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When I am dead and opened…

by Hap Rocketto

Calais lies just 21 miles across la Manche from the White Cliffs of Dover. The closest French territory to England, it was annexed by Edward III in 1347, and would remain an important English economic entity for the next two centuries for it gave the “Sceptered Isle” entry to Europe and its important wool, lace, tin, and lead trades.

After his victory at the Battle of Crécy Edward invested Calais, laying siege for 11 months before the city fell. As was the custom in those days Edward ordered the population put to the sword but magnanimously offered to spare them if any six of Calais’ most prominent citizens would surrender to be executed. When the men duly appeared, nooses about their necks and the keys to the city and castle in hand, Edward’s queen, Philippa, begged him to be merciful, which he was. Today Les Bourgeois de Calais, one of the Auguste Rodin’s most famous sculptures, stands in front of Calais’ hôtel de ville as a monument to the six burghers’ bravery and selflessness.

The act of mercy was immediately followed by Edward’s draconian order to evacuate all of the French from Calais. They were quickly replaced with English citizens who established it as a base for commercial interests.

Calais became so English that the merchant prince and politician Dick Whittington, the real-life inspiration for the English folk tale of Dick Whittington and His Cat, served simultaneously as Lord Mayor of London and Mayor of Calais in 1407.

During the course of the 117 year long, and incorrectly named, Hundred Years War, England defended, lost regained, and eventually again lost all of its French possessions save Calais. In spite of this give and take the situation on the continent seemed so quiet that the English, thinking the French were not particularly hostile, were lulled into a state of false security. Much to the shock of the English, Francis, duc de Guise, aware of the situation, took two things; notice that the Calais garrison was neglected and then Calais.

The last English possession in Europe, Calais, fell quietly to the French on January 7, 1558.

The loss was a great blow to the English psyche and pride. It is reported that when heralds reached Queen Mary with the news she mournfully told her retinue that, “When I am dead and opened, you will find ‘Calais’ lying in my heart’. The possibility of proving the truth of her sentiment was not long in coming for Mary died on November 17, just 303 days after her proclamation of loss. There is no record of the royal undertaker making any attempt to do any extracurricular cardiac reading while carrying out his official duties so the truth of Mary’s statement will never be known.

Just as Mary took Calais to her heart Camp Perry occupies a special place in the hearts of competitive shooters. But, for smallbore shooters the comfort that comes with shooting at Camp Perry has been shattered by the forced move to Bristol, Indiana for the 2014 and 2015 championships.

The reason to displace smallbore to accommodate the 2015 Long Range World Championship and Palma Match is solid and no one disputes the need. It is just that the uncomfortable possibility of never returning to Perry hanging in the air has many smallbore shooters on edge.

The Wa’Ke’De Range is an excellent facility. It was readily apparent that the St. Joseph Valley Rifle and Pistol Association did a great deal of pre-match and behind the scenes work to have the range in excellent condition for the match.

Wa’Ke’De provided the position shooters with friendlier wind conditions than found at Camp Perry thus allowing them to better display their shooting skills. The prone shooters found conditions different from Camp Perry, but just as challenging.The match ran smoothly, it was more intimate, but it was lacking the trappings and elegance of a national championship that have made Camp Perry a very special place.

Under the shadow of the war clouds of 1941, the National Matches were reduced in size and scope and limited to just Pistol and Smallbore Rifle. Thirty caliber ammunition was scarce and Camp Perry was being increasingly used for troop training. The NRA investigated alternate sites and rejected them concluding that, “…only Camp Perry itself can furnish the atmosphere as well as the accommodations for the Nationals as they have come to be known.” That statement is no less true today than it was three quarters of a century ago.

What is so special about a flat grass field on the shores of Lake Erie? What would bring apparently levelheaded people across the country to wrap themselves in sweatshirt and shooting coat, harnessed like a mule, and to suffer the excessive heat and humidity while laying on the dew dampened grass for a week? It could only be the shared Camp Perry experience. For the better part of a century men and women have made the long trip, from all parts of the United States, because Camp Perry is not just a shooting match: Camp Perry is a state of mind.

All of this being said, please understand that I am a committed, die-hard competitor and, though my heart is set on returning to Camp Perry in 2016, I will shoot the national championships regardless of location.

But, to paraphrase Queen Mary, “When I am dead and opened, you will find ‘Camp Perry’ lying in my heart.’

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.

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