HARDLEY A MAN IS STILL ALIVE…
Miss Mowry was at the board writing, in a graceful Spenserian hand, our English assignment for us to copy. Ham handed as I was my cursive scribble resembled more of a rat’s nest in a fishing reel than her elegant script. It was an article of faith in my fifth grade class that Miss Mowry had eyes in the back of her head. One did not cavalierly transgress classroom rules. But, for some reason, the inkwell, set flush into the top center of my desk, had attracted my attention and my adolescent fascination with dipping my pen into it quickly drew the attention of the ever vigilant Miss Mowry.
Still facing the board and writing she said, “Mr. Rocketto! I hope you are not idle.
She caught me. I was not idle, but I certainly was not engaged in the task at hand and she knew it. My penance for being caught fooling with my pen was delivered swiftly. ”Knowing your love for history I think you might be the perfect candidate to be first to recite today’s assignment before the class, Tuesday next.
She had me there. The only subject in which I had earned an A was history. Most of the rest of my grades were five or six letters further down the alphabet. This was English but we were being required to memorize, and recite before the class, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride. It was a Revolutionary War historical tale with, as I was to learn later, more than a few inaccuracies.
The poem was based on the heroics of William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, Israel Bissell and Revere. The quartet set out from Boston to warn Sam Adams and John Hancock that British Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, at the head of ten elite light infantry and 11 grenadier companies, was marching on Concord to confiscate the colonial arms cache.
Revere was detained and taken into custody by the British in Lexington. Dawes escaped the British who arrested Revere but was thrown by his horse in the attempt and ended up arriving back in Lexington on ‘shank’s mare.’ Bissell reportedly rode all the way to Philadelphia, along the Old Boston Post Road, alerting the populace that the war had begun. Prescott was the only one to get through to Concord’s ‘rude bridge that arched the flood’ to warn the patriots.
The poem propelled the little know Boston silversmith to fame and the others to ignoble anonymity. No one knows why Longfellow singled the unsuccessful courier, my guess is because Revere is an easier rhyme than Dawes, Prescott, or Bissell.
On the other hand, maybe it was because Longfellow’s maternal grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, was Revere’s commander on Penobscot Expedition. The 44 ship colonial armada of 1779 was intended to wrest control of what is now mid-coast Maine from the British. Instead it became the United States’ worst naval disaster until Pearl Harbor. On such delicate bearings does great literature and history sometimes turn.
In mortal terror of Miss Mowry, I set to work memorizing the poem, which begins,
“Listen, my children, and you shall hearOf the midnight ride of Paul Revere,On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:Hardly a man is now alive Who remembers that famous day and year.”
The fifth line reflects the fact that poem was written on the verge of the Civil War and only a half dozen or so Revolutionary War veterans were known to be alive.
The line came back to me recently when the National Rifle Association announced that the primary NRA National Championships, Smallbore, Pistol, and High Power are to be consolidated at Camp Atterbury, Indiana in the summer of 2020. The last time all three were conducted at the same venue was in 2013 at Camp Perry, a run that began in 1953.
In the aftermath of World War II, the various National Championships were shot sporadically and scattered and across the country. Smallbore was at Perry in 1946 and 1947. The 1948 smallbore matches were invitational, open only to NRA Regional winners held at Marine Corps Base Quantico. The championship would move west to Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1949.
When North Korean troops poured across the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950 the National Championships were, understandably, cancelled. The match’s venue continued its westward movement reaching the Pacific in 1951, shooting’s Manifest Destiny if you will. They were contested at San Francisco’s 125 point Sharp Park Range, a municipal shooting facility located in the “City by the Bay.” Smallbore’s diaspora would mark its final year in 1952 at the Jacksonville, Florida Rifle Club’s sandy sundrenched punchbowl of a range. There competitors fought heat, mirage, and prop blast from at the adjacent Jacksonville Imeson Airport. The next year smallbore began a 60 year stay at Camp Perry that was broken only when smallbore was moved ”temporarily” to Bristol, Indiana, to accommodate the 2014 World Championship of Long Range Rifle Shooting.
When smallbore takes up residence at Camp Atterbury there will be competitors who will be able to claim that they have shot the National Championship at three different venues, Camp Perry, Bristol, and Atterbury. The last group that could make that claim were the veterans of the 1951, 52, and 53 national championships, but that was nearly 70 years ago.
It seems safe to say that paraphrasing Paul Revere’s Ride, hardly a man is still alive who remembers shooting at Quantico, Fort Dodge, San Francisco, Jacksonville, and Perry.