BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
A Vermilion County man found a surprise Wednesday among his load of scrap metal.
The University of Illinois bomb squad was called by local law enforcement around 6:40 p.m. Wednesday to a home in Catlin.
University of Illinois Police Deputy Director Skip Frost said a man in his 80s had been collecting scrap metal in his pick up truck for several days. On Wednesday, the man was sorting through the metal when he discovered a Japanese mortar round dating back to World War II.
Frost said the round was taken to an open area where the bomb squad used a counter charge to detonate it. Frost said indications from the blast were that the round was still live.
“They are big enough charges to do a variety of damage,” Frost said. “They are anti-personnel devices. They were designed to incapacitate human beings.”
He said the rounds are sensitive to heat, shock and friction. In an enclosed area, the blast would do a lot of damage and a detonation in the man’s pickup truck would have turned the load of metal into deadly shrapnel.
This is the third time in four years that the bomb squad had handled potentially dangerous old military explosives. In 2009, a grenade was dug out of a yard along Warrington Avenue. In 2011, the bomb squad detonated an old grenade that had been tampered with and filled with black powder.
According to Frost, situations involving aged military explosives are relatively commonplace for the bomb squad.
“This is something we deal with quite a bit,” he said. “Grenades and mortar rounds are kept as souvenirs. What happens is someone passes on and the family finds it when going through their items.”
The incident in Catlin was actually the second old military device the squad detonated on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, a resident in Douglas County came across an old military explosive and drove it to that county’s sheriff’s department.
Frost stressed that anyone that finds what they to believe to an explosive device should not touch it, pick it up or move it in any way.