FORT DRUM, NY -- When the New York Army National Guard's 1st Battalion 258th Field Artillery fired its new high-tech howitzers for the first time last week, 93-year old Olean resident Charlie Brown was one of those pulling the trigger.
Brown, a World War II veteran, served with the 258th Field Artillery during that war. A member of the battalion's headquarters company, Brown landed with the unit on the Normandy Beaches in July 1944 and fought his way with the unit into central Germany in May of 1945.
On May 23, he watched the 21st Century artillerymen go through their paces, and he also got to fire a round himself, pulling the cord which fires the cannon.
"It was exciting. It sure does bring back memories. I can recall when we were firing at the enemy," Brown said.
Brown's service included five European battle stars for the battalion's 302 days in combat and the crossing of nine rivers on his path from Utah Beach in Normandy on his way towards Berlin.
He kept notes on his service, including the fact that the battalion fired 33,902 eight-inch artillery rounds during the war, and turned that information over to the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs.
Lt. Col. Pete Mehling, the commander of the 1st Battalion 258th Field Artillery, which had units in New York City and New Windsor, was so impressed with Brown that he invited him to be part of the battalion's annual training which concludes this week at Fort Drum.
The battalion is fielding a battery of M777A2 towed howitzers that are the latest thing in U.S. Army field artillery. The new cannon uses built-in computers and GPS systems to ensure greater accuracy and faster firing, and is constructed partially of titanium so it can be moved easily and quickly by trucks and helicopters.
The new cannon can fire 155 millimeter artillery shells that can be guided using GPS coordinates.
"We're a much more lethal battalion than we were," Mehling said.
The battalions Charlie Company spent the two week training period doing hands on training with the new howitzers.
When Brown served, the battalion fired eight-inch self-propelled howitzers. These guns could fire indirectly at enemy formations with a range of up to 12.5 miles.
They were also often used in a close support, direct fire role to blast enemy fortifications.
The 21st Century howitzers, in contrast, have a range of 22 miles and are capable of pin-point accuracy using guided munitions.
One other difference between the 258th Field Artillery in 1945 and the 258th Field Artillery in 2018 is that the unit now has female Soldiers. Female gunners and female officers are now part of the battlion.
Brown watched throughout that day as the cannons fired, and he shared stories of his war. He greeted soldiers and spoke with Major General Steven Ferrari, the commander of the 42nd Infantry Division.
The reception he received was very emotional for him, Brown said.
"What really amazed me was seeing all these guys cheer for me," he added. "I have tears seeing (the soldiers) here."
"Being in the 258th Field Artillery is special," Brown said."I lived a good life, and maybe it was because I was in the 258th," he said.