It began years ago at the headquarters of the Barbados Regiment in Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies, when a sailor on a visiting USA Naval vessel decided that the Regimental Saluting Cannon would make a suitable souvenir.
That was 26th February 1956. Shortly after the sailor returned to the United States, an anonymous cable was sent to the Barbados Regiment, advising that the purloined piece was in good hands and resting safely in California and they can come and get it.
Needless to say, this was never done and over the ensuing years contact was lost with the captors of the cannon.
In 1968, there was an aircraft accident and the son of a Lakeside California man was killed. The father, while going over his son’s estate, found a cannon and came across a newspaper article from the Barbados Advocate, describing the disappearance of the 400-pound cannon. Following 10 years of correspondence with officials and the regiment comparing pictures, serial numbers, and the like-the cannon was positively identified as the missing piece.
Now the problem became, “How to get the cannon back to Barbados?” The Commanding Officer of the Barbados Regiment, Col Leonard Cameron Banfield, being clever and resourceful, invited Lieutenant Commander Charles E. Zettle, Commanding Officer of the U. S. Naval Facility, Barbados, to the 75th Anniversary Banquet of the Barbados Regiment. During the course of the evening, the colonel made a request of each of the honoured guests.
Of LCDR Zettle, he requested the return of the Regimental cannon. At this point, “Operation Golden Gun’’ was born and soon became the object of the “Navy’s Can” efforts. Through the cooperation of Lieutenant Commander Lawrence E. Curran, prospective commanding officer of NAVFAC Barbados and the assistance of Lieutenant Commander Edwin F. Parsons Jr., Officer in Charge, Warner Springs, California, Detachment of Fleet Aviation Specialized Operational Training Group, Pacific the wayward cannon was transported from Lakeside to NAS North Island.
Further logistics support was provided by a Patrol Squadron 45 (VP 45) training flight on Dec. 16, 1977, which carried the 51-inch artillery piece halfway home, from NAS North Island to NAS Jacksonville, Florida.
There, custody of the somewhat green “Golden Gun” was given to Lieutenant Commander Joseph F. Phelan, of VP 30, a former executive officer of NAVFAC Barbados.
On 12th January 1978, in a VP 30 P3B aircraft, on another training flight, piloted by Lieutenant Peter E. Blessing, the gun was escorted to its native land by LCDR Phelan and turned over to LCDR Zettle.
At Evening Parade that day, before the entire Barbados Regiment, Col Banfield accepted possession of the long lost Regimental Cannon, reaffirming the warm relations and the spirit of cooperation between the United States Navy and its friends in Barbados.
The gun is kept at the BDF, out of sight of any visiting US Navy sailors and brought out in ceremonial occasions.
Thanks to Lynda Lewis for supplying the base information: All Hands – July 1978, Number 738, Magazine of the US Navy , extracted from an article on page 19 “Ten Years Later” by Otes W A Kearney III.
Thanks to Lt. Col Florence Gittens (Retired) of the BDF for correcting some information.
Thanks to Captain Gail Morgan and LCpl Atherley (BDF) for giving permission to take these pictures.