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Distinguished Knows No Rank

by Hap Rocketto

It is interesting to note that 34 general and flag officers account for 28 Rifle, eight Pistol, and three International Distinguished Badges. But only one officer who has worn stars earned the Badge after World War II, Commandant of the Marine Corps General David M. Shoup pinned on the Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge as a colonel in 1946.

It now seems that what was once a boost to an officer’s career, a prestigious appointment to a service or branch shooting team, the Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery, Engineers, or Air Service, at Camp Perry before the Second World War has now become a pothole on the road to the highest ranks.

There is no rank on the range and found this to be true when I was updating the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s Distinguished data base. Service shooters from the lowest enlisted rank to the highest field grade commissioned officer all have earned the Badge, many going on to great fame.

Second lieutenant John J. Pershing went Distinguished in 1891 and rose to be the second highest ranking officer in US military history as General of the Armies-only George Washington has a higher precedence number. Lyman Lemnitzer was Distinguished as a “shavetail” and ended his career as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Marine Second Lieutenant Thomas Holcomb became Commandant and the first Marine to don four stars. Second Lieutenant Oscar Westover was a major general when he headed the Army Air Corps.

First Lieutenant Hugh Casey became Douglas MacArthur’s chief engineer in the Pacific, retiring as a major general. Former First Lieutenant Joseph Mauborgne became a major general as Army Chief of Signals. Holger Toftoy earned his Distinguished Pistol Badge as a young lieutenant and retired as a major general, largely responsible for the early success of the Army’s missile program.

Perhaps the two greatest ascending shooting stars were Sergeant Courtney Hicks Hodges and Staff Sergeant Chester E. McCarty. Hodges wore four stars when he retired and McCarty, who earned his Badge in the Army, had had three on his epaulets when his career ended as an Air Force Officer.

Deep within my chest beats the heart of an enlisted man and I take pride in the many thousands of fellow private soldiers and non commissioned soldires who are Distinguished. They rank from private to sergeant major but I truly treasure the grades held by the men who earned the Badge in the eras of the .45-70, Krag, and ’03. Those were the days when the cavalry rode, fed, and curried horses. Aeroplanes were covered with doped canvas and had open cockpits and wooden propellers. There was no mechanization; the infantry walked. They held specific positions to the branch. The Cavalry had Trumpeters, Musicians, Saddlers, Farriers, and Blacksmiths. Other branches had Artificers, Cooks, Chief Engineers, Quartermaster, Commissary and Ordnance Sergeants and even a General Service Messenger.

Most of the early Distinguished shooters were privates, private first class-the so called “high private’-corporal, and sergeants. There were a smattering of Staff, Technical, and First Sergeants with an occasional Master Sergeant and Sergeant Major. But, it was mostly the lowest grades, not unusual at a time in an army so small it might take two or three enlistments to earn a set of stripes, who did the shooting.

For them it was more than just pride in the most basic of military skills. It was financial. When money was available from a tight fisted Congress qualifying as Sharpshooter or Expert meant three or five dollars more a month. It was big money in the years when a private earned 21 dollars a month. The pay allowed the genteelly destitute soldier an extra bag of Bull Durham and rolling papers, a few extra nickel beers, or a handful of ten cent tickets for a turn with a favorite “Taxi” dancer at the local dance hall.

The many men and women, commissioned and non-commissioned, who can truly be called Distinguished when referring to both their skill with the service arm and military career are, by and large enlisted, reminding me of an incident I observed as a young sergeant. We were shooting the All Army Championship in the mid 1970s. It was hot and humid as only Fort Benning can be in the early summer. A group of retirees and their wives were observing the matches at Easley Range, named in honor of Distinguished Marksman Brigadier General Claudius, “Spec” Miller Easley, killed directing fire on Okinawa on June 19, 1945.

We had just finished the 600 yard line and were stripping off our heavy leather shooting coats and sodden sweatshirts, wiping our brows, and downing huge draughts of cool water when a retirees’ wife asked the shooter next to me, a soldier of many years, stripes, and experience, the likes of a Jack Hider, Arpad Tamas, or maybe Earl Waterman, a question.

“Sergeant,” she said. “It is frightfully hot and humid today and you look about done in. Is this really fun?”

The old soldier, his short dark hair ironed flat by sweat and his hat, looked at her, capped his canteen, wiped a few errant drops of water from his chin with the back of his hand, smiled, and replied, “It must be fun Ma’am. They let the officers do it.”

