PICKLED PEPPERS, PILOTS, AND PISTOL POTSHOTS…
There are two major events that occur on consecutive days in early October each year in the United States. On the first Monday in October the Supreme Court of the United States traditionally convenes following its summer recess.
Overshadowing this judicial event is the annual Abe Rocketto Memorial Service Pistol Match, on the first Sunday in October, a gathering of pistol shooters at the Quaker Hill Rod and Gun Club. The event is open to any general issue service pistol or replica from any country and any era, provided it is in original issued condition.
Like the Supreme Court there are oral arguments. In this case it is to the suitability of a pistol for competition but, unlike the Supreme Court, there is only one justice to render an impartial decision and his word is law. The match has seen a myriad of service pistols pulled out of the dusty dark corners of closets and gun safes to appear on the line The Beretta M9, black powder Schofields and Remingtons, Tokarovs, Nagants, Makarovs, Nambus, Radoms, Webleys, Mausers, P38s, DMWs, and Smith and Wessons come to mind quickly.
About the only military handgun that has not yet shown up is the stamped sheet metalFP-45/M1942 ‘Liberator.’ There is no doubt that as soon as someone acquires one it will be on the line to be ogled over by the military pistol cognoscenti.
The venerable Colt 1911, in its various iterations, is the most popular pistol used and the most honored of these is Abe’s Gun. The somewhat holster worn, and slightly battered, slab sided 45, the Old Man’s personal sidearm, has appeared in every match since the late Steve Schady inaugurated the event some 15 or 16 years ago. All participants are invited to shoot a reentry with the historic piece and most have.
The match consists of 30 record shots fired in three stages; ten shots slow fire in 10 minutes, ten shots timed fire in two five shot string strings of 20 seconds each, and ten shots Duel-ten target exposures of five seconds each. There are no alibis, but for range alibis, and unlimited re-entries are permitted and encouraged. However, each re-entry must be fired with a different pistol. Most competitors bring generous amounts of ammunition for their guns so that collegial swapping around is quite frequent.
The match is followed by a traditional holiday picnic featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, Tony Goulart’s hot pickled peppers, and Mother Goulart’s deservedly famous potato salad. As the competitors refresh themselves with food and drink, they convivially swap loading information, the history of their guns, and tales of pistol daring do-some of which may even be true.
At a recent match we were munching on our lunches as the subject of the 1911 came up, as it often does. In response one of the guys pulled out his wallet and extracted a folded page from an old Air Force Magazine.Carefully unfolding it and called out, “Ya gotta hear this.”
He related that the magazine reported that on March 31, 1943 a Lieutenant Owen J. Baggett USAAF, was stationed in India serving as a B-24 bomber pilot on a mission to destroy a railroad bridge near Pyinmana, Burma. His plane took heavy fire from attacking Japanese A6M Zero fighters and he and his crew was forced to bail out of the crippled aircraft.
The Japanese pilots attacked the parachuting men, killing some and grazing Baggett’s arm with a 7.7mm bullet. The pilot who fired upon Baggett circled around for a second look at Baggett who was playing possum, hanging in his harness as if dead.
As the Japanese pilot flew within a few feet of the limp man in the parachute he throttled back, pulled his nosed up to further reduce his airspeed, and slid back his canopy to get a better look. At that moment Baggett pulled out his M1911A1 and fired four rounds at the plane. Much to Baggett’s surprise, and I am sure that of the pilot, the Zero, already in a most precarious state of flight close to the ground, stalled, spun, and crashed.
After landing Baggett was soon captured and sent to a POW camp near Singapore where the harsh daily struggle to survive as a prisoner under the Japanese quickly pushed the incident to the back of his mind. One day a fellow prisoner, Colonel Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group, casually mentioned that a Japanese colonel had told him about a Japanese pilot who had been shot down and thrown clear of a crashed Zero in the area of Pyinmanaon March 31st. He was found dead with a single bullet wound to the head.
Had Baggett’s case come up before the Justices of the United States Supreme Court on the first Monday in October they might well rule that there is not enough substantial evidence to confirm that Baggett did, indeed, shoot down a Japanese fighter plane with a 1911A1.
On the other hand, their clerks may not have read, or even been familiar with, the precedent established on the first Sunday in October by the pistol packing jurists at the Abe Rocketto Memorial Service Pistol Match. They unanimously opined that the tale had to be true based on two factors. The first is that there wascorroborating evidence, no matter how flimsy, from disinterested parties. The second? The tale fell into the well established legal doctrine of it had to be true because you just can’t make up this kind of stuff.