A 105-mm Howitzer weighs 4,980 pounds, supported by two long arms that stretch out in a V-shape behind the canon. Each arm — or “trail,” as the Army prefers to call it — is as heavy as a rodeo bull, enough to snap a human spine like a twig.
It takes four men, grunting and grimacing from the exertion, to lift each trail and reposition the weapon. On a spring day in 1964, three soldiers lost their grip.
“Everybody was cutting up and playing around,” as David Bell remembers the incident. “And the other guys just dropped it.”
He was a young private fresh out of boot camp and learning his way around a Howitzer at Fort Sill, 80 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.
The trail landed across his legs and lower back, trapping him underneath. His spine began to burn, as if his vertebrae had turned into hot coals under his skin. The other soldiers quickly lifted the weight off of him, and Bell walked away from the accident. But for the past 50 years — literally every waking moment since it happened, he says — he has been in pain.
Some days are better than others. And on the best days, he can almost — almost — forget that his back hurts. But other days — the majority of days — he can hardly think about anything else.
The back pain, however, isn’t what bothers him the most.