Hap’s Corner Classics

The December 2023 Haps’ Corner was the last of the original articles written by the late Harold “Hap” Rocketto. Hap had two and a half years of unpublished articles when he passed back in July 2021. Pronematch.com is grateful to have the complete works of Hap’s Corners. Starting on January 1, 2024 pronematch.com will publish Hap’s Classics. These are articles previously published by other organizations but have not been published on pronematch.com.

The January 1, 2024 Hap’s Classic is the first ever Hap’s Corner published.

We hope you continue to enjoy Hap’s Corner.

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THE FIRST HAP’S CORNER-A DISTINGUISHED ARTICLE…

In 1965, The National Rifle Association established a series of Distinguished Rifleman awards modeled after those awarded to service rifle and pistol shooters.  In many respects it is one of the best-kept secrets in smallbore competition.  The details are listed in the final pages of the NRA Smallbore Rule Book.  Earning this award brings to the shooter self-satisfaction as well as a number of more intrinsic awards.  Upon earning the title Distinguished the NRA issues a medallion, brassard, and a lapel pin.  In addition, the shooter’s name is added to a trophy plaque that is displayed in the NRA Awards Room, located in the arcade at Camp Perry.  Several Rhode Island shooters have their names engraved on those plaques.  It is worth taking a few moments in your hectic Perry schedule to visit the trophy room.

A shooter must earn four ‘steps’ to be eligible for distinguished.  No more than two ‘steps’ may be earned in any one-year.  A ‘step’ certificate is awarded when a shooter places in the top ten percent of the competitors in an open regional, The National Indoor Rifle Championship, and the National Outdoor Rifle Championship.  An additional requirement is that at least one ‘step’ must be earned at the National Outdoor Championships.

There are Distinguished awards for both prone and position shooting.  While both awards are not easy to earn, the prone award appears to be harder.  The plaque for prone shooters is not yet full, while the position shooters have filled one plaque, and started on another.  There are fewer than 200 shooters total who have earned the honor of Distinguished Smallbore Rifleman.  Of that number some have earned both.  There are not a lot of “Double Distinguished” in the Smallbore ranks, but “Spike” Hadley of Rhode Island is one of that select few.

Goals are important to shooters.  They help them develop and improve.  Earning one of these awards is a lofty and worthwhile goal for any serious competitor.  If you want the thrill of seeing your name on a trophy, with the likes of Olympians and other shooting greats such as Art Cook, Walt Tomsen, Lones Wigger, Jack Foster, Lanny Bassham, and Margaret Murdock, then you can.

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UNLIKE LAVOISIER I DID NOT LOSE MY HEAD…

They were the Mutt and Jeff of the New London High School science department. Chemistry teacher Solomon Gordon was short round and placid while A. Jerome Goodwin, who taught physics, was tall, spare, and sharp. I had more in common with Mr. Gordon, height, shape, and religion, than I did with the Swamp Yankee Mr. Goodwin but, when faced with choosing a required science course in my senior year, I elected to take physics. While I would have been more comfortable with Mr. Gordon, chemistry is conceptual and invisible On the other hand the classical physics taught by Mr. Goodwin was mechanics and visible.

Two years earlier I was in my sophomore year and found myself in Miss Maura Sullivan’s  Modern European History class. She was no nonsense, demanding, and no one’s fool. I found that out when I tried when I tried to bamboozle her with my esoteric, yet disorganized, cornucopia of historical knowledge on the essay questions on my first test.

The test grade, a B- which brought a smile, was on the first page. The grin quickly turned to a grimace when I looked a page two and saw a neatly printed note in red ink, “Mr. Rocketto, see me!” My classmates went off to lunch while I sat in a straight backed chair next to her desk and subjected to the most terrifying interrogation of my young life.

Miss Sullivan began by telling me she thought I was a bright young man with a broad and deep knowledge of history, a positive start which sparked a brief silent sigh of relief. Then the other shoe dropped. Seeing right through me she went on to accurately note that I was disorganized, lazy, and lacked academic discipline. She told me I had great potential and would not put up with any slackness on my part and if she saw any after this little chat, woe betide me.

I left the room under her spell for she was one of the great motivators and teachers I ever had. She may have regretted the conversation because for the next two years I was sitting in her classroom for two classes every day, Ancient History, United States History, World History, and The Renaissance to the French Revolution. In all I spent a quarter of my high school years in her classroom.

Some years later I found myself as the department head of a high school science department. One of my annual tasks was to assign teacher’s course assignments, which I did based on each teacher’s interest, student request, and the exigencies of the schedule. I tried to be as fair as I could, but I selfishly used my position to avoid teaching chemistry. My perfidy was guided by something I had read in Miss Sullivan’s Modern European History class when studying Victorian England. Historian and moralist John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton,commented that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. One year it was impossible, and I found myself facing 30 students and a 190 days of tackling a course which I had no real background in or interest in teaching.

Making the best of the situation I boned up on the Periodic Table, atoms and molecules, states of matter, chemical reactions, solutions, gases, acids and bases, atomic and electronic structure, and a whole host of other boring things chemical.

But a funny thing happened during the first class in September. As I taught the subject I had avoided in high school I swear the shade of Miss Sullivan appeared to me and I unconsciously began to mix history I learned in her classes with my chemistry lessons. It was not planned but, like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Topsy, it “growed.” While I covered the essentials of chemistry my lessons were more like a history of the discipline.

One of my best days was discussing the father of modern chemistry, the French chemist Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier. It combined my love of history and shooting with my miniscule knowledge of chemistry and it was a tour d’force. His major claim to fame was changing chemistry from qualitative to quantitative. Among other things he named hydrogen and also oxygen and the role they play in combustion, and discovered that, although matter may change its form or shape, its mass always remains the same. Lavoisier also helped construct the metric system, although I am convinced that the only interest we have in the United States in the International System of Units is 9mm.

Lavoisier’s research into combustion gained him a seat on France’s Gunpowder Commission where he succeeded in producing better gunpowder b developing  improved methods of granulating it, ensuring the homogeneity of the components, sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter-the mention of which  drew its fair share of hardly concealed snickers from the more worldly wise of my students-and thereby increasing its supply,

During that time, a young Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours was a student of his at the Régie des poudres, the government agency responsible for the manufacture of gunpowder, Dupont would later say that the Du Pont gunpowder mills in the United States “would never have been started but for his kindness to me.”

In spite of his dedication to France, Lavoisier, had deep associations with the old political and social system, the Ancien Régime, andfell afoul of the French Revolution which had recently and violently overthrown it. Lavoisier was brought before a tribunal and convicted, without hearing or trial, of having plundered the treasury of France and of adulterating the nation’s tobacco with water. He quickly found himself with arms bound behind him, standing on a tumbrel, bound for the Place de la Révolution, and a date with le Rasoir National.

Eighteen months after he was guillotined Lavoisier was exonerated. His personal effects were delivered to his widow Marie Anne with a brief note reading “To the widow of Lavoisier, who was falsely convicted.”

I like to think that when I delivered that lesson Miss Sullivan was looking down on me from the Great Teachers’ Room In The Sky with a slight smile of triumph and self- satisfaction for setting me right. As she sipped her coffee I have no doubt that she looked across the table at Mr. Gordon and Mr. Goodwin and, with a twinkle in her eye, winked.

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CHURCHILL, WESTMINSTER COLLEGE, AND INTERNATIONAL PRONE MATCHES…

It was early March of 1967 when my brother Steve arrived home after a cross country drive from Las Cruces, New Mexico. He was working for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and was being reassigned to its station in Arequipa, Peru, and was taking some home leave before heading south.

During his stay he entertained the family with his travel travails and adventures, one of which was to be in Hannibal, Missouri on the night Hal Holbrook’s one man show Mark Twain Tonight, portraying Hannibal’s most famous native son, was televised. He did not get to Hannibal and was disappointed. Had he not stopped in Fulton, Missouri on the way he might have made it.

Asked why he made a side trip when he had a goal he replied that it was in Fulton, at Westminster College, where Winston Churchill had delivered his Sinews of Peace speech on March 5, 1946. Behind a massive podium the on gymnasium’s stage he delivered the lines, “From Stettin on the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.’

He also made multiple pointed references to the ‘special relationship’ and the ‘fraternal relationship’ with two ‘kindred systems of society’ that existed between the United States and most of the English speaking nations of the world which share common cultural and historical ties to Great Britain.

English writer George Orwell had earlier noted the enmity between the post World War II superpowers and, in his 1945 essay You and the Atom Bomb, used the term Cold War to describe the hostility, without armed conflict, which existed between the Eastern and Western super powers and their spheres of influence. With the post World War II political situation as it was Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” became the metaphor for the division of Europe during the nearly half century of Cold War.

At the time I was in my last semester at Mitchell College, a local two year junior college, where I was undergoing academic rehabilitation after a less than stellar high school performance. My desk was piled high with college catalogs as I searched for a place to continue my education. I was looking for a small liberal arts college within a day’s drive from home, but Steve had piqued my curiosity about Westminster and so I wrote away for a catalog.

When it arrived I poured over the catalog and found the school had much to recommend itself to me. It offered a wide variety of majors, was small, about 600 men, and tuition was within my family’s income. It also had a grading and comprehensive examination system that would allow me the greatest academic freedom. Each student was required to pass six comprehensive examinations in order to graduate, English, mathematics, foreign language, history, hard science, and social science. Once a ‘comp’ was passed the student was no longer required to take courses in that discipline allowing him to explore the wide world of academia at his leisure, as long as 128 credit hours were accumulated. Additionally all grades were pass/fail.

I applied, was accepted, and, with my parents’ blessing, I followed Horace Greeley exhortation, “Go West, young man!” It was the turning point in my life, I flourished. Like fellow New Englander Daniel Webster speaking of his alma mater Dartmouth College, I say of Westminster, ”It is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet, there are those who love it.”

After graduation I worked as a substitute teacher at my old high school, did a cruise in the Navy, joined the Connecticut Army National Guard’s Rifle Team, returned to graduate school, started my teaching career, got married, had kids, and began writing about shooting.

Although I have managed to acquire a few shooting trinkets I am best, fairly, and honestly  described as a journeyman, a rifleman who is reliable but not outstanding. However, my efforts to document the history of shooting and its many colorful characters has gained me entry into the more exalted ranks of the shooting community.

As such I have been honored to be appointed an official to almost every major conventional prone United States shoulder to shoulder and postal international rifle team. Only a position on the all women’s Randle Team has been denied me and that is, I suspect, because I am not the correct gender.

By this time you are asking, “What has all of this babbling about Churchill and Westminster College got to do with shooting?” It seems that all of the major conventional prone international  matches: Pershing, Roberts, Dewar, Randle, Wakefield, and Drew, have two things in common. Each of the competing nations, with the exception of the United States, a former colony, are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Secondly, the Commonwealth nations of Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand, and South Africa have no official language. Even though each nation has  developed their own national variations the de facto language is English

What Churchill alluded to in a more serious vein, the unity of the English speaking people, has been realized on the greenswards of rifle ranges since the first shot was fired in the inaugural 1909 Lord Dewar International Rifle Team Match. It may well be that nations participating in these matches are divided by a common language, but they are united by a love of a common sport.

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FIVE BEANS IN THE WHEEL…

After a morning’s shooting we were idling over the remains of  lunch on the back deck of my bother Steve’s home and regaling two neophytes, Ryan McKee and Matt Joiden, with our early adventures and misadventures on the road to Distinguished.

Many years ago Steve was working for the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. At the time in question he stationed in Las Cruces, New Mexico and, as a perpetual student, was taking some courses at New Mexico State University. He somehow got hooked up with the schools Reserve Officer Training Corps and managed to wangle a rifle and ammunition our of them to shoot in what was the first match in which he used the M-14.

He showed up at that match and managed to get through the 200 yard standing stage without causing too much harm. He was unfamiliar with the nuances of the course of fire with this rifle, having only shot rapid fire with bolt gun previously. He knew he had to perform a reload in the rapid fire stage, so he charged his first magazine with nine rounds and loaded the singleton into the second. His logic was that if he fumbled the reload he would only risk a single shot. The targets went up and he dropped down into sitting and blasted away nine rounds before reloading and getting off his final shot.

