Shell collecting: “Military device” shuts down beach

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Crusty military device, with glove for scale. Photo courtest Dare County Emergency Management.

 A newly formed island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks has been reopened after a Navy bomb squad removed the crusty remains of a World War II era training bomb that washed ashore Friday, July 14.

The “military device” was spotted on Shelly Island, a mile-long 500-foot wide sandbar, prompting the evacuation of a one-mile safety buffer.

Below is the National Park Service account:

Hatteras Island Rescue Squad responded to a report of what appears to be an old, unidentified military device on the sand bar off Cape Point. Dare County Emergency Management requested assistance from the U. S. Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit from Little Creek Virginia. Based on images below, out of an abundance of caution, the EOD unit asked that a one mile safety perimeter be established until they could arrive and determine the exact nature of the item.

A portion of the one mile perimeter falls within the boundaries of Cape Hatteras National Seashore (Seashore), in the Cape Point area. The Seashore, in partnership with the Dare County Sheriff’s office, Hatteras Island Rescue Squad, and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, will comply with the U.S. Navy’s direction by temporarily establishing a perimeter starting at the entrance to off-road vehicle (ORV) Ramp 44. The ORV ramp will reopen to ORVs and pedestrians once the Seashore has received an all clear from the U.S. Navy.


Blasts from the past

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12-pound artillery shell discovered at Fort Gilmer, Richmond National Battlefield Park. in September 2014. Photo courtesy National Park Service

12-pound artillery shell discovered at Fort Gilmer, Richmond National Battlefield Park. in September 2014. Photo courtesy National Park Service

Last month, antiquated artillery struck at two former forts and battlefields. A cannon failed at Fort McHenry during the commemoration of victory over the British in the War of 1812. Then, park officials found a suspected Confederate IED left over from a Civil War battle at Richmond National Battlefield.

Below are the details from the National Park Service:
BALTIMORE –During the firing of a reproduction historic cannon at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine on Sept. 16, 2014, the breech of the gun failed, according to the National Park Service.
At approximately 11:30 a.m., the park’s living history gun crew used black powder to fire a salute to a passing ship as part of the weeklong series of events celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner. The firing of black powder in the reproduction cannon caused the breech to dislodge.
There were no spectator injuries;one of the members of the cannon crew suffered minor flash burns on one hand. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

RICHMOND, Va.– On Monday, Sept. 22, 2014, staff at Richmond National Battlefield Park discovered an unexploded artillery shell within the moat of a Confederate fortification known as Fort Gilmer in the park’s Fort Harrison Battlefield unit.

The site was being cleared in preparation for an interpretive tour of Fort Gilmer scheduled for the 150th anniversary of the fighting there.The park’s resource protection rangers responded and, with the assistance of the park historian, determined that it was a live cannonball with an intact fuse. Per the park’s live ordnance policy, the park contacted the County of Henrico Police Bomb Disposal Team, which responded. A 500-foot safety perimeter was established and the shell was safely removed and destroyed at the county’s firing range.

Park historians determined that the shell was a 12-lb explosive round, possibly used by Confederates at Fort Gilmer as one of several improvised hand grenades rolled down the side of the fort against Union soldiers from the 7th United States Colored Troops. The USCTs were part of a Union force moving against Gilmer in the latter phases of the Battle of Fort Harrison. The Confederate defensive effort had its desired effect. Of the 198 USCTs who began the attack against Fort Gilmer, only one returned safely. The other 197 were killed, wounded, or captured.

The shell was discovered just days before the park’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battles of New Market Heights and Fort Harrison, which includes action at Fort Gilmer.

Thoughts on the bomb

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Recently some construction workers who were demolishing the old neighborhood munitions plant stumbled upon some leftover product. Curious about the watermelon-sized canister, they pulled it out of the rubble to get a better look at it and noticed the word “warhead” stamped on the end.

It was time to call the bomb squad, although in doing so they missed an opportunity to finish up their job in record time. Military-grade ordnance can do in seconds what takes days with wrecking balls and earthmovers.

While authorities formulated a game plan, police babysat the bomb at the plant. This was good because the last thing you want is to have some local hoods jumping the fence and swiping it.

A few days later they roll it into a convenience store at one in the morning and demand to have the cash register opened.

“Hand over all the money. I’m not afraid to use this,” they shout.

“All we have is fifty dollars in change,” the clerk responds.

“OK, hand over all the money and a carton of smokes,” they say, effectively doubling their loot.

Then they roll the bomb out of the store and drive off. They light up to celebrate, and crime solves itself a few minutes later when they snuff out one of the stolen cigarettes on the warhead. It goes off leaving only a huge crater and smoldering roll of pennies.

As it turned out, the warhead was just a casing. It was never packed with explosives.