by Hap Rocketto
A lull in the firing, as I sat behind the line as a scorer during the 2005 Pershing Match, allowed my mind to part its moorings from the job at hand and drift into distant waters. Idle thoughts about the British lead me to recall how that particular race prized eccentricity. The characters that immediately popped into my empty mind were my favorite military eccentrics; Sir Richard Francis Burton, not the actor but rather the explorer, linguist, scholar, soldier, anthropologist, and prolific writer, Colonel Thomas Edward Lawrence, and Major General Orde Charles Wingate.
Burton is most famous for discovering the source of the Nile with his partner, John Hanning Speke, in 1858. Among the literati he is known as the man who translated the Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra into English. Strangely enough this brave man admitted to a fear of the dark and so, when he died in 1880, his wife Isabel prepared a stone tomb in tent-like form with a stained-glass window. The story of Burton’s expedition to the source of the Nile was made into a film, Mountains of the Moon, in 1990.
A few years after Burton died Thomas Edward Lawrence was born. Better known to the public as “Lawrence of Arabia” he became famous for his exploits as a British soldier and leader of the Arab Revolt during World War I. Later he enlisted in the ranks of the Royal Air Force under a false name until discovered and discharged. After all, he had been a colonel in 1918. He enlisted again, this time in the Tank Corps and succeeded in getting transferred back to the RAF where he served as a Leading Aircraftsman. He died, under what some consider mysterious circumstances, in a motor cycle accident in 1935. Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean’s epic cinematic treatment of Lawrence’s life was released in 1962.
Arthur Swinson wrote that Wingate, “…saw himself as a boot up the backside of Man. The fact that most of his ideas ran directly against those of his superiors did not worry him in the slightest.” His military background was in exploration, guerilla fighting, and intelligence operations. As a major stationed in Palestine in the 1930s Wingate helped train the early settlers in self defense. His unconventional military tactics were adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces and he became known simply as Hayedid-the Friend. His emphasis was on physical conditioning and today Israeli athletes train at the Wingate Institute in Tel Aviv. In 1940 he was sent to help the Ethiopian nationalists and direct their resistance against the Italians and he made use of the bluff, maneuver and unorthodox tactics which he pioneered in Palestine.
Wingate was an innovative, controversial, intense, and mercurial man. He commanded deep loyalty from his subordinates all the while resenting higher authority. A deeply religious man, he believed he was an instrument of a greater power, and that belief seemingly infused him with a mystic, almost fanatical quality. He died in the crash of a U.S. Army Air Corps B-25 while leading his men, the famous Chindits, in long range penetration missions against the Japanese in Burma. The remains of the crew and passengers were intermingled and buried in a common grave at the crash site but later moved to Arlington National Cemetery. Wingate is the second highest ranking of the 62 foreign nationals interred at Arlington. Unlike the other two British eccentric military men he is not the subject of a film.
Suffering from mental Brownian motion my thoughts then flitted to the film Lawrence of Arabia, for it had played a pivotal role in teaching a lesson to a young shooter a few weeks earlier. Lawrence, played by Peter O’Toole at his maniacal best, is showing Corporal William Potter a parlor trick, how to snuff out a burning match ever so slowly with one’s fingers without showing pain. A close up shows the match with Lawrence’s face the background. As his fingers close in on the flame and unhurriedly smother it there is not a whit of change in the look of intense concentration on Lawrence’s face. When Potter tries he drops the match with a howl and the following dialog occurs:
Potter: “Oh, it damn well hurts.”
Lawrence: “Certainly it hurts.”
Potter: “Well, what’s the trick, then?”
Lawrence: “The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.”
During a practice session prone in which we fired some 60 rounds straight through young Zach Smith was squirming and moaning and complaining as only a youngster unused to the discipline of the tight rifle sling can. When we finished he took off his glove, complaining that it had gone to sleep. He displayed, for all who cared to see-a precious small number of one, himself, I might add, the deep impressions left by the sling through his thick glove. He was looking for sympathy in the wrong place as he complained about the discomfort to me and the following conversation ensued, as you might expect.
Zach: “Oh, but my hand hurts awful bad!”
Hap: “Certainly it hurts but there is a trick to it not hurting.”
Zach: “Well, what’s the trick, then?”
Hap: “The trick, Zach Smith, is not minding that it hurts.”
Conquering discomfort in shooting is a combination of good training and, most importantly, mind over matter. If you don’t mind the discomfort it doesn’t matter.