When the smoke had cleared he heard a voice over his shoulder saying, “Son, you must be new at this. You did reload but the rules require it to be two and eight.” Memory has it that it was Roy Dunlap, Author of  Ordnance Went Up Front and one the cutting edge gunsmiths of the day, who gave Steve one of his first coaching sessions in high power.

My reload story had to do with inserting the wrong magazine in a 300 yard rapid match. I flopped into  position as the targets popped out of the pits and squeezed off my first two shots. I then pulled the magazine to reload and to my horror realized I had started with my eight round magazine as a round was stripped out and fell onto my mat.

Not wanting to be disqualified for a reload violation I grabbed the deuce and snapped it in and racked to bolt back to load the first round, sending the round in the chamber to join the loose one on my mat. I fired off the two rounds, reloaded and fired the first magazine which now held four rounds. I then felt around for the two rounds on the matt and loaded them singly. Somehow I managed to get all ten rounds down range into the target before it was pulled. My bemused scorekeeper neatly recorded all ten shots, signed the scorecard, and handed it to me barely containing his amusement.

The evolution of loading for rapid fire developed over time. The first US service rifles arms flintlock and cap lock muzzle loading guns. In those days, a good soldier could shoot,  according to Richard Sharpe of the 95th Rifles, fire three rounds a minute in any weather. That would remain the standard until the introduction of the metallic cartridge and the single shot breech loading 1873 Trapdoor Springfield where  the average rate of fire was eight  rounds per minute for new recruits and 15 rounds per minute for experienced soldiers.

The first bolt action rifle to be adopted was the M1892 Krag-Jorgensen Rifle. This five shot magazine fed rifle had a rate of fire of 20 to 30 rounds per minute. It did not enjoy a long service life, being replaced in 1903, and its fame came in the Philippines where it was immortalized in a marching song that said in part, “Underneath the starry flag, civilize them with a Krag, and return us to our beloved homes.”

The United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903, a variant of the German Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle, replaced the Krag. The ’03 was popular and reached its pinnacle as the 1903 National Match Rifle, perhaps the most accurate bolt action service rifle ever made. The five shot internal box magazine was loaded from the top by stripper clips and the average soldier or marine could fire 15 well aimed rounds per minute out to a 1,000 yards.

The ’03 was replaced in 1936 with the semiautomatic U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1, the Garand. Fed by an eight round En Bloc clip the rifle could spit out 40-50 rounds per minute. The introduction of the M1 into competition caused some head scratching among rule makers where ten shot strings were the standard, loaded five rounds at a time. How do you establish a level playing field for an eight shot rifle and a five shot rifle? After much discussion it was decided to have the M1s load two and eight, meaning both the bolt and semiautomatic competitors would each have a reload.

The conversation then wandered into loading pistols and revolvers. Since 1911 a magazine fed semiautomatic pistol has been the regulation US military sidearm. As far safety is concerned, conventional wisdom is that a 1911 pistol that has been loaded, cocked and the manual safety engaged is safe to carry. “Cocked and locked” gives many folks the willies as the cocked hammer appears ready to strike at any time. 

This situation is similar to safe handling of the US Army’s standard sidearm between 1873-1892, “The Gun That Won the West,” the six shot M1973 Colt Single Action Army Revolver. The SAA’s firing pin protrudes from the hammer. When the hammer is down on a loaded cartridge it is nearly touching the primer and all it takes to fire a shot is  it a hard strike. To prevent such an accident it was common practice to have the hammer resting on an empty chamber. This was accomplished by first bringing the hammer to half cock, opening the loading gate, checking that all six chambers were empty, and loading one round, skipping the next chamber, and the loading the next four chambersand then letting the hammer down gently on the empty chamber.

 

While it was no longer a six shooter an SAA so loaded was a safer firearm for both user and bystander and, in that condition, was described as having five beans in the wheel.

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A CANTERBURY TALE…

Courtier Geoffrey Chaucer served England’s King Richard II as his Controller of Customs, Justice of Peace, and Clerk of the King’s Work between 1387 and 1400. In his spare time he penned his classic, The Canterbury Tales.

The 24 stories of the Tales begin with the Middle English prologue, “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.” which translates into “When April with its sweet-smelling showers, Has pierced the drought of March to the root.” The lines have much meaning to me as twice a year, usually in April and October I would make the pilgrimage to Canterbury accompanied by my brother Steve and, on occasion, Jay Sonneborn, Charlie Adams, or Shawn Carpenter. Our journey was not to Canterbury Cathedral to visit the shrine of the martyred Saint Thomas à Becket, but rather the more prosaic town of Canterbury, New Hampshire to spend the day with my boyhood shooting hero and later mentor Art Jackson.

I became interested in competitive shooting though my brother’s member ship on the high school rifle team. He would often bring home the team’s copy of The American Rifleman. Jackson seemed to be on every important team and winning rifle matches as fast as he could enter them.  The magazine’s pictures showed a handsome young man who was tall, spare, and wearing either the uniform of the United States Air Force or a natty blazer with the shield of the United States Shooting Team embroidered on the breast pocket.  He soon became my shooting hero.

Our first to Camp Perry was 1975 and Steve and I shared a hut with the Walt and Greg Tomsen who I knew were friends of Jackson. A couple of days into the match I was alone in our hut when the screen door creaked open and a tall, distinguished man with a head of gray hair, politely asked if this was the hut where the Tomsens were billeted. It was the real Art Jackson. I was speechless.  Walt and Greg soon walked in and introductions were made all around.  I had spent 20 years waiting to meet Jackson and have spent the ensuing years listening and learning from him.

Art was a transitional figure in United States international shooting, bridging the pre-World War II era with the post war period. His remarkable 60 year career started in 1932 on the Brooklyn, New York, Technical High School rifle team and went in to encompass numerous National Matches including winning the 1952 Presidents Hundred, NRA Championships,  a passel of World Championship titles, three Olympics with a Bronze Medal, and closed out with appearances on United States Palma Teams into the early 1990s. There was a two decade break in his competitive shooting when, employed in some aspect of photography by the Central Intelligence Agency, he was abroad, mostly in the Far East. We talked cameras and photography often, his knowledge was encyclopedic, but I was never able to wheedle out of him what exactly he did for the CIA.

We shared many common interests and experiences. We were both born in Brooklyn, married late, have daughters named Sarah Marie, and a passion for the shooting sports. I was most fortunate to be able to tap his firsthand knowledge of the great shooters of his time. He was coached in kneeling by Morris Fisher, was acquainted with the great barrel maker Harry Pope, shot with three great riflemen named Bill, Woodring, Brophy, and Schweitzer, and on it went, a litany of all of the great shooters of smallbore’s Golden Age.

In my day there were no yellow school busses in my town but there was a public bus service. New London’s grammar schools were located within walking distance but when one moved to the junior or senior high school the kids who were too far from school to walk used city busses. We purchased discount tickets and adhered to the rigid schedule. It was a simpler time, and we attracted no attention on the occasions when we carried our cased rifle to school for practice. When Steve and I mentioned this to Art he smiled and said it was much the same for him and his teammates.

Times were hard during the Great Depression when Art was in high school and extra equipment, like rifle cases, were an unaffordable extravagance when measured against ammunition and targets.  When traveling to an away match the Brooklyn Tech team simply removed the rifles’ bolts and toted the school’s four uncovered Winchester 52s and a Springfield Mark I via bus and subway.  The sight of a quartet of high school boys sitting on the El, swaying and lurching from side to side with the car’s motion, rifles held vertically between their legs never seemed to excite comment or caused alarm among their fellow passengers. 

Art said he was questioned only once about carrying his uncased rifle.  Late one afternoon he was returning from a match in lower Manhattan and, lacking carfare, was walking the four or five miles back to his home to Brooklyn.  About halfway across the Manhattan Bridge he noticed a police car shadowing him.  The police officer parked on the roadway, got out of his car, carefully crossed over the electrified third rail, jumped the barrier fence and waited for him on the pathway. 

In reply to the officer’s inquiry about his situation Art told him where he had been and where he was going via Shank’s Mare with a rifle slung over his shoulder.  “No problem” was the reply and the policeman returned to his car.  The times were such that Art feels if there were a convenient subway station the police officer probably would have advanced him the nickel fare.

This encounter speaks of a more civilized and tolerant New York City, one that no longer exists, and few can, unfortunately, remember.

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KNOWN TO ONE AND ALL AS A GUY WHO IS JUST AROUND…

I grew up in New London, Connecticut and live in Rhode Island, but I am not a native New Englander. I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and came to Connecticut when The Old Man took a job in the manufacturing end of a ladies’ undergarment company.

I was still in three cornered pants when we moved to the land of creamy quahog clam chowder, steamed cheeseburgers, and lobster in the rough. The Old Man, Brooklyn to the core, felt none of the aforementioned Nutmeg noshes could ever please his palate better than a Nathan’s hot dog and root beer, corned beef or pastrami with on rye, or a Sunday morning bagel smeared with Philadelphia cream cheese and topped with thin slices of Nova Scotia lox, onion, beefsteak tomato, and dotted with a few capers.

Likewise the  morning Norwich Bulletin or the evening  New London Day, was but nothing but a sad shadow of his favorite tabloid, the New York Dailey Mirror. The Mirror was about 10% news and 90% a tout sheet for Aqueduct and Belmont race tracks, photo montages of the most current mob figure being arrested or whacked, and other such entertaining social scandal, red meat for The Old Man who had dropped out of high school.

Mom walked the other side of the journalistic street, She was a devotee of “The Gray Lady”, the New York Times, as befitteda proud honors graduate of Abraham Lincoln High School. The Old Man coughed up a nickel every day for the Mirror and happily splurged on Sunday for five pounds of the Times so that my mother could keep abreast of world events, fashion and, more importantly, work the Times crossword puzzle. After breakfast, the rest of her Sunday was taken up bent over the kitchen table, pencil in hand, a cup of tea and an overflowing ashtray at her elbow, as she worked to fill in the blanks of the 23 squares by 23 squares grid.

The Old Man and Mom were of different academic levels, but both were avid readers and nurtured that in us. If a newspaper, magazine, or book was in the house the rule was that it was fair game for all to read. We also had several collections of literary classics in a book case by The Old Man’s favorite chair. In particular I remember a green trussed complete collection of Mark Twain and a leather bound selection of assorted classics. Of particular interest to me was Rudyard Kipling, Conan Doyle, Jack London, and Herman Melville. The Old Man took me to the movies when I was in sixth grade to see Gregory Peck in Moby Dick. When I got home I dug the volume out of the book case and found that I shared a commonality with Melville and his story of the Great White Whale. It took him a year and half to write it and the same amount of time for me to read it.

Next to The Old Man’s chair was also a  pile of pulp magazines such as True, Argosy, and Astounding Science Fiction, genres of which he was fond. It was in this heap of cheap newsprint that I found a paperback copy of Runyon à la Carte, a collection of Damon Runyon’s famous Broadway stories. I am certain that the Great White Way locale of the 1930s and the somewhat shady characters appealed to The Old Man’s nostalgia for the New York of his misspent youth.

Runyon’s stories are told in a perpetual first person present tense by an anonymous bystander who relates tales of Broadway’s gangsters, hustlers, conmen, grifters, and down on their luck professional gamblers. They carry names and professions such as Nicely-Nicely Jones, possibly the greatest eater alive, Nathan Detroit, who runs the oldest established floating crap game in New York, and “…three parties from Brooklyn wearing caps as follows: Harry the Horse, Little Isadore and Spanish John”. Of which he says, “Now these parties are not such parties as I will care to have much truck with, because I often hear rumors about them that are very discreditable, even if the rumors are not true. In fact, I hear that many citizens of Brooklyn will be very glad indeed to see Harry the Horse, Little Isadore and Spanish John move away from there, as they are always doing something that is considered a knock to the community…”

The narrator uses slang that is at both vernacular and comically convoluted, a gun is a “roscoe”, money is “scratch” or “potatoes”, and women are “dolls” or “Judies” or “ever-loving wives. Although only tangentially involved with them, he is familiar to and trusted by the Guys and Dolls that haunt Broadway, east coast race tracks, pool halls, night clubs, and once even my home town of New London for the Yale-Harvard Boat Race. The narrator has no visible means of support and simply describes himself as “being known to one and all as a guy who is just around”.

