Sitting on my bookshelf is a gift from the late great Art Jackson, two deformed metal discs. One is a 1947, the year I was born, Mexican one peso piece with a hole shot through it on the circumference, the other a lead disc with a bullet hole, just off center which has inscribed on it “Shot with a Remington  Rifle” on one side and on the obverse, “Shot with a Remington Cartridge” with “Kleenbore” in it familiar dog bone shape in the center. 

Art was given the pierced peso piece by Winchester’s legendary exhibition shooter Adolph Topperwein when he and Bill Blankenship visited him at his home in the early 1950s during a break from training for international competition at nearby Fort Bliss, Texas. Topperwein was long retired and the peso was taken from his store of coins he had shot when active. The lead slug was picked up following an exhibition shoot by Remington’s Tom Frye.  

The first known exhibition shooter, Frank “Doc” Carver, won established a record by breaking 885 glass balls out of 1000 in San Francisco on February 22, 1878 and was proclaimed the “Champion Rifle Shot of the World.” Carver also laid down written rules  for this now arcane branch of the shooting sports. The shooter could use any rifle shooting a solid bullet, the target had to be a 2 1.4 inch composition ball or wooden block, the assistants tossing the blocks had to stand between 25 and 30 feet in front of the shooter, the targets had to be thrown to a height between 25 and 30 feet, and a judge, referee, and scorer must be present at all times. 

In December of 1907 Topperwein used three 1903 model Winchester .22 semiautomatic to shoot at 72,000 2½ inch square hand thrown wooden blocks, missing only nine. His longest run without a miss was 14,540 and followed the endurance shooting rules laid down by Carver, the father of the discipline. 

On May 25, 1935, at Forbes Field, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Babe Ruth his 712th, 713th, 714th homeruns. The 714th would be last he would hit, but it established a major league baseball career record for homers. Ruth started playing for the Boston Red Sox in 1914, played for the New York Yankees for 14 years after being sold by the Sox, and ended his days back in Boston with the cellar dwelling Bostin Braves in 1934. Ruth’s phenomenal career was fueled with natural talent he enhanced it with beer, broads and hot dogs and one minor run in with science 

October of 1959 saw Remington’s Tom Frye, using three Remington Nylon 66 .22 semiautomatic rifles, hit 100,004 out of100,010 wooden over a period of 14 straight days. Breaking Topperwein’s record. Yet there was a cloud over his achievement in the bright Nevada sky when he finished.  

Ruth’s record fell to Hammerin’ Hank Aaron when he hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974 off of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. The ball was caught in the bullpen by  relief pitcher Tom House. It was a double connection with Ruth for he broke his record while wearing a Braves, albeit Atlanta, uniform. Aaron ended his career with 755 home runs, well before baseball’s Steroid Era. 

Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record on August 7, 2007, hitting a full-count, 84 mph pitch from Washington’s Mike Bacsik 435 feet to right-center field before a  hometown crowd. It was a night game but even the bright lights of AT&T Park could not hide the cloud which hovered over the event. 

To break any endurance record in shooting or baseball takes excellent physical conditioning, concentration, training, skill, the best equipment, patience, and resolve. For example, Frye’s Nylon 66 weighed four pounds and he lifted it 100,010 a total work out of a little over 20 tons, or about 1.5 tons a day for two straight weeks. Think of the friction on the trigger finger or the cumulative effect of the pounding of even the miniscule .22 Long Rifle cartridge, just 0.2 foot pounds, for that many shots. 

Unfortunately, almost all of these record holding performances were soiled in some way or another. Carver was said to have taken morphine injections to ease the pain in his shoulder. 

Ruth experimented once with an injection of sheep testicle extract to increase his power but it instead it made him violently ill, giving a whole new meaning to the term foul ball. His time on the Disabled List was chalked off by the Yankee front office as one of his famous hot dog induced belly aches.  

Frye was reported to have taken muscle relaxants to ease him through his marathon and he did not abide by Carver’s rules. The noted forearms writer crusty Colonel Charles Askins had examined photos of Frye’s attempt and noted that the man tossing the blocks was standing just off Frye’s left shoulder, a more advantageous position than Topperwein. 

Topperwein’s only relief for his sore muscles was having his wife Plinky help him dress and occasionally bathe his face with cool water during shooting while a barber shaved him each morning.  

The amiable Aaron was known to take an occasional beer after a game in the locker room with his teammates to relax while the abrasive and standoffish Bonds was a central figure in Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug scandal.  

Never the less, each man’s singular accomplishment, some tainted, represents, as Topperwein put it to Frye, an accomplishment of “wonderful endurance and accuracy.”  

Impressive as they were what about the wonderful endurance and accuracy of the anonymous men who rhythmically tossed thousands of wooden blocks 25 to 30 feet into the air for days on end? 

