River Valley echoed with repeated blasts from two 75mm howitzers, as Norwich University's Independent Battery held its annual observance of Saint Barbara's Day.

The ceremony, which took place on the Upper Parade Ground, also included a narration on St. Barbara and her connection to field artillery, toasts to Cannoneers past and present, a reading of the poem "RedLeg Cannoneer," and an invitation to freshmen to join the ranks of the N.I.B.

N.I.B. GuidonAccording to Giff Slater, advisor for the N.I.B., Saint Barbara was the beautiful daughter of Dioscorus, a nobleman of the Roman Empire. Fearful that she would marry and be taken from him because of her singular beauty, and also to limit Barbara's exposure to Christianity, her father kept her shut up in a tower.

Shortly before embarking on a journey, Dioscorus commissioned a bathhouse to be built for his daughter. While her father was away, Barbara had a third window pierced in the tower, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. When her father returned from his travels, he flew into Cadet Captain Robinsona rage and dragged her before the local prefect, who ordered her to be put to death. His orders were carried out, but as Dioscorus descended the mountain he was caught in a sudden and violent storm, and was struck down and consumed by lighting. Only his scorched sword remained as a reminder of God's vengeance.

As a logical consequence, Barbara came to be regarded as the sainted patroness of those in danger from thunderstorms, fire and explosions - that is to say, sudden death. Given the questionable reliability of early artillery (misfires, muzzle bursts and exploding weapons were not uncommon) many sought the protection of Saint Barbara.


Hey! You there! Redleg soldier
With your weather beaten crew.
And nasty, stinkin' dirty awful
Job you've got to do

Think about the proud tradition
That you can justly claim
The links that tie you to the past,
Old comrades with your name

Remember you are special
Throwin' steel for your career,
You are called the "King of Battle"
You're a Redleg Cannoneer!


The December fourth celebration is observed by U.S. Army and Marine Corps field artillery units worldwide. "At Norwich, this annual display provides an opportunity for the N.I.B. to show their full capability for firing the M2 Pack 75 Howitzers," said Slater.

Cadet Captain Al Robinson '04 began the event with a safety briefing about the firing of the howitzers. Before the crowd of over 200 cadets and special guests, Robinson gave a rolling description of why the firing of cannons begins and ends each day at Norwich, and an explanation of the longstanding role that howitzers and cannons have played at Norwich since the mid-nineteenth century.

"Norwich can trace its history of cadets firing cannons on campus to just after the Civil War," said Slater. "We still use original historic artillery pieces, like the Whitworth Cannon, which is a breach loader," Slater added.

Vice President and Commandant of Cadets BG Mike Kelley '75 and Deputy Commandant COL Scott Henne helped the cadets with their duty by pulling the lanyard on the Pack 75 howitzers. During the firing, the Norwich Cannoneers fired 24 rounds in time to AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock." The spectacular show ended with the playing of the classic Field Artillery song, "When the Caissons Go Rolling Along."

preparing to fireJoining this august group were several former Redleg soldiers, Bill Passalacqua '88, Giff Slater '79 and Master Sergeant (ret.) Fred Messer from Waitsfield, Vermont, who was a gun section chief with the 1-86 FA of the Vermont Army National Guard.

According to Slater, the evening's ceremony was dedicated to all Norwich graduates who are serving in conflicts around the globe. Part fun and part serious business, the celebration was, quite literally a "blast."

"Our N.I.B. cadets performed wonderfully tonight," said Slater. "They gave the Corps a show they will remember forever."


pubrel@norwich.edu, December 2003

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