Along with a  catholic taste in reading material The Old Man fostered a love of firearms in his boys. He had a couple of old shotguns that he used to supplement war time meat rationing when he work in a defense plant in Detroit and a brace of 22 caliber High Standard pistols that he shot weekly in the New London County Pistol League. Although he no longer hunted he used the shotguns to teach us safe gun handling, thinking correctly that a combination of firearms and adolescent hormones might be an accident looking for a place to happen. Our parents also encouraged our participation in the rifle team at New London High School which led us both to long, and occasionally distinguished, careers as smallbore and high power riflemen.

In my case it also meant some 40 years of reporting on the colorful characters and their shenanigans that make up the warp and woof of the fabric of competitive marksmanship, my favorite sport. Well versed in Runyon, and, like him, relating tales of those who inhabit a little known and esoteric world, I like to think of myself as “being known to one and all as a guy who is just around.” I owe my particular status to my parents love of literature and their unswerving support of my odd vices and to them I offer my thanks.

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HOW DISTINGUISHED MARKSMAN CHANGED TO RIFLEMAN…

Fort Adams, the massive fortress standing guard at the entrance to Narragansett Bay, is one of 16 coastal defense fortifications built between 1703 through 1943 in  the Ocean State. The string of gun batteries was designed to defend the 40 miles of strategically important Rhode Island coast line stretching from Fort Mansfield at Napatree Point in Westerly to Fort Church on Sakonnet Point, in Little Compton, against invasion.

The gun pits were filled with an array of artillery from 16 inch howitzers on barbette carriages, 12 inch guns on disappearing carriages, six inch guns, and “Panama Mounts,” circular concrete pads for the use of the towed M1918 155mm gun. The coastal guns were designed to protect the sacrosanct three-mile limit which, at the time, defined a country’s territorial waters, was the effective range of cannons fired from land. With the advent of the dreadnought battleships, armed with 16 inch naval rifles capable of shooting a 2,000 pound shells 24 miles, the value of the coastal fortification was seriously reduced.

Manned by the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) between 1901 and 1950, the batteries were provided with fire control stations, ammunition storage bunkers, barracks, officers’ housing, mess halls, hospitals and other necessary buildings for both efficient operation and troop comfort. After graduating from West Point in 1920 and completing the CAC Basic Officer’s Course at Fort Monroe a young Lieutenant Lyman Lewis Lemnitzer reported to the 10th Coast Artillery Regiment based at Fort Adams in the summer of 1921 as a Range Officer for one of the.

As a lad as he grew up in rural Honesdale, Pennsylvania Lemnitzer did odd jobs to earn a few dollars to indulge his vices, one of which was supplying his 22 caliber rifle with ammunition so he could improve his marksmanship skills..  He developed a sharp and steady hold with the rifle later honed by shooting for the West Point Rifle Team.

Lemnitzer qualified as an expert with the rifle in 1921 and was appointed to the Coast Artillery Rifle Team and would stay with the team for several years. He earned a Bronze Medal as well as a Bronze Army Team Badge towards the Distinguished Marksman Badge at the 1923 National Matches at Camp Perry. Coast Artillery placed fourth in a field of 64 in the National Trophy Team Match with Lemnitzer posting the fourth highest score on the ten man team.

After two years at Fort Adams, half of which was spent detached to the Coast Artillery Rifle Team as a rifleman and mess officer, Lemnitzer was ordered to Fort Mills, Corregidor in the Philippines. He arrived in time to participate in the Philippines Department rifle matches and earned a gold medal. He now had accumulated three medals in national competition and was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Marksman Badge in 1924. The award was one of his most prized decorations and it would appear on his blouse when important photographs were taken.

Lemnitzer is one of only four men to lead United States military services who are Distinguished. General of the Armies John J. Pershing and Marine Commandants Generals Thomas Holcomb, rifle, and David Shoup, pistol, are his companions in that exclusive club. He is the only Chairman of the Joint Chiefs authorized to wear the Badge.

The Distinguished Marksman Badge was awarded by all services for preeminence in service rifle shooting until 1956 when the Army and Air Force, along with their reserve components, changed the title from Marksman to Rifleman. At the time, the award of the Distinguished Badge to civilians was the responsibility of the office of the Director of Civilian Marksmanship which was a small bureau within the Department of the Army, so it followed suit. The more traditional sea services, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard retained the old title. The Army and Air Force decided to make the change because the term marksman was also used in regular annual qualification and it was felt that it was not a sufficiently dignified a title for an award of this importance.  This change could only be pulled off by a man who combined both high rank and impeccable shooting credentials, as the award and its title had been in existence for nearly three quarters of a century, and General Lyman Lemnitzer was just that man.

Marksmanship was dear to him throughout his professional life, so much so that at the 1960 national convention of the Veterans of Foreign War Lemnitzer, then Chief of Staff, told the assembly that, “We must not forget that the military purpose of war is to achieve control over land and the people who live in it…the success with which that domination is established, maintained, and extended depends in large part on the soldier’s mastery of his rifle.” The civilian leadership of the Department of Defense must have agreed because a month later he was selected to be the fourth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking and most senior military officer in the United States Armed Forces and the principal military advisor to the president and the secretary of defense.

Fort Adams, the massive fortress standing guard at the entrance to Narragansett Bay, is one of 16 coastal defense fortifications built between 1703 through 1943 in  the Ocean State. The string of gun batteries was designed to defend the 40 miles of strategically important Rhode Island coast line stretching from Fort Mansfield at Napatree Point in Westerly to Fort Church on Sakonnet Point, in Little Compton, against invasion.

The gun pits were filled with an array of artillery from 16 inch howitzers on barbette carriages, 12 inch guns on disappearing carriages, six inch guns, and “Panama Mounts,” circular concrete pads for the use of the towed M1918 155mm gun. The coastal guns were designed to protect the sacrosanct three-mile limit which, at the time, defined a country’s territorial waters, was the effective range of cannons fired from land. With the advent of the dreadnought battleships, armed with 16 inch naval rifles capable of shooting a 2,000 pound shells 24 miles, the value of the coastal fortification was seriously reduced.

Manned by the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) between 1901 and 1950, the batteries were provided with fire control stations, ammunition storage bunkers, barracks, officers’ housing, mess halls, hospitals and other necessary buildings for both efficient operation and troop comfort. After graduating from West Point in 1920 and completing the CAC Basic Officer’s Course at Fort Monroe a young Lieutenant Lyman Lewis Lemnitzer reported to the 10th Coast Artillery Regiment based at Fort Adams in the summer of 1921 as a Range Officer for one of the.

As a lad as he grew up in rural Honesdale, Pennsylvania Lemnitzer did odd jobs to earn a few dollars to indulge his vices, one of which was supplying his 22 caliber rifle with ammunition so he could improve his marksmanship skills..  He developed a sharp and steady hold with the rifle later honed by shooting for the West Point Rifle Team.

Lemnitzer qualified as an expert with the rifle in 1921 and was appointed to the Coast Artillery Rifle Team and would stay with the team for several years. He earned a Bronze Medal as well as a Bronze Army Team Badge towards the Distinguished Marksman Badge at the 1923 National Matches at Camp Perry. Coast Artillery placed fourth in a field of 64 in the National Trophy Team Match with Lemnitzer posting the fourth highest score on the ten man team.

After two years at Fort Adams, half of which was spent detached to the Coast Artillery Rifle Team as a rifleman and mess officer, Lemnitzer was ordered to Fort Mills, Corregidor in the Philippines. He arrived in time to participate in the Philippines Department rifle matches and earned a gold medal. He now had accumulated three medals in national competition and was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Marksman Badge in 1924. The award was one of his most prized decorations and it would appear on his blouse when important photographs were taken.

Lemnitzer is one of only four men to lead United States military services who are Distinguished. General of the Armies John J. Pershing and Marine Commandants Generals Thomas Holcomb, rifle, and David Shoup, pistol, are his companions in that exclusive club. He is the only Chairman of the Joint Chiefs authorized to wear the Badge.

The Distinguished Marksman Badge was awarded by all services for preeminence in service rifle shooting until 1956 when the Army and Air Force, along with their reserve components, changed the title from Marksman to Rifleman. At the time, the award of the Distinguished Badge to civilians was the responsibility of the office of the Director of Civilian Marksmanship which was a small bureau within the Department of the Army, so it followed suit. The more traditional sea services, the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard retained the old title. The Army and Air Force decided to make the change because the term marksman was also used in regular annual qualification and it was felt that it was not a sufficiently dignified a title for an award of this importance.  This change could only be pulled off by a man who combined both high rank and impeccable shooting credentials, as the award and its title had been in existence for nearly three quarters of a century, and General Lyman Lemnitzer was just that man.

Marksmanship was dear to him throughout his professional life, so much so that at the 1960 national convention of the Veterans of Foreign War Lemnitzer, then Chief of Staff, told the assembly that, “We must not forget that the military purpose of war is to achieve control over land and the people who live in it…the success with which that domination is established, maintained, and extended depends in large part on the soldier’s mastery of his rifle.” The civilian leadership of the Department of Defense must have agreed because a month later he was selected to be the fourth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking and most senior military officer in the United States Armed Forces and the principal military advisor to the president and the secretary of defense.

No one could deny his credentials or authority. He was Distinguished and committed to training every soldier in marksmanship. As the Chief of Staff he was the United States Army’s senior soldier with broad powers to make the change, which he did. But did he swap his old Distinguished Marksman Badge for a new Distinguished Rifleman Badge? Lemnitzer was awarded the Officer Degree of the Legon of Merit for successfully completing a dangerous meeting with the Nazi allied Vichy French leadership in Morocco to negotiate their cooperation prior to Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.  Later the criteria for award was changed and recipients were instructed to exchange it for a new medal. Lemnitzer refused to do so as he felt it was awarded for an act for which he was particularly proud, and it would be wrong to take it away. He continued to wear the old medal and ribbon and one cannot doubt it was the same for his Distinguished Marksman Badge.

No one could deny his credentials or authority. He was Distinguished and committed to training every soldier in marksmanship. As the Chief of Staff he was the United States Army’s senior soldier with broad powers to make the change, which he did. But did he swap his old Distinguished Marksman Badge for a new Distinguished Rifleman Badge?

Lemnitzer was awarded the Officer Degree of the Legon of Merit for successfully completing a dangerous meeting with the Nazi allied Vichy French leadership in Morocco to negotiate their cooperation prior to Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.  Later the criteria for award was changed and recipients were instructed to exchange it for a new medal. Lemnitzer refused to do so as he felt it was awarded for an act for which he was particularly proud, and it would be wrong to take it away. He continued to wear the old medal and ribbon and one cannot doubt it was the same for his Distinguished Marksman Badge.

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THE RIGHT STUFF…

My family is the center and passion of my life but marksmanship and aviation occupy any time which may be left over. 

The flying and shooting worlds are similar in that they are populated with folks driven to become the best at what they do. In order to so one must have an absolute belief in an ability to be the best riflemen or aviator and to put in the hard, relentless, tedious, and grinding work necessary. 

The most important attribute a rifleman needs to reach the top step of the podium is the will to win, which includes determination and dedication. A written plan directs the search for the best possible rifle and ammunition combination. Next it moves on to the constant refinement of position and hold as one focuses on process. When all this comes together the road to the top is much smoother.

For an aviator, the road to the top begins with about eight to ten hours of dual instruction followed by being told to taxi to the ramp. Thinking the lesson is over you are surprised when the instructor unclips his seatbelt, hops out, tells you to take it around the patch three times, and meet him in the pilots’ lounge after you tie the plane down. The next 30 minutes will be with you forever, so relax, be confident, and fly the airplane. When your logbook is endorsed you know you can stand in front of the mirror and the best pilot you ever saw will be looking back at you.

This is illustrated in the movie The Right Stuff with a running joke based on an apocryphally question posed to Gordon Cooper, the last Mercury astronaut. Cooper played by Dennis Quaid, was asked, “Who’s the best pilot you’ve ever saw?” 

In a moment of unguarded subconscious truthful contemplation, he murmurs, “Who is the best pilot I ever saw? I’ll tell you. I’ve seen a lot of them, and most were pictures on a wall back at some place that doesn’t even exist anymore. Some of them are right here in this room. And some of them are…there still out there somewhere , doing what they always do… But there was…one pilot I once saw who I think truly did have the right stuff….”