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There was a time in the not too distant past when Winchester and Remington fielded exhibition shooters to flog their products at state fairs and like affairs. They followed in the footsteps of famed western exhibition shooters that came of age during the 1880s. It started in 1874 when the Irish Rifle Team, the premier team in the British Isles, crossed the Atlantic to take on the upstart United States at Creedmoor. Some 8,000 spectators flowed out from nearby New York City to watch the event which was covered by all the major papers and the likes of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, which illustrated the event with elaborate woodcuts.  

In the wake of this international competition, exhibition shooters were soon populating vaudeville theaters, circuses, and fair sites, all claiming to be the “World’s Champion Rifle Shot.” In most cases it was a charade as there was no governing body, or even competition to regulate the shooting of ashes from a cigarette held in an assistant’s mouth or buttons from his vest-tricks that were more often than not rigged by the charlatans on stage. 

The first legitimate exhibition shooter to rise to prominence was a dentist by the name of William F. Carver who, much like controversial John “Doc” Holliday, gave up the chair and drill for the firearm and fame. Carver shot for six consecutive days in 1885 in New Haven, Connecticut, breaking 64,881 targets out of 60,000. Most importantly he established the rules for endurance exhibition shooting. To earn some side money he also developed a diving horse act . The act was continued by his family after his death and ran until pressure from animal rights groups forced its closure in the late1970s. 

Captain Adam H. Bogardus, a member of the National Trap Shooting Hall of Fame, was in heated competition with Carver for the world title and, in a series of 25 matches, was defeated by the dentist 19 times. Bogardus’ was an excellent wing shooter and displayed that skill in Madison Square Garden by shooting at 5,000 glass balls in eight hours and 20 minutes, breaking 4,844 of them. His two guns were alternately cooled in buckets of ice water.  

Young Phoebe Ann Mosey, better known as Annie Oakley or ‘Little Sure Shot, and Frank Butler were the next of the famous exhibition shooters. The pair married and together toured for many years with William Cody’s Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, performing before the crowned heads of Europe. 

Adolf Topperwein, son of a gunsmith, was born into the Schützen shooting culture of the central Texas hill country’s German ethnic enclave that also gave us Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz and another famous shooter, of sorts, Bonnie Parker. Early on Ad was handling firearms and after seeing Doc Carver on Buffalo Bill’s show there was no stopping him. Ad apprenticed in vaudeville and the circus until 1901 when he was hired by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company as an exhibition shooter.  

While taking a walk on the New Haven Common during a visit to the New Haven plant in 1902 Ad met Elizabeth Servaty, who happened to work as Winchester as a .22  caliber cartridge assembler. He was smitten and they soon married. The new Mrs. Topperwein was not familiar with firearms but didn’t want to remain at home while Ad was on the road. He took up teaching her trick shooting and she soon excelled. It wasn’t long before they were touring together. Along the way Mrs. Topperwein picked up the nickname ‘Plinky.” While Plinky’s specialty was shooting over her shoulder and sighting by looking into the mirror of her compact. Ad famously closed the act by drawing an Indian’s head on a board or sheet of tin using bullet holes. 

Asked as to which Topperwein was the better shot Ad diplomatically responded: “Well, I was best at some feats  and she was best at others. Reckon it was a toss-up between us.”  

Ad’s greatest claim to fame came in San Antonio, Texas, between December 13 and December 22, 1907 when, following Carver’s rules, he used three 1903 model Winchester .22 semiautomatic to shoot at 72,000 2½ inch square hand thrown wooden blocks, missing only nine. His longest run without a miss was 14,540. 

The record would stand until Tom Frye, exhibition shooter of rival Remington Arms Company, used three newly introduced Remington Nylon 66 .22 semiautomatic rifles to hit 100,004 out of100,010 wooden over a period of 14 straight days in October of 1959. Even though he did not follow Carver’s rules Frye received a letter of congratulations from Topperwein who lauded him for, “wonderful endurance and accuracy.” 

Others have followed in their footsteps, Herb Parsons was Topperwein’s protégé and successor, promoting Winchester product for 30 years. A member of the Trapshooting Hall of Fame he was noted for being able to toss seven clay targets into the air and dust them all before they hit the ground with a 12 gauge Winchester Model 12 pump action shotgun. 

Most recently Tom Knapp, sponsored by CZ-USA Benelli and the Federal Ammunition Company would put on 100 live shows a year and made numerous TV appearances. Knapp’s claim to fame is that he could hand toss nine clay targets into the air and using a Benelli semi-automatic shotgun break them all in less than two seconds. He followed that with breaking Parson’s record by breaking eight hand tossed clays with a pump shotgun in 1.87 seconds. Using a 12-ga. Benelli semi-auto shotgun with extended magazine he broke ten hand tossed clays in 2.2 seconds.  

They are all gone now and while such names as Smith and Wesson, Colt, Springfield, Eley, and Lapua sponsor competitive teams we shall never see the likes of the great exhibition shooter of the past again. 

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As a collegiate rifle coach I have grown fond of electronic targets. I can monitor a shooter without dragging around a spotting scope, a scoring detail and the human errors involved in adding up scores and plugging shots on paper targets are a thing of the past, and after the smoke clears, I have a printed record of performance to review with my athlete. 

