St. Francis man finds live missile in bathroom wall

April 11, 2011

A week after she and her husband found a live bomb from the Korean War era in a bathroom wall of their home, St. Francis resident Sally Ann Wittman says the discovery now seems almost unreal.

Wittman’s 70-year-old husband, William, was doing some remodeling on a portion of the bathroom wall on April 5. Wittman was pulling out old insulation when he felt something in the wall, his wife said.

“I heard him say, ‘Oh my God, what the heck is this?’” Sally Ann, 60, said. “I walked in, and he was standing there with this thing in his hands.”

The small green missile, measuring 20 inches long with a 5-inch explosive head and four tail fins, was handed to her by her husband, then she walked outside and placed it on the grass next to a detached garage before calling police.

As she waited for police to arrive, Sally Ann said she was doing dishes in the kitchen when she saw a St. Francis police officer approach her yard in the 2000 block of East Leroy Avenue with extreme caution. The officer advised the Wittmans in no uncertain terms to evacuate the house immediately, as well as people living in the surrounding neighborhood.

With streets cordoned off in the residential area west of the Lake Parkway, it took a bomb squad from the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department two hours to arrive. The bomb was taken to the St. Francis Department of Public Works, where it was safely detonated. The blast was heard all over town.

“One person told me that when she heard the blast, her son came running out to see where it was coming from,” Wittman said. A salesman I talked to who was making a sale on the corner of Whitnall and Pennsylvania said he heard the blast five blocks away. It was loud enough like ‘What was that?’”

Another woman told Wittman that her mother, who was in Europe during World War II, had a flashback when she heard the blast. “When it went off, I started to tear up,” said Wittman, who works for the Catholic Herald. “It was just (feeling) like this could have been so much more serious.”

Wittman said when she set the bomb down on the grass, it happened to be pointing west, directly at the house of a neighbor who has a 1-1/2-year old toddler.

A neighbor told Sally Ann Wittman that the previous owner of the house was a World War II veteran, and that his sons also served in the Korean War.

“This neighbor told us they used to bring souvenirs back from the war, and they shared it and gave other neighbors stuff,” she said. “They had an old shell that was used to hold a door open.”

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