Stopping in mid-sentence, as his overweening pilot’s ego snapped him out of his reverie and back to the present moment, he replied with a grin, “Who is the best pilot I ever saw? Well you’re looking at him.”  

And he may have been right.  Cooper’s parents owned a Command-Aire 3C3 biplane and he unofficially soloed when he was 12 years old. Four years later he reached the minimum age required for a pilot’s credential and logged his solo in a Piper J-3 Cub. Cooper was a  Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadet in college and upon graduation converted his Army commission as a second lieutenant to the newly formed US Air Force. He completed undergraduate flight training and was awarded his wings in 1950. 

Selected as one of the first seven astronauts he flew the final Mercury program mission aboard Faith 7 on May 14, 1963. He flew longer, 34 hours, 19 minutes and 45 seconds than any American to date. In 22 orbits around the Earth he became the first American to spend an entire day in space, the first to sleep in space, and the last NASA astronaut to go into space alone.

Mercury capsules were designed for fully automatic control, causing noted test pilot Chuck Yeager to brand the astronauts “Spam in a can.” Equipment failures aboard Faith 7 forced Cooper to fly the spacecraft through reentry manually. In the face of  disaster, he calmly guided his spacecraft to a successful splashdown just four miles from the recovery ship USS Kearsarge, the most accurate landing of any Mercury mission. Cooper later wrote. "My electronics were shot, and a pilothad the stick” So, with all of that behind him, for a brief moment, Gordo Cooper became the greatest pilot anyone had ever seen. 
 

In his book, The Right Stuff, about the pilots engaged in U.S. postwar research with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft and the Project Mercury astronauts, Tom Wolfe describes, “… a seemingly infinite series of tests. … a dizzy progression of steps and ledges, a ziggurat, a pyramid extraordinarily high and steep; and the idea was to prove at every foot of the way up that pyramid that you were one of the elected and anointed ones who had the right stuff and could move higher and higher and even – ultimately, God willing, one day – that you might be able to join that special few at the very top… the very Brotherhood of the Right Stuff itself.”

After more than 60 years of shooting and a half of a century since my first solo I sit firmly at the base of the pyramid in both endeavors, my neck aching from being bent back looking upward at those who have climbed higher. What makes the ache bearable is the fact that I have been lucky enough to be associated with so many great shooters and pilots who have ascended higher than I in their search for Arete.

Arete, as the Greeks called the search for excellence, and, as my philosopher brother Steve would remind me, is the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one’s full potential.

If you put in the necessary hard work, have reached your full potential, and are recognized by your peers as a seeker of Arete you have won the Gold Medal, even if you haven’t been able to scramble the top of the pyramid.

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SHOTS ABOUT SHOTS…

In cinema a shot is defined as time between the moment that the camera starts rolling until the moment it stops. In shooting shot are the pellets in a shotgun shell, but a shot is defined as the discharge of a firearm.

Arguably one of the most famous movie shots, pun intended, was the closing scene in the 12 minute long 1903 Edison Company film The Great Train Robbery, when actor Justus C. Barnes fired six rounds at the audience. Cinema was in its infancy and many viewers, unfamiliar with the new medium, thought that they were actually about to be shot. From its earliest beginnings it is easy to see why firearms have played a central role in motion picture.

Firearms have often been the focal point of some of the most popular films ever made. The first movie named for a firearm was the 1950 James Stewart vehicle Winchester 73.The plot of which was about the adventures of a specially selected Winchester 1873 marked “One of One Thousand.” Winchester made 701,058 centerfire Model ’73s which means that only 701 were possibly manufactured. To date only 136 of these rare rifles have been verified. Oddly enough, of the more common “One of One Hundred,” which more than 7,000 may have been made, only eight have surfaced.

Publicity conscious Universal Pictures sponsored a nationwide contest to find any of the remaining “One of One Thousand” Model 1873 Winchester rifles, resulting some hitherto unknown examples coming to light and a resurgence of antique gun collecting. To ensure authenticity Winchester sent its crack exhibition shooter Herb Parsons to do the trick shooting and to train Stewart so he would look natural handling the rifle.  

The1971 western Valdez is Coming features Burt Lancaster as Roberto ‘Bob’ Valdez, a former US Army Scout, who seeks justice for the widow of an innocent man he was tricked into killing. After kidnapping the wife of the rancher who tricked him he is chased by a band of his hired hands and holes up in the mountains. There he prepares his defense by handloading for his Sharps. The shot clearly shows a powder flask, empty cases, and bullets as Valdez professionally wields a nutcracker reloading tool.

Looking down into a valley at the approaching band of men Valdez screws a shooting stick into the ground, loads the rifle, mounts it, estimates the distance, adjusts the vernier sight, and begins to fire. Later he is captured and the jefe of the band, El Segundo, and he have this conversation.

El Segundo: [referring to Valdez’s earlier marksmanship against his men] You know something, Bob Valdez, you hit one, I think, 700-800 yards.

Bob Valdez: [with certitude] Closer to a thousand.

El Segundo: What was it? Sharps?

Bob Valdez: [nods] My own load.

El Segundo: You ever hunt buffalo?

Bob Valdez: Apache.

El Segundo: I knew it. When?

Bob Valdez: Before I know better.

The exchange is made all the more believable by the perfectly accurate portrayal of the period loading equipment and shooting scene.

While Tom Selleck may have starred in the 1990 film Quigley Down Under, clearly the attraction for firearms enthusiasts was the Sharps .45-110 rifle carried by Selleck’s character Matthew Quigley. His description of the rifle is red meat for  gun cranks, “It’s a lever action breach loader. Usual barrel length’s 30 inches. This one has an extra four, It’s converted to use a special 45 caliber 110 grain metal cartridge, with a 540 grain paper patches bullet. It’s fitted with double set triggers, and a vernier sight, marked up to 1200 yards. This one shoots a mite further.” This is true, for the .45 caliber bullet propelled by 110 gains of black powder was the most accurate and powerful rifle cartridge existent until the 1884 introduction of smokeless powder.

Quigley’s shots, particularly standing, require a suspension of belief but it is worth remembering buffalo hunter and scout Billy Dixon. A band of between 700-1200  Comanche and Cheyenne warriors attacked the settlement of Adobe Walls, Texas on  June 27, 1874. On the third day of the siege Dixon took aim with a .50-90 Sharps buffalo rifle knocking a warrior from his horse and killing him.  After the battle US Army surveyors measured the distance at 1,538 yards, nine-tenths of a mile.  The modest Dixon always referred to it as a “scratch shot”.

San Francisco Police Department Inspector Harry Callahan, in 1971’s Dirty Harry, points his big revolver at an alleged perpetrator and menacingly intones, “I know what you are thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five. Well to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I kinda lost track myself, but being that his is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ”Do I feel lucky? Well do ya punk?” This 33 seconds of drama drove Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum Model 29 sales into the stratosphere, people were paying retail and in some cases, a premium surcharge to get their hands on this hand cannon. The demand for Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing’s Sharps reproductions pushed the factory to the limit.

Although these firearms manufactures did not pay for the free publicity, as do corporations today for product placement, they were well aware of the old poem, The Cod Fish.

“The codfish lays ten thousand eggs,
The homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles
To tell you what she’s done.
And so we scorn the codfish,
While the humble hen we prize,
Which only goes to show you
That it pays to advertise.”

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SO MANY GUNS…

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s there were three movie theaters I frequented, The Garde, the Victory, and the Capitol. My older brother Steve also recalls a fourth movie house, the rat infested Empire, but I have no memory of it.

Like most of my peers, I was a lover of western war, and action films. One of my favorite actors was Burt Lancaster. The former circus trapeze artist, and his aerobatic partner Nick Cravat, brought life to some of my favorite action moves, The Flame and the Arrow, The Crimson Pirate, Valdez Is Coming ,and Ulzana’s Raid. Lancaster and Clark Gable’s Run Silent Run Deep was a big hit at the Victory, which featured a mural of a Gato class fleet submarine behind the snack bar. It’s popularity was no surprise as it was located on the main drag of New London, Connecticut, the home of the US Navy Submarine School.

Toward the end of his career Lancaster starred in Valdez Is Coming. The film tells the story of Bob Valdez and his conflict with a wealthy rancher named Tanner who as tricked Valdez into killing an innocent man.  The unassuming Valdez, who rides shotgun for Hatch & Hodges stage line and is the constable, “…on the Mexican side of town..” has concealed his past as a scout for General George Crook and the  7th Cavalry Regiment during the Indian Wars of the late 1880s.

Valdez asks Tanner for a $100 to help the man’s widow, but he is ridiculed and almost killed by Tanner’s hired hands. After Valdez recovers he is determined to see justice done. He pulls an old bedroll from beneath his bed, dons his old calvary hat, and gathers up his collection of guns.

On his way to confront Tanner he is accosted by one of his henchmen who notices that Valdez is now heavily armed and remarks, “I think I see many guns?” Valdez replies, “These little things? For rabbit.” The man gallops away over a rise and quicky returns with his rifle out. Valdez mortally wounds him with a shotgun blast, helps back onto his horse, and sends him away with ominous  message, “You tell Mr. Tanner that Valdez is coming.” 

“So many guns” reminds me of the many guns I have run across in the course of my misspent days. I am not talking about Remington 513Ts, Winchester 52s, Springfield ‘03s, M1s, and M-14s but the odd type of guns.

The first would be a grease gun. When I was a kid cars required frequent periodic maintenance calling for “points and plugs,” adjustment of the point/condenser ignition system, and cleaning, gapping, or replacing the spark plugs. With that came pumping grease into special fittings connected to tie rod ends, ball joints, and other areas subject to wear. The grease was stored in a cylinder that was attached to a pistol grip and was either hydraulic or man powered. The similarity of this mechanics tool to the United States Submachine Gun, Cal. .45, M3 gave this World War substitute for the Thompson submachine Gun its nickname.

I have a tangential connection to the M3. My shooting mentor Art Jackson owned a first run Winchester 52 with a rare round action. The early 52s were designed as trainers for the centerfire ’03 so came with a flat topped receiver to accept a rear leaf sight similar to a Springfield’s. The 52 actions manufactured from 1919 until the introduction of the B model had a wing type safety on the left side with a pivot rod which passed through the recoil lug surface. Over time, this wall would frequently crack. Winchester would exchange faulty receivers, but Jackson did not want to give up the round one and so went to a local friend and gunsmith. George Hyde, a shop foreman at the highly respected custom gun makers Griffin & Howe, Hyde effected the repair. It was so well done that it is almost impossible to see. My connection? Hyde went on to design the M3 “Grease Gun” during World War II and Art gifted me the Winchester.

Then there is the Biscuit Gun. All airport control towers are equipped with a signal lamp which looks like a cylindrical box of Quaker Oats with a pistol grip. It projects a powerful white, red or green beam to direct aircraft traffic in case of radio failure, aircraft not equipped with a radio, or in case the pilot is hearing impaired. It is said that it got its nickname because, if a pilot could not read the signals, they could use the lamp to shoot up some biscuits to help him to stave off hunger as he circled about unable to land .

After Thanksgiving, I gather with friends to make Soppressata di Calabria, colloquially called ‘soupy,” a dry cured pork sausage specific to the region of Calabria, Italy, the “Old Country” for much of Westerly’s Italian population. We have purchased an array of meat grinders, mixers, and stuffing machinery to ease our labor. As we work the occasional grandfather, uncle, or other such ancient lay about toddles in during our sausage making for a taste of the product, a glass of homemade wine and, most importantly, kibbitzing.

The elders enjoy needling us about how much tougher it was making soupy in their youth. It is true. They raised, slaughtered and butchered the pig- you can’t get away with in Westerly today, ground the pork butts, mixed in the spices, cleaned and hand stuffed the natural pig intestine casing called ‘stendine’, and attended to it as it cures.

Recently one of the “Moustache Petes” showed up for his yearly soupy tithe with a burlap bag slung over his shoulder like a Calabrian Santa. After wetting his beak on our soupy and wine he opened the bag and pulled out a tube and piston syringe with a funnel like nozzle. Snatching up a ball of ground meat he filled the cylinder, fit a stendine over the nozzle, grabbed the device’s two handles, and pushing the base against his chest, produced one perfect stick of soupy. We stood in awe of this wizened old master of soupy making as he connected us to a past of which we had only a vague idea and now could fully appreciate. There are many types of guns, rifle, pistol, shotgun, matchlock, flintlock, staple, nail, and label, but that is how I was introduced to the sausage gun.

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HYDRAMATIC VERSES STICK SHIFT…

The first automobile that I can distinctly remember The Old Man owning was when I was about six or seven years old. It was a  very well used late 1940s or early 1950 NashAirflyte, the famous “Bathtub Nash.” It was so named because it looked like an upside down bathtub on wheels. The design was part of the early post World War II automotive streamlining movement. Aerodynamic styling was coming into vogue and was also favored by Packard and Hudson. It may not have been such a good idea as Nash, Packard, and Hudson were automotive history by the time I reached junior high school.

The Old Man worked as a shop foreman managing a production line of women who were doing piece work assembling ladies foundation undergarment ephemera such girdles, garter belts, and shoulder straps for brassieres. This was sturdy stuff designed to support, shape, and mold women into the popular 1940-50’s streamlined style that modern women will never understand or suffer. Panty hose and the Women’s Liberation movement have reduced a once thriving business to a side line providing little more than lacy erotica.

In the early 1950s it was common for blue collar workers to put in a  five and a half day work week. On an occasional Saturday, The Old Man would take me to work with him. Rousted out of bed in the predawn darkness I breakfasted on a bowl of heavily sugared cold cereal while he munched on some buttered toast and gulped down a couple of cups of steaming hot coffee. After putting the dishes onto the sink we hopped into the Nash, stopped at Milbauer’s Bakery to pick up doughnuts for morning coffee break, and soon arrived at the fortress like mill building.

After he parked the car in the mill’s courtyard we would climb a few steps onto the loading dock and walk into the freight elevator. The Old Man would slam the scissored door shut with a satisfying crash, push a button or two, and pull a lever. Accompanied by the clanging warning bell, the squealing of cables rolling through pulleys, and the vibration of the misaligned car guide rail we were rumbled three stories up and onto the shop floor.

He punched his time card, letting me do the same with one he had made up for me, and would set me to work doing some innocuous task like sweeping, assembling cardboard shipping boxes, or sorting things. The ladies would make a big deal about me being a working man and the morning would quickly pass until break time. While all stopped for coffee or tea The Old Man would hand me my day’s pay, a nickel. Grabbing a doughnut I would rush off to the Vendo Coke machine, deposit my coin, yank down the hefty silver lever, and pull out a cold frosty green 6 ½ ounce bottle of Coke.

At the end of the day Nash I would again take up station in the Nash’s shotgun seat and watch with some awe as The Old Man effortlessly worked the manual transmission and clutch with practiced ease. It was an old car. and family finances would not stretch to purchasing a car with any amenities, let alone let alone a model with the new Hydramatic automatic transmission.

The Nash was the principle participant in a family treat. On an occasional summer Saturday evening we would take in a movie at one of the local drive-in theaters. On those nights dinner would be sandwiches of pastrami, corned beef , and The Old Man’s favorite cold cut-beef tongue, on rye bread accompanied by potato salad, coleslaw, and Heinz vegetarian baked beans. We would then pile into the Nash and head to the theater. Once inside my brother Steve and I would dash off to the playground located under the massive white screen. It was there that he took great sadistic delight in getting me to ride a small metal carousel. He would whip me around until I was dizzy and spewing up my dinner. Trips to the drive-in were few and far between so, dunce that I was, I never caught on to his malevolent big brother amusement.

It may have been old and battered but the Nash was spacious. After I cleaned up in the wash room we would retire to its sofa like back seat, change into pajamas, and either watch the movie if it featured cowboys, war, or jungle adventure or simply fall asleep.

Thoughts of the manual transmission and the Nash came back to me when my brother and I began to shoot high power. We had little money so, like The Old Man and used cars, we purchased what we could afford, an old beat up Remington 03A3 and an equally worn Springfield Model 1922 stock. The old crank rifle served us well. We next upgraded to an M1 and eventually M14s and M1As. Both of us legged out in the early 1980s and, therefore, never had to suffer the ignominy of using the effete M16 platform.

When we showed up with our hermaphrodite 03A3 we were subjected to sidelong glances, sotto voce comments, and well-meaning advice. When we graduated to the M1 the bolt gunners made fun of us because now we had to wait for the rife to reload itself while they could shoot as fast as they wished. The M14 brought about comments about our masculinity, or lack thereof, from the M1 community who felt the .308 cartridge was a powder puff load compared to the manly recoil of the tried and true ought six.

It seemed we could not win. What saved us from the constant mockery of the old timers was the M16. At the time it was a rifle that self-respecting rifleman could, and would, not take seriously. The plastic Matty Mattel 22 caliber centerfire rifle had no recoil, the barrel would bend with the slightest sling tension, the sights were incapable of any easy or serious adjustment, its accuracy dropped off severely beyond 400 yards, and rumor had it that the bullet would not penetrate a Soviet infantryman’s winter coat at that distance anyway.  A lot has changed in the ensuing decades concerning its value as a competition rifle. It is now more accurate, but it resembles a service rifle about as much as The Old Man’s Bathtub Nash resembled a bespoke Rolls Royce Phantom. Operating a standard transmission is an old school masculine skill rarely found in this day of the automatic transmission. The AR, with optical sights, is the automatic transmission of service rifle shooting. But, prized by iron men, a wooden rifle, shooting a 30 caliber cartridge with iron sights, is the stick shift of National Match shooting.

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THERE IS NO ROYAL ROAD…

One early September day in 1962 the warm afternoon sun poured through the classroom window and reflected off the page of my notebook upon which I had neatly copied the geometry problem that Mr. Pierce had chalked on the blackboard. Beneath was drawn a thick black horizonal line that was perpendicularly bisected by yet another thick black line dividing the bottom of the page into halves. My list of statements was precisely printed on the left of the vertical and the corresponding numbered reasons on the right.

As a freshman I had fought my way through the barbicans, drawbridge, and portcullis of algebra to reach the inner courtyard of geometry. With a year of mechanical drawing under by belt I was anxious and eager to deal with Euclid in all his forms.

Mr. Pierce had been grinding chalk on slate for nearly 40 years and was just a year or two from retirement. It was a commonly held belief among the young students at New London High School that the old gentleman was so well versed in his subject because he had been a student of Euclid’s. Tall, thin, slightly bent, and nearly bald, the frail looking Mr. Pierce resembled, if you will, a kindly C. Montgomery Burns, the owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and Homer Simpson’s boss. Like Burns to Simpson Mr. Pierce released his hounds on me in the form formal proofs. For the next ten months my name and the compliment, “Excellent” would rarely occur in the same breath, particularly when I spontaneously snorted a not too well concealed horse laugh on the day he introduced the Pons Asinorum or “Bridge of Asses” theorem. In my defense I was a sophomore and who has more right to be sophomoric?

Hardly the bell stopped ringing on the first day when he assigned seats and distributed books. It was then Mr. Pierce made it clear that there was hard work ahead and no way around it. There was a new vocabulary of symbols to be learned and axioms, postulates, and corollaries to be committed to memory.  “Geometry”, he told us, “was coldly logical.” If we adhered to strict methodology we would be successful but gave us a warning by telling us a little tale, perhaps apocryphal, of Euclid and Ptolemy.

Euclid of Alexandria was a Hellenic mathematician who lived in Greek ruled Alexandria, Egypt, probably during the reign of Ptolemy I. Euclid had written Elements, perhaps the earliest comprehensive mathematics textbooks. Ptolemy, as the story goes, employed Euclid as a tutor but was somewhat flummoxed by geometry. He asked Euclid if there were an easier way to master the subject, to which Euclid famously told his patron, “Sire, there is no royal road to geometry.”

Success in any endeavor requires hard word, be it geometry or rifle shooting. I learned that lesson from, among others, Mr. Pierce and the man who is to shooting what Euclid is to geometry, Lones Wigger.

Wigger is arguably the greatest rifleman who ever lived. He was quite candid about this ability. He believed that he was not a natural rifle shot and only achieved his three Olympic medals, 99 other international medals, world records, world championships, and countless national championship by dint of hard work.

He knew that there is a big difference between wishing and willing. Almost everyone wishes they might be an Olympic champion, but only those who are willing to do the relentless day to day hard work of preparation can possibly achieve that goal. Wigger was not sure he could outshoot every one of his competitors, but he was certain he could out work them.

As he often said, ““It’s persistence that pays the biggest dividends—constant, steady practice, week in and week out, all year long. I truly believe that anyone can be a champion marksman if they work at it long and hard enough.”

Hard training, coupled with another lesson he taught me, brought me a bit of fame and fortune. After toiling as a journeyman rifleman for decades I turned 55 and became an intermediate senior. I was usually in the top ten per cent at the national position championship, but not good enough to win the big bannana. That being said I was one of the best 55 year old position shooters, so I set myself the goal of winning the Intermediate three position title. From late April through July I trained five days a week, without fail,and won.

Ten years later I was 65 and, now a senior, thought I might make history repeat itself with a run at the geezer trophy. I trained hard, but after the first day of the championships found myself 17 points behind the leader.

The first day was blessed with good conditions but the Perry weather turned vicious on the second day. The range was swept by 30 mile per hour wind gusts from two o’clock which drove a hard rain nearly horizontal. I survived prone and was a hero with only three visible misses standing. Hard holding and luck allowed me to climb back to within striking distance of the leader. It was then that I remembered Wigger’s second lesson.

He had once mentioned to me that short squat guys, like us, have an advantage shooting kneeling in the wind. All you had to do was to take up a couple of notches on your sling and slouch low. I did so and ended up winning the sought after title by 17 points. Mr. Pierce amd Wigger both taught me the value and rewards of hard work. Mr Pierce’s reward was a hard earned B- in geometry. Wigger’s was a good-humored prank: while presenting me the Robert K. Moore Trophy on the stage at Camp Perry he pulled it back with a grin, accompanied by a collegial congratulatory clap on my shoulder as I staggered off balance reaching for the hard won prize.

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OLD SLABSIDES AND ME EARN AN “E”…

It was about 1900 on April 14, 1971 and I had been in the United States Navy about seven or eight hours. I sat at rigid attention with my hands clasped tightly in front of me on the tablet arm of my folding chair along with two dozen other members of Aviation Officers’ Candidate School Class 15-71. Clad only in our just issued snow white skivvies, boxer shorts and T shirts, we were uncomfortable for  a lot of physical and mental reasons. We suffered, without obvious complaint, the prickling of the loose hairs on our newly shorn heads and the acrid odor of the skivvies’ sizing. The smell of the sizing did little to mask the smell of fear which our bodies radiated as we faced an uncertain future.

Staff Sergeant A.W. Meyers, USMC, our Drill Instructor for the next 16 weeks of AOCS, was giving the flower of the nation’s best colleges and universities a lesson on person hygiene. He emphasized daily showers, perhaps more, as it was fast approaching the hot humid summer of Pensacola, Florida. Particular attention was to be paid to applying plenty of hot soapy water to our nether regions to avoid Jock Itch and brushing our teeth after every meal followed by gargling with the contents of the issued bottle of nasty tasting Listerine mouthwash. Staff Sergeant A.W. Myers, USMC, did not want, as he put it mildly, “…to suffer no funky breath blasting on me from your filthy pie holes, which you will keep shut unless told to talk or, of course, suffer the consequences!” 

He next passed out our dog tags and identification cards, telling us to memorize the card’s number, or suffer the consequences. It was the first, along with the chain of command, our rifle serial number, and the Eleven General Orders of a Sentry, of many things we were to commit to memory as we would be required to accurately quote one, or all of them,  anytime, anywhere, to anyone senior to us or, of course, suffer the consequences.