On the other hand, I am a high power shooter of the old school. A 30 caliber wooden rifle, spotting scope, shooting stool stocked with ammunition for the day, score book and pencil, three magazines, and a mat is quite enough. I follow advice attributed to Albert Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  

I grew up in an era when matches either  provided target pullers or you trudged to the pits and pulled ‘em and pasted ‘em solo or with the others assigned to your firing point. It was the mark of a mature rifleman to serve the target in a quick and efficient manner. Learning how to do it correctly it was a rite of passage in which one took great pride in completing.  

In those days a match lasted all day and there was much to be learned in the pits about shooting, wind doping, reloading, local eateries, humor from jejune to scatological, and your fellow target pullers. In a sense the pits were shooting education institutions, local matches a community college, regionals and state championships Land Grant universities, and the National Matches was the Ivy League. They were rich, rewarding, and relaxing days, well spent in the company of likeminded individuals. 

Now adays the world seems to be spinning faster and, with the advent of electronic targets for high power, shooters seem to be in a rush to shoot and scoot. There is much chatter on internet forums at just how fast one can now shoot a regional course of fire with electronics. I have the sense that getting a full course over by noon brings more joy than  a good score. To me much is lost in the race to get back to whatever. 

The pits have been the scene of some of my more memorable shooting moments as well as some humor and chicanery. My first big pit moment came when I traveled 700 miles to Camp Perry only to be squadded in the Wimbledon with my hometown teammate John Sullivan. This was not a bad thing, but I knew John had a serious heart condition and that year the 1,000 yard match course of fire was unlimited sighters and 30 shots for record. In his late 60s, with cyanotic lips and a plastic earplug container filled with nitroglycerin pills bead-chained to a belt loop, his pride would not allow him to avoid pit duty as was his right. In my 20s I toiled mightily to carry the burden of work in such a way so as not to injure John’s dignity or, more importantly, his heart. 

During a Leech Cup my shooters finished early and I strode over to where my brother Steve and his partner stood red faced with effort and dusted with sand. The duckboards under their feet was littered with sand, sandbag canvas and shards of wood, their shooter was not having a good day. Steve admonished me to stand close to the wall. Just as I stepped back and peeked up at the target I was stung, I thought, by a bee. 

It turned out it was not a bee but an M14’s 173 grain boat tail bullet. It passed through a sand bag on the berm, hit an upright on the frame, and passed under the brim of my ballcap and smacked me right between the running lights behind the bridge of my glasses, breaking the skin and cauterizing the wound with its heat. With that I became legend, one of the few men to be shot between the eyes at 1001 yards and survive. To this day I still hear of the incident from those, yet unborn at the time, who swear to have witnessed it. 

My shooting mentor Dick Scheller and I were prepping our target for rapid sitting at All Guard tryouts when a call came from the line. It seems the last pit crew on our target had forgotten a few grapefruit tucked away in in the shade of the bench to stay cool and requested we bring them back at the end of the day. Knowing that the likely score from the pair on the line would be a clean with many Xs Dick devilishly taped a very ripe and juicy fruit behind the X ring. When the targets went up and the shooters went down we knew the rifleman had a good zero because, much to the amusement of the pit detail, the berm was decorated with shards of skin, pulp, pits, and juice. 

Charles Finney’s Old China Hands recounts his days in the crack 15th Infantry in China during the 1920s. He relates an incident during rifle qualification when, during a 500 yard rapid fire string, a popular and genial officer, Captain Wild Bill Tuttle, perhaps to help an infantryman qualify as a sharpshooter or expert and earn some incentive money, suggested to Finney and his fellow target pullers a little bit of pit “Santa Clausing”:  

We never knew who was shooting on out target…. But his first five shots made a beautiful tight group in the center but just under the black of the silhouette. Wild Bill looked at his target critically as the bullets tore into it. “He’s got his sights set a fraction too low, “ said Wild Bill. “When he puts in his new clip, ease the frame down about five inches and let him make a few bull’s-eyes.” So, in the miniscule interval in which it took the rifleman to reload, we inched his target down a little. This was not perceptible at the firing line, of course. But, his next five shots went spang! spang! spang! into the black. “Colonel Newell would court martial me if he knew I did anything like that,” said Wild Bill amiably, and walked on.  

Electronic targets may be fine for those in hurry but like metal and plastic stocks on rifles they lack soul. Shortened shooting days rob a new generation of shooters of education, comradeship, and tradition. Perhaps to new shooters pulling targets is, in modern vernacular, the pits but, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  

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My brother Steve was off to an afternoon movie matinee with his cronies and not all that happy that our mother made him drag me along. She and The Old Man would be off on some adult business when he got home from his Saturday half day of work, which was common in the early 1950s for many blue collar workmen. She, justifiably so, did not trust the eight year old me to be home alone. Both mother and brother admonished me about behaving and, armed with two shiny quarters for my ticket, popcorