A Small, But Significant, Technicality.

In more than fifty years I have at last come to grips that my shooting forte may not be with the firearm but with the typewriter. I’ll leave no legacy of strings of range victories. My contribution to the sport will be in documenting those riflemen who are far better than I. 

To that end I have researched and written on individuals and events covering shooting from the invention of gunpowder through contemporary shooting stars. The first scholarly study I completed was a short history of the Distinguished Badge program.

In it I chronicled a whole host of firsts such as Corporal Horace Bevins, 10th US Cavalry, who earned both rifle and pistol Distinguished in 1894, the first to be awarded the pistol badge and the first Double Distinguished shooter. 

Alice Bull, 1961, and Gertrude Backstrom, 1958, became the first woman to earn rifle and pistol honors respectively

Marine Gunner Calvin Lloyd earned Distinguished status with the rifle in 1911, the pistol in 1912 and International in 1921 making him the first Triple Distinguished shooter.  

Staff Sergeant Barbara Hile went Distinguished with the rifle in 1964, the International Distinguished Badge for sport pistol followed in 1970, and the Distinguished Pistol shot in a year later, making her the first female Triple Distinguished shooter. 

On a hot July day in 1872 Private John Nihill, a trooper in Company F of the 5th United States Calvary, found his patrol engaged by 40 Apaches. Nihill was detailed to cover the group’s withdrawal, an action for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. He continued his military career and in 1882 earned a place on the Department of the Platte Rifle Team.  Three years later he was awarded the Distinguished Marksman Badge, making him the first recipient of the nation’s highest awards for valor and marksmanship skills.

In 1925 Marcus V. Dinwiddie, of the District of Columbia, became the first civilian to become designated a Distinguished Marksman without prior military service.  Dinwiddie was only 18 years old at the time. This was not his first foray into shooting for, as a schoolboy in 1924, he was a member of the United States shooting team at the Paris Olympics.  He placed second in the smallbore 50 meter standing match and became the youngest US shooter to earn an Olympic medal until Kim Rhode won a Gold in1996.

David Waters of Glenbrook, New South Wales, Australia, spent $45,000, traveled over 100,000 miles, and shot over 6,000 rounds of ammunition during 50 actual days of competition to earn his Distinguished Rifleman Badge at Camp Swift, Texas in 1982. At the time it was believed he was the first non-United States citizen to earn the Badge, based on contemporary records.

However, I recently came into possession of War Department Document Number 9A entitled Distinguished Marksmen and Distinguished Pistol Shots designated by the War Department, published by the Office of the Adjutant General, in Washington in 1926. It  lists all Army and civilian personnel who were award the Badge from its inception through that date. Information from this document 92 year old document casts a slight shadow on Waters’ place in service rifle history.

Congress authorized the creation of the first body of native troops in Puerto Rico in 1898. The “Porto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry” was organized from that body in 1901. Just three years later First Sergeant Francsico Agostino, Company B, Porto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry, was designated Distinguished with the rifle. A year earlier Captain Frank Graham, Porto Rico Provisional Regiment of Infantry, had earned the Badge. However, Graham was a “Continental,” an officer from the mainland United States and a United States citizen, while Agostino was neither.

Agostino was awarded the Distinguished Marksman Badge in 1904. He would not become a United States citizen until  March 2, 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act, under which Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans were granted statutory citizenship, meaning that citizenship was granted by an act of Congress and not by the Constitution. Therefore, Agostino was the first non-US citizen to be designated Distinguished with the rifle.

The first non-US citizen awardee of Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge goes to another  soldier of the Porto Rico Provisional Regiment, Sergeant Evaristo Correa, of Company A  in 1913.

Army Chief of Staff General Lyman Lemnitzer, who earned his Distinguished Badge as a young Coast Artillery Corps second lieutenant in 1924, authorized changing the Badge’s title to Distinguished Rifleman in 1956. Lemnitzer believed that the use of the term marksman, which was also used in regular annual qualification, was not sufficiently dignified. The National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice’s Director of Civilian Marksmanship, a subsidiary of the Department of the Army, which issued Distinguished Badges to civilians, and the Air Force and  followed suit. The more tradition bound sea services, the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, retained the term Distinguished Marksman. 

This semantical difference keeps Waters’ praiseworthy claim as the first non-US, as well as Australian, citizen to be awarded a Distinguished Rifleman Badge is true, but only on a small, but significant, technicality. 

About Hap Rocketto

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