The last thing he did before ordering the class to “mount your racks” was to issue each of us a small dark blue box, about four inches by two inches, which, according to the label, held “Medal Set, National Defense Service, Regular Size, 1 set.” The ribbon, irreverently  known as the Firewatch or Gedunk Ribbon, would be pinned, exactly centered and ¼ of an inch above, the left breast pocket of our service khaki uniform or we would, of course, suffer the consequences. My hair had not even started growing back and here I was with a medal. Staff Sergeant A.W. Meyers, USMC, a beribboned veteran of Viet Nam, called us to attention and before dismissal acerbically told us that, “The Firewatch Ribbon is red for the blood we would never shed, blue for the water we would never cross, white for the eyes of the enemy we would never see, and yellow for the reason why.”

Some five months later, having survived the persuasive pedagogy of Staff Sergeant A.W. Meyers, USMC, I found myself a freshly minted Ensign in the United States Naval Reserve on the firing line of Naval Air Station Pensacola’s pistol range for qualification. It was a chance to double my ribbon display by adding a companion to my solitary National Defense ribbon. As we went through the safety briefing and basic pistol marksmanship training my mind wandered off to the history of the United States military sidearm.

During the Revolutionary War pistols were usually the private property of officers and were a motley collection of dueling and horse pistols with no common caliber and the attending difficulties. Feeling a need for standardization the Continental Congress elected to copy the 62 caliber British Model 1760 flintlock pistol, bought 2,000 from the Rappahannock Forge in Virginia, and named it the Model 1775. It saw service in the War of 1812 and was the United States Army’s standard-issue pistol for over 50 years.

Samuel Colt’s revolutionary revolver designs, the 44 caliber Walker and Dragoon revolvers were adopted by United States Army for cavalry and mounted-infantry use, seeing service in the Mexican-American War and on both sides of the United States Civil War. Just before the Civil War they were supplemented by the Colt Army Model 1860. Later the Colt Single Action Army replaced these three pistols because it used a safer and more reliable self-contained 45 caliber metallic cartridge, not the messy and dangerous loose powder, cap, and ball of the Walker and Dragoon, It remained the standard sidearm for the United States military until 1905.  The last revolver in United States service was the M1917, a 38 caliber six-shot pistol made by Colt and Smith & Wesson that had an amazing longevity, remaining  in the supply system through the 1970s.

The most iconic United States military sidearm in history is the John Browning designed semiautomatic, single action, recoil operated, seven shot, magazine fed, “Pistol, Caliber .45, Automatic, M1911A1.” It was the standard-issue United States sidearm for nearly 75 years and saw action every American conflict including both World Wars, the various Banana Wars, China and the Yangtze River patrol, Korea, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and Grenada until it was replaced in 1985 by the M9, the Italian designed 9mm Beretta Model 92.

While M1911 was officially replaced in 1985 a number of special-operations units carried them into 21st century and it is still in the supply system as the Marine Corps M45A1 Close Quarters Battle Pistol.

Recently the  XM17 Modular Handgun System, a variation of the Sig Sauer 9mm P320, has replaced the M9.

As for me, I used a M1911A1 to earn a United States Navy Marksmanship Medal to accompany my lonely National Defense Ribbon. I am proud to say that mine displays a silver ‘E’ to tell the world that I qualified as an expert with Old Slabsides.

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THE GODFATHER OF SHOOTING KNOWLEDGE?…

April 15, 1972 was a red letter day in my life. It was, first of all, tax deadline day. As a young cash strapped Naval officer I had filed my 1040 and the money was socked away. April 15th was also the day I left the regime of Reveille and Taps, departing Naval Air Station Corpus Christi a civilian. A footloose bachelor I planned a leisurely drive home through the Midwest go visit friends with whom I had joyfully misspent my youth.  

On the 14th I said goodbye to those I would leave behind, picked up my DD-214, mustering out pay, and travel money, and settled my BOQ bill. Up early on the 15th I broke my fast in the Open Mess with a last hearty Navy meal, a bowl of fresh citrus fruit, a plate loaded with scrambled eggs topped with a liberal dose of Tabasco Sauce, steaming chipped cream beef on toast, home fries, juice and milk. As the sun broke over Corpus Christi Bay, I was driving north on Interstate 37, heading into a new phase of my life. 

I turned east outside of Dallas onto Interstate 20 humming along with the soothing sound of Mozart playing on my cassette tape recorder. I was also humming down the highway and not paying much attention to my speedometer, the road level billboard, or Texas Department of Public Safety Officer Tommy Tucker hiding behind it. 

The flashing lights and siren broke my reverie and I pulled over. Trooper Tucker was polite, noticed my NAS parking sticker and remarked that he was a Navy veteran. He said with a wink and a smile he would take that into account when writing up my ticket. True to his word he cited me for “Failure to Obey Traffic Sign” a mere $97.00, rather than the $250.00 for “Speeding-exceeding limit by 15 to 29 miles per hour.” I was also allowed to pay by mail rather that appear immediately in traffic court. I thanked him profusely. I guess it pays to be a veteran when stopped by a veteran. 

A few years earlier my brother Steve found himself in the same predicament coming home from New Mexico. In his case he was escorted to the chambers of a Judge Sandoval, probably a relative enjoying a patronage job, and relieved of a hefty portion of his precious cash reserve. So much so that the rest of his journey was marked by carefully conserving gas, sleeping in the car, subsisting on Snickers, and worry.  

The next day I reached Washington, Missouri, the Corn Cob Pipe Capitol of the World, and home of my college roommate Craig Duncan. Washington  produces 12 to 14 million corn cob pipes annually, the world’s entire commercial output. Saying Washington is the Corn Cob Capital of the world was no brag, just fact. General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., authors H.L. Mencken, and Mark Twain, along with politicians Herbert Hoover and Fiorello La Guardia are said to have favored Washington’s “Missouri Meerschaum.” 

After Mrs. Duncan served us a fine Missouri country dinner Craig suggested we go the movies to see the newest cinema hit, The Godfather. I enjoyed the movie and next morning headed north to Iowa City, Iowa, to check in with college buddy, Bruce Vliet. Arriving in Iowa City around dinner time Bruce suggested we dine at his favorite Dive Bar. As we wiped our greasy chins clean Bruce suggested we go the moves and see The Godfather. I could not refuse as he paid for our patty melts, fries, and IPAs. 

Next was Cleveland to visit college crony Bill Kaseberg studying at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. He rustled us up a homecooked dinner and then mentioned a special treat for me, he had tickets for, what else, the hit flick, The Godfather.  

My final stop was to pay a call on my then girlfriend. Her parents they suggested that we relax at the movies and see, yet again for me, The Godfather. By the time I got back home I had seen the movie enough times to  know parts of it by heart. Among them were when Caporegime Clemenza and his button man Rocco Lampone, conduct a wild goose chase, which includes buying Italian pastry for his Mrs. Clemenza,  to lull the traitor to La famiglia Pauli Gatto into a false sense of security. Clemenza has Gatto, who is driving, pull over so he can relive himself Lampone, sitting in the back seat, “makes his bones” by pumping three shots into Gatto’s brain. Clemenza surveys Gatto’s body slumped over the steering wheel and matter of factly  orders Lampone to, “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”  

Lately two other scenes have come to mind. The first involves a lesser mafioso soliciting Don Corleon’s support to start dealing drugs. Asked what he need he relies, “I need, Don Corleone, all of those politicians that you carry around in your pocket, like so many nickels and dimes.” Later the same issue is raised in a meeting of the New York City family Dons. Corleone is reminded that, “…if he has all the judges and politicians in New York then he must share them, or let others use them. He must let us draw the water from the well” 

My extensive shooting research library/archive draws a lot of requests for information, usually for information about partially forgotten or long lost shooting performances,, general shooting history, or shooters from the dim past. My base is 120 linear feet of book shelf  packed full of histories, National Match programs, miscellaneous bulletins, and NRA, ISSF, DCM/CMP and government publications. On another set of shelves  hold American Rifleman, Tournament News, and Shooting Sports USA going back to the late 1920s and National Smallbore Outdoor Championship bulletins from1956 to the present.  

After many years of research I have become familiar with the contents and can usually readily find information sought. I have a good success rate and am only too happy to share the shooting knowledge stored, like so many nickels and dimes, on my shelves. After all, it is only right that I let others draw water from my well. 

In the light of The Godfather quotes it  has occurred to me that, just maybe I have become the Godfather of shooting history knowledge. 

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RIFLE COMPETITION: A COMMON LANGUAGE?…

I have been a competitive rifle shooter for over 60 years or, to put it into perspective, eighty per cent of my life. My days, as my shooting mentors Dick Scheller and Roger McQuiggan would say, have gone up in smoke, noise, and expended brass. 

In these past six decades I have had a few moments of raging success, an individual open match win at Camp Perry in the prone stage of the anysight metric three position match, ironically my weakest position, a few team and individual National Records to my name, and some special category national championships. I do not relate these brief shining moments to brag for, in reality, my entire shooting career has been one of mediocrity. I am a journeyman rifleman, one who is reliable but not outstanding. 

Most of us are journeymen and there is no shame in our lot in life, seeking excellence and failing more times than not. Many more erudite authors than I have written on the subject such as Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena speech in which he says, The credit belongs to the man… who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”  

While I like Roosevelt’s words on the subject, my favorite thought along this line is from Andrea del Sarto.  It is a piece of dramatic monologue blank verse delivered in iambic pentameter by Robert Browning about the Italian painter Andrea del Sarto. Roosevelt delivered the Man in the Arena speech in Paris in 1910 but may have been influenced by Browning who published Andrea del Sarto in 1855 wherein appears the following, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” 

All in all this means that my shooting legacy will not be one to rank with Willis Lee, Morris Fisher, Walter Stokes, Art Jackson, Gary Anderson, or Lones Wigger. My shooting legacy will be from my musings and documentation of our sport. This was driven home to me as I was researching and writing the histories of the six major international prone matches, the shoulder to shoulder matches shot in Pershing/Roberts series, and the Dewar, Randle, Wakefield, and Drew postals. 

While I have a good reference library I usually find myself calling upon some of my British counterparts for aid. Brian Woodall and Geoff Doe have generously tossed out a life ring to me on more than one occasion. Answers to my questions usually come as an email essay accompanied by scanned copes of articles out of the National Small-Bore Rifle Association official journal On Target or its predecessor publication The Rifleman. 

When I read the articles in the magazine and the accompanying answer I would occasionally find an expression or term I did not understand. I could reason out that the British term  ‘foresight’ in American English is ‘front sight” and a ‘cross-shot’ is our crossfire. But what about a ‘carton‘ or the seemingly ubiquitous ‘three card system?” Perhaps a carton was something they used to store things like we use a box? Was the three card system a way that shooters at the NSRA’s headquarters relaxed after a match, gamboling as they gambled over cards, playing the British equivalent of our Three Card Monte? 

It was if the chain gang Captain from the movie Cool Hand Luke was staring down at me, as he did Luke, and announcing to all, “What we have here is failure to communicate.” Usually we were able to work out a translation with a little back and forth. By the way, a carton is an antiquated term for a ten, and inner carton is an X. The term three card system is an anachronistic reference to the old British practice of having the sighter target and two record bullseyes on three separate pieces of paper. This practice has long been superseded by a single target with three bullseyes so when a British shooter uses the term it implies he has reached a certain age and has a real history, much like a US highpower shooter using the term Maggie’s Drawers for a miss.  

And, of course, this brings up one at least one more translation. In England each aiming mark is termed a ‘target’, what we call a bullseye. A ‘card’, which we call a target, may be comprise of one or more bullseyes which the British call targets, three being the typical arrangement for the popular 25 yard/meter gallery postal matches. Most gallery shooting in the United States is done at fifty feet, but the NRA does have an authorized 75 foot target, the A7/5, which is based on the venerable A-17 target which dates from the early 1930s.  

The term card does play into the vocabulary of the United States shooter. It is used, usually in exasperation, after a trying day at the range. After looking at the scoreboard the dejected rifleman might say, “Well, at least I shot my card today.” Meaning his score at least met the minimum score of his current classification card. 

In England for the Roberts Match was flummoxed with left hand traffic. As a driver I left more rubber on the curb stones of the impossibly narrow streets than I did the roadbed and never got used to it. The same cannot be said of the change in shooting vocabulary. At the Bisley Meeting I quickly adapted to moving with my detail on and off the firing line which led to the Prize Giving of which, as usual  I was only a spectator. 

The difference between the Queen’s English and the vernacular spoken by us former colonists is a gap as wide as the ocean that separates us. In spite of that we are drawn together in a common love of our esoteric sport. 

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THE TWO DOCTORS GODDARD…

On March 16, 1926, Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard, a product of Massachusetts’ Worcester Polytechnical Institute and Clark University, trucked an ungainly framework of piping to a snow covered field on his Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn, Massachusetts. After filling the tanks with liquid oxygen and gasoline he ignited the engine. After about 20 seconds the engine built up enough power to lift off. In about two and half seconds the primitive liquid fueled rocket reached a height of 41 feet with an average a speed of about 60 miles per hour before crashing back to earth. It was the world’s first flight of a liquid-propelled rocket engine, opening the door to the space age. 

Less than three years later, at 10:30 in the morning on February 14, 1929, four men, two dressed at Chicago police officers and the others in civilian clothes, entered the SMC Cartage Company garage at  2122 North Clark Street in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago’s North Side. Inside they found five members of George “Bugs” Moran’s North Side Gang and two hangers-on.  

When the gunmen entered the garage, Moran’s men thought it was a routine police raid and peacefully did as they were told. The ‘police officers’ quickly disarmed them and lined them up facing a wall. They then signaled the civilians who each unlimbered a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thompson_submachine_gunThompson Submachine Gun from underneath their overcoats and hosed their victims left and right, scattering 70 rounds of .45 ACP brass on the floor. The ‘police officers’, who were carrying shotguns, also added to din, smoke, and carnage by blasting away at the victims sprawled on the floor. The gunmen then tucked their Tommy Guns under coats, raised their hands, and were marched out to a waiting ‘police’ car by the ‘police officers,’ all to drive into anonymity.  

Enter the second Doctor Goddard. Cook County Coroner Herman Bundesen carefully collected the evidence from the crime scene and hired Dr. Calvin Hooker Goddard, a pioneer in ballistics testing, to work on the case. Goddard was given the shell casings collected at  the crime scene as well as bullets recovered from the wall and bodies of the victims. He quickly determined that  two Thompson submachine guns were used, one equipped with a 50 round drum and the other a 20 round stick magazine. He opined that the two different magazines were used just in case the drum magazine, which had a reputation for jamming, failed. Goddard next obtained samples of fired bullets from the Thompson guns owned by the Chicago Police Department and determined that no police weapons had been used.  

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre remains an unsolved crime to this day and has never officially linked to Moran’s rival Al Capone, but he is generally considered to have been responsible for the murders. A few months later Fred Burke, a known associate of Capone’s, was arrested for a separate crime and in possession of a brace of Thompsons and ammunition. The guns were delivered to Goddard who test fired them and found the bullets matched those taken from the Massacre victims. The “Chicago Typewriters” used in the St. Valentine’s Day today reside in the armory of the Berrien County, Michigan, Sheriff’s Department.  

Goddard was behind the development of the comparison microscope and used it to prove that no two firearms are made exactly alike and so that characteristic marks on the cartridge case and the bullet are the same every time that gun is fired, but not the same a similar type of firearm. 

Goddard rose to prominence with the 1927 Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti robbery-murder case in South Braintree, Massachusetts. The case was a highly charged political affair as the two accused were both Italian immigrants and anarchists. Goddard confirmed that one of the bullets recovered from the scene had been fired from Sacco’s gun. Goddard’s findings were retested in 1961 and 1983, and the results were confirmed each time. 

Both Doctors Goddard brought professionalism and the use of the scientific method to their fields. Robert recognized the potential of rockets for peace and war and was the first to scientifically study, design and construct the rockets needed to implement those ideas. Calvin, almost single handedly, created the science of forensic firearm identification. 

Robert was shy and retiring yet has become the more famous having Goddard. He has been credited with 214 patents for his work. He also influenced many people such as  astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell, and NASA flight controller Gene Kranz.. Goddard was honored with the Langley Gold Medal from the Smithsonian Institution and a Congressional Gold Medal. NASA named its facility in Greenbelt, Maryland in his honor and he even has a crater on the Moon named for him. 

The lesser known Calvin’s legacy was establishing the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics, the first independent criminal laboratory, which brought the nascent science of ballistic forensics into the modern and served as the model for the FBI Forensic Laboratory. 

Different doctors, one a physicist and one an MD, but ballistics is ballistics, be it rockets or bullets. 

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THE THREE TOMMYS AND CHEERS…

While writing an article about the Lord Wakefield Trophy Match I found its patron to be one of those storied Englishmen of business whose life began in Victorian England, passed through Edwardian Era, and ended in the reign of a later monarch. I was already familiar with, Sir Thomas Robert “Tommy” Dewar, Sir Thomas Johnstone “Tommy” Lipton, and Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch “Tommy” Sopwith. I like to refer to them as the three Tommys, Tommy Whisky, Tommy Tea, and Tommy Airplane. 

Tommy Whisky was responsible for Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky’s world-wide popularity. A friend to competitive marksmanship, the sporting man endowed a large loving cup to Britain’s Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs (SMRC) which has made an indelible mark on the sport. Since 1909 English speaking nations annually compete in a smallbore prone postal match where teams of 20 shoot 20 shots at 50 yards and 100 yards for the possession of the Lord Dewar Trophy. The match gives its name to the course of fire, the Dewar, always a stage in any prone tournament. 

Tommy Tea was a sportsman whose passion was America’s Cup yacht racing. Between 1899 and 1930 Lipton unsuccessfully challenged for the “Auld Mug” five times with his yachts Shamrock through Shamrock V. When the Dodgers decamped Brooklyn, and I lost interest in baseball, I found the America’s Cup. Fortunately, I became a Red Sox fan when the America’s Cup sold its soul to the Devil and mammon, abandoning the graceful 12 meters for trimarans which carried more commercial advertising than sail from their masts.  

Tommy Airplane was cut from the same bolt of cloth as the other Tommys.  The English aviation pioneer was a man business, sportsman, and yachtsman who challenged for the America’s Cup twice. He used his aeronautical knowledge to build two stately  J-class yachts which he helmed. In 1934, his Endeavour won the first two races against Harold Vanderbilt’s Rainbow, but inexperience cost him the next four. He fielded the Endeavour II in 1937 against Vanderbilt’s Ranger, losing in four. As a pilot I was raised on imagines of his most famous airplane the Sopwith Camel. 

This brings us to Cheers, Sir Charles Cheers Wakefield. One of my favorite aviation movies is Dawn Patrol, based on the short story “The Flight Commander” by John Monk Saunders who, like me, was a Quiet Birdman.  

It is a story full of flying action in real airplanes, those with square radiators and axles. Two things stood out to me, all the drinking and singing in the Mess and the fact that whenever a silk scarfed pilot landed and took off his goggles the area around his eyes were white while the rest of his face was black with dirt, sort of a reverse racoon look.  

As a youngster I was curious about it and asked my older brother Steve, who has just soloed and earned his pilot’s credentials, what he might know. Well versed in things aeronautical, and ready to pontificate at the drop of hat, he sat me down and explained that the boozing, scarves, and dirty faces were related. In the early days of aviation castor oil was used as a lubricant which would burn off and fly back in the slipstream, accounting for the pilot’s dirty faces. The scarves were used to prevent chaffing as the pilot swiveled his head looking for the ”Hun in the Sun” and to wipe the goggles clean of oil residue. As for the boozing, castor oil is a laxative. Pilots could not help but ingest it with the obvious side effects. Early aviators believed that healthy doses of brandy would counteract the oil, or so they said. 

When Cheers Wakefield left school his first job was with an oil company. He later left to form his own company the Wakefield Oil Company, but changed its name to Castrol, because castor oil was a major component of its products. Timing is everything and Wakefield hit paydirt because the internal combustion engine was just coming into its own. In the early decades of the 20th century and the demand for lubricants for motorcar and airplane engines was tremendous making Wakefield a very wealthy man. 

He did well and took to heart Andrew Carnegie’s belief that, “The man who dies rich, dies disgraced”, using much of his fortune for philanthropy. He established the Wakefield Trust, which exists to this day, to help good causes in London and particularly the East End, an area well known for its social ills caused by poverty and overcrowding.  

Wakefield’s charitable works drew attention it was not long before Cheers’ name began appearing in the London Gazette on the King’s Honors List. Knighted for his good works he was later raised to the peerage as Baron Wakefield, of Hythe in 1930 and in 1934 made Viscount Wakefield. 

He loved Hythe which was the site of the British Army’s School of Musketry. The anachronistically named school had been established just as the Brown Bess musket was being retired in favor of rifles. During the Great War it trained the trainer, just as Camp Perry did in the United States, so that officers would become competent small arms instructors. One of its successes was “The Mad Minute.” This exercise taught the British infantryman how to fire 15 to 20 well aimed shots in 60 seconds from their bolt action Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles. Early in the war the “The Mad Minute” made the Hun believe that the British had more far more machine guns than they actually possessed. 

Wakefield was a generous man and gifted trophies and cups to numerous organizations that supported interests of his such as aviation, aviation modeling, motor cars, and marksmanship. 

As a member of the Council of the SMRC he donated a cup for competition between Great Britain and Sweden for a prone postal match series that ran from 1933 through the middle 1980s. When the match was revived in 1991 as a prone postal between English speaking nations it was first won by the United States with a record score that still stands. 

But I have another connection to two of these sporting English gentlemen. Not to lord it over anyone, but I have I have served as the adjutant, coach, and captain of both the US Lord Dewar and Lord Wakefield International Rifle Teams. It just seems a shame that Lipton and Sopwith did not donate a toby, ewer, or jorum to the SMRC to give me a shot, pun intended, at clean sweep. 

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The USS RUMFORD…

With the possible exception of skeet and trap it seems that every shooting event is timed in some way or another, from the more choreographed disciplines like ISSF rifle and pistol events to the newer “bang and clang, run and gun” three gun competition. No matter if it is wind up analog or digital electronic a timer is a necessary piece of equipment for shooter and official alike. The lack of a timepiece, or lack of attention to one, has made for some interesting stories over the years.  

Bill Woodring and Vere Hamer were in a tight race for the 1937 smallbore prone championship.  There was no quarter given and none asked as the two national champions, Hamer in 1930 and Woodring 1936, went into the final match neck and neck, and there both men shot identical scores.  The Critchfield Trophy’s preliminary bulletin gave the championship to Hamer on Xs, each man being credited with a score of 1992.   

Hamer then stunned as he strolled to the statistical office, paid his challenge fee, and declared that he had been credited for a double by the scorers when, in fact, he had run out of time and saved a round. He won his challenge, got his fee back and lost ten points.  His act of good sportsmanship insured that Woodring, with a five point margin over Doctor Russ Gardner’s second place 1987, locked up a second consecutive victory for the reigning champion and the first back to back victories in match history. History does not record if Hamer had a stop watch or not, but it does record that, perhaps in reward for his sportsmanship he won his prone second title in 1939. 

Bruce Meredith had placed second in the 1967 Metallic Sight Championship and so occupied the second firing point from the left as the Dewar Team took to the line. Meredith asked noted gunsmith and trigger innovator Karl Kenyon to act as his wind coach and Kenyon was delighted to do so. 

Meredith was down one point with eight Xs at 50 yards when time was called, surprising both men as there were still two rounds in his loading block. Kenyon had been paying such careful attention to the wind that he neglected his stopwatch, costing Meredith, and the Dewar Team, a possible 20 points. Pulling themselves together after the disaster the pair carded a 199-9X at 100 yards for an aggregate of 378-17X. 

When the results bulletin came back late that year from the match sponsor, the National Small-bore Rifle Association of Great Britain, the showed that  Great Britain had won with a score of 7846. The United States was second posting a 7826. One will never know if Meredith would have shot two more tens, although it is likely. Had he done so the teams would have been tied and the match would have been decided by the high score at 100 yards.  

Two years later, with Meredith again on the Dewar Team, that exact circumstance would happen. The teams tied at 7879 with Great Britain notching a 3945 at 100 yards to the US score of 3937 for a British win. 