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Category: Hap's Corner

About the Author: Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career, pronematch.com.

Comments (14)

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  1. Sid Martin says:

    Great article! Thanks for writing it. I loved the last paragraph.

  2. Hap says:

    Sid,

    Thank you for the compliment.

    I have to update that piece as I have found two other flag/general officers who earned the Badge after WWII, Rear Admiral Joel D. Sipes, USCG and Brigadier General Eddie Newman, IANG.

    Regards,

    Hap

    • Jeff Sipes says:

      Earning the Distinguished Badge was an accomplishment that my father sincerly valued. Of all his many achievements, it was always one he talked about most.

      • Hap Rocketto says:

        Jeff,

        By odd coincidence one of the reasons I am tardy in replying to your comment is that I have a part time volunteer position helping out US Coast Guard Academy Head Shooting Sports Coach Rick Hawkins.

        It is quite a compliment that your father thought so much of his Badge considering his distinguished Coast Guard career. Reaching flag rank in such a small service as the Coast Guard is a rare accomplishment in itself.

        Regards,

        Hap

    • steve kern says:

      Just jumping in to send you a note.

      Sent pictures of my much modified Morgan 21, (previously owned by Kermit Montross) to Art Jackson.

      (I had long ago promised Art to do this.)

      Don’t know how well Art is doing these days, but hope he enjoyed the pictures.?

      • Peter Montross says:

        Sir,

        Kermit Montross was my dad and I know the Morgan you own. Quite a rifle. I fired it many times as a youngster. Not as well as my dad I might add, but well enough. Many memories I have of his shooting career and that particular gun. Would you be willing to forward the pictures to me?

        Peter J Montross, Roseville CA.

        pmontross@surewest.net

  3. steve whitmore says:

    Jap Ever see/hear of a Distinguished badge for the BAR? I have a circa1944 National Geographic that shows one with the rest of the badges. Have never been able to find anything else about it at all. Rattle used to allow 1 BAR per squad long ago and I’ve always wondered if that was the qualifier. Now that would be a badge to own

  4. steve whitmore says:

    Hap, Forgot to mention that there was also a picture of a Distinguished badge for aerial gunner and I don’t have a clue what that entailed. Thanks for the history as I too have earned Distinguished , President’s, and Chief’s 50 with a rifle.
    Question: I once shot with a civilian from Oregon in the National Trophy that had a bad 300 and was so upset that this might be his only time to ever come to the Nationals. After talking with him, he disclosed he’d made the President’s cut the previous day. I told him you’re still going home with the better prize as there are lots of Distinguished Riflemen who never get the tab and for Army personnel it’s really important as you get to display it on fatigues. You can go Distinguished at home but Perry is the only place to get the Presidents so cheer up, there’s lots of shooters that would gladly exchange places with you. Was I right?

  5. Hammer says:

    There is one other Post WWII General Officer who is Distinguished and he’s still serving.
    Major General James S. Hartsell USMCR, Distinguished Pistol Shot 1992. Currently assigned to US Pacific Command.

    • Hammer says:

      His Command Photo on the PACOM Website shows his USMC Distinguished Pistol Badge and his Marine Corps Match Pistol Team Badge. He was captain of the Parris Island Pistol Team that competed at the 1990 USMC Eastern Division Matches and he went on to be a team member on the USMC Pistol Team in 1990. Went Distinguished in 1992 and as far as I can tell is the first Marine General Officer to be Distinguished since Gen David Shoup retired in 1964 as Commandant of the Marine Corps.

  6. Hap Rocketto says:

    Hammer,

    You are correct.

    The Hartsell family has just contacted me and he has been added to the General/Flag Officer list in the 14th revision of the history.

    To the best of my knowledge on five general officers have earned Distinguished since the end of WWII. Marine pistol shots Shoup and Hartsell, Coast Guard rear admirals Sipes and Castillo,and
    New Mexico National Guard general Hedgecoke.

    The history was conceived as a living document to be added to and updated as appropriate. It is due for an update to cover all of the changes in the civilian end over the past few years.

    Best,

    Hap

    • MajGen Hartsell, USMC says:

      Hap – As far as I know, I’m the only Distinguished General/Flag Officer who is currently still serving on Active Duty and I want to personally say how much I appreciate the efforts you put into this research. Bravo Zulu Sir!

  7. Hap Rocketto says:

    Opps!

    Six-I forgot Iowa’s General Newman.

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