On the positive side, after the Dewar debacle Meredith went on to win the U.S. Cartridge Company Trophy, and a selected Remington 40X rifle as the any sight champion and the 1967 National Smallbore Rifle Championship garnering him the Critchfield Trophy, a selected and engraved Winchester 52D rifle, a Lyman Superspot telescopic sight, and a National Champion brassard. Feeling badly and embarrassed Karl Kenyon also awarded him with a lifetime of free gun and trigger work.    

The 2009 NRA National Smallbore Rifle Prone Championship began under less than ideal wind conditions and fighting them, as he sought perfection, was SSG Shane Barnhart, USA. Barnhart came into the match with a championship resume that was second to none in its breadth having won open, service, and junior titles in both position and prone, and a civilian and intermediate junior crown as well. The only thing missing was a win as a sub junior and a woman, the former being because he never shot at Perry in that category and the latter out of reach for obvious reasons. 

Intent as he was on the X ring he shot an amazing 35 sighters, but only 12 record shots, eating eight record rounds as time was called. Controversy still swirls around the question of whether he forgot to start his timer, looked at his timer had the battery gone flat, he forgot his timer, or if he even owns a timer.   

Barnhart, stinging from his earlier lapse, shot a 400-40X to win the opening Dewar of the any sight aggregate and repeated the next morning, his third Dewar clean of the tournament. So, while most shooters were packing up at the end of the day, Barnhart returned to the 100-yard line to make a run on Baron Whatley’s National Championship Dewar Record of 400-40X+10X and Mary Stidworthy Sparling’s National Record of 400-40X+40X.  Perhaps caught by a stray gust or a misread wiggle in mirage or just exhausted by five days of shooting a shot wandered into the ten ring after several Xs and the attempt ended in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative gallery. 

The match bulletin shows SPC Joseph Hein USA winning the National Prone Championship with Barnhart winning the any sight championship with 2400. Hein’s aggregate score was a 4790-354X while Barnhart posted a 4710-385X, and 80 point deficit. There is no telling how things might have turned out if Barnhart had watched the clock and gotten off those eight rounds. 

So, get a timer and use it or you will find out to your regret, to paraphrase Herman Hupfeld’s classic torch song As Time Goes By, that a miss is still a miss…as time goes by.  

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The USS RUMFORD…

The state of Rhode Island has a long and colorful association with the US Navy, starting with the formation of the Rhode Island Navy on June 15, 1775, the first colonial navy established after the Revolutionary War began.  Although the Rhode Island Committee of Safety issued Letters of Marque and Reprisal, the Rhode Island Navy was primary a defensive force protecting the New England colonies trade in local waters. 

To honor Rhode Island’s early naval efforts and current connections the Navy has named some ten US warships for either the state, its capitol city, or the navy’s homeport in Rhode Island. The USS Rhode Island (SSBN-740) is an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine, the third ship to be so named. The  USS Providence (SSN-719), a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, the fifth ship to carry the name, and the USS Newport (PF-27), a Tacoma-class frigate, the second ship of the name. But what of the11th, the USS Rumford, a curious omission in the Naval Vessel Register, but why? 

The Navy returned to Rhode Island during the Civil War. The Naval Academy and its  training vessel, the most famous ship in the Navy, the U.S.S. Constitution, Old Ironsides, was located in Maryland, a Border State with a tedious connection to the Union. The  tempting targets for the Confederates were moved to Newport for safety. 

The U.S. Naval Torpedo Station was established on Goat Island in 1869, The Navy purchased Coasters Harbor Island from the state in 1881 and launched its first recruit training station there two years later, followed by the Naval War College in 1884. 

In the early days of World War I the Navy took over a small rifle range owned by the Rumford Chemical Company, its most successful product being Rumford Baking Powder, still manufactured by Hulman and Company at its Terre Haute, Indiana facility.  Rumford is not a city or town of its own, but rather the northern section of East Providence. It is named for Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, an American-born British physicist, begging the question, “Why does a man who served as lieutenant-colonel in the  British Loyalist forces during the American Revolutionary War have a town named after him in the first colony to declare independence for England?”   

World War II saw a massive expansion of naval presence and activity.  The Training Station grew by leaps and bounds to accommodate the huge influx of officer and enlisted students; it was here where logistics officer LTJG Richard M. Nixon learned his trade. Coddington Cove was acquired as a supply station, fuel facilities were built at Melville, along with a PT Boat Training Center where LTJG John F. Kennedy completed PT Boat training, Naval Air Station Quonset Point and further down the coast at Naval Auxiliary Air Station Charlestown, Naval Aviator ENS George Herbert Walker Bush honed his craft, the Seabee’s found a home in Davisville, while Sachuest Point was home to Naval Radio Station Sachuest Point and a rifle range commanded by NRA President Commander Thurman Randle.  

As a side note Nixon, Kennedy, and Bush all had differing naval careers. Nixon retired as a commander from the Naval Reserve in 1966 after 24 years of service while Kennedy was retired on physical disability as a lieutenant.in 1945. Bush was released from active duty in September 1945, placed in the inactive reserve, and formally discharged in1955 as a lieutenant. 

The Navy takeover and expansion of the Rumford Range was swift and extensive. War was declared on April 6, 1917 and three weeks later the first detail of what would become a permanent party of 300 naval personnel arrived at Rumford and tent city sprang up overnight . Following Federal blueprints the Blue Jackets began construction on May 1st of what would become 32 ranges with 200, 300, 500, 600, 1,000 yard firing lines for rifle, pistol, and machine gun training. As time went on the Navy replaced much of the canvas with wood structures, a 400 man mess hall, Bachelor Officers’ Quarters, hospital, and administrative buildings.  

Firearms training was scheduled and the plan of the day, which ran from 0730 through 1700 five days a week and part time on Saturday and Sunday, saw as many as 500 sailors and state guardsman on the line or in a classroom setting learning about, and get hands on training, with the Springfield 1903 Rifle, .38 revolver and .45 1911 pistol, the Lewis and Browning machine guns, and various types of hand and rifle grenades. 

Sailors sent to Rumford for training were detailed on Temporary Additional Duty orders to the “USS Rumford.” The assignment of the title United States Ship to a land facility was rare for the US Navy. However the British commonly use HMS, with the H standing for His or Her depending on the gender of the monarch at the time, for both vessels and shore establishments or ‘stone frigates.’ Examples mirroring the activities at Newport at the time are the basic training facility HMS Raleigh, Maritime Warfare School HMS Collingwood, and Portsmouth Naval Base’s HMS Nelson. 

Despite the Armistice on November 11, 1918, and demobilization, the range lived on under the control of the state guard. The Navy was always welcome and in1920 the crew of the USS Tennessee (BB-43) arrived for small arms training. The range was purchased by the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in 1922 for use by the state militia and the National Guard and saw extensive use during World War II. It closed in 1946 and eventually became the site of an elementary school and playground.  

My shooting crony Dave Czerwonka, who lives close by the old range area, reports that there are still some ruins of the range just visible to bikers, runners, and walkers using the recreational path that now wends through the area. 

Two world wars saw the creation, in the nation’s smallest state of all places, of some of the Navy’s largest range facilities. Today, all that is left of the buildings, firing points, and pits of the Rumford and Sachuest Point ranges are a few rotting foundations, crumbling concrete, and the fading memories of the kids, now grown old, who used to scavenge for brass to take to the scrap dealer to exchange for candy money.  

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The .30 Pencil…

My brother Steve and I were sprawled on the couch in front of the TV, watching the Muppets, idly wasting some time before heading up the Quaker Hill Rod and Gun Club for our weekly Mohegan League Rifle League match. The show was suddenly interrupted by a news alert and all of a sudden there appeared on the screen the mother of all fireworks displays as Coalition of the Gulf War bombers, dropped tons of ordnance on Bagdad, greeted by intense Iraqi antiaircraft fire. Green tracer arced into the sky as  2,000-pound GBU-24 Paveway-guided smart bombs dropped by radar-evading F-117A ‘Night Hawks” exploded and Tomahawk Cruise missiles joined in the mayhem, launched from surface ships and submarines cruising in the Persian Gulf.  

At  the range, the club’s TV was entertaining all with the start of Desert Storm, or what eventually became known as Persian Gulf War I. The pyrotechnics on the screen made the rattle of musketry coming from the basement range insignificant. Oddly enough my thoughts fell to a scene from a favorite move, Casablanca. It was January 16, 1991 in Connecticut but January 17, 1991, in Baghdad. How would the historians mark this date?  

History books tell us the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, pulling the United States into World War II on December 7, 1941, “…a date which will live in infamy….” according to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But it was already December 8th in the Philippines when the Japanese raided Clark Field and effectively eliminated US air power in the region. 

In Casablanca, a drunken Rick Blaine played by Humphrey Bogart is musing about with his faithful companion and piano player Dooley Wilson’ Sam after Ilse Lund, a long lost love, performed by Ingrid Bergman, who shows up in Rick’s Café Américain

Rick: If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York? 

Sam: What! My watch stopped. 

Rick: I’d bet they’re asleep in New York. I’d bet they’re asleep all over America 

I really should have been thinking more about the ramifications of the last four or five drills at my National Guard Unit, the tongue twisting Connecticut Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot (1109th) instead of, as Rick put it, ”…the problems of three little people which don’t amount to hill of beans in this crazy world.” 

Since Operation Desert Shield began in August of 1990 rumors ran rife at every drill about a possible deployment to Southeast Asia. In general it seemed a little preposterous to me as we were a technical unit whose wartime mission was to mobilize in place, provide back up support to other deployed AVCRADs, support a deploying force with aviation maintenance, provide workload expansion capabilities, and provide support at ports where aviation units were deploying overseas or returning from deployment. 

Ominously though, over the last few drills we had been lined up for a plethora of shots, panorex x-rays of our teeth-which I later learned was not for our dental health put for identification purposes, dog tag check, meeting with JAG lawyers to ensure we had valid wills, a complete barracks bag inspection, and other such administrative folderol. 

Called up in February, we moved to Fort Devens, Massachusetts for training.  Just as the ground war ended notification came that we would be sending a detachment of 100 souls to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia to carry out helicopter retrograde operations. 

As the unit’s Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare NCO I had conducted extensive training in the months leading up to our activation so all I needed to do was to run a short refresher to certify the forward element. However, I was also the resident small arms expert and we had not been to the range in almost a year. On the plus side I had a small group of fellow state team rifle and pistol shooters in the AVCRAD. The full time Fort Devens range staff would handle running the qualification and the safety brief. Our armorers would take care of issuing M16A1s, ball ammunition, and any mechanical issues that might arise, although, secretly, their only concern was getting back 100 clean rifles and 4,000 pieces of expended brass. I would review basic marksmanship skills and, with the help of my teammates, remediate any soldiers who did not qualify.  

The job was made easier because Devens only required us to shoot the 25 meter Scaled Target Alternate Course, 20 rounds in prone and 20 rounds supported out of prepared fighting position,. After zeroing in, and a practice session, each soldier had 40 rounds to engage the target in two strings of 20 rounds in 120 seconds each. We would also be required to fire a familiarization course wearing the M17 protective mask, but that did not count for qualification. 

Qualification day dawned with snow on the ground, and more promised, with a cold breeze, typical of mid-February in northern Massachusetts. Sustained by a hefty, comforting, and artery clogging Army breakfast of juice, eggs any style, SOS, home fries, toast and coffee, a meal guaranteed to provide sufficient energy to qualify and calories enough to keep us warm, we bussed to the range. A rely would take about an hour so we would be done before lunch, even with an extra relay for bolos who had to fire again after remediation. Those that qualified, 25 hits or more, moved to a different range for the gas mask familiarization and then back to the warm barracks for hip pocket training before lunch.  

When firing was done 97 soldiers had qualified. Justly satisfied with the results I headed to the Mess Hall to warm up and have a hot lunch with the scorecards in hand. Just as I was tucking into my well-deserved meal the AVCRAD’s hoary old sergeant major sat down next to me, coffee cup in hand, and asked how we had faired. 

When I told him 97% he smiled and teased me with, “You know in my day those three would have qualified, even if it took a .30 caliber pencil. I replied, “Maybe, but the M16 is not like your old M1 or M14, it’s caliber is 5.56mm and, in my day, my pencil is not.” 

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Rick: If it’s December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York? 

Sam: What! My watch stopped. 

Rick: I’d bet they’re asleep in New York. I’d bet they’re asleep all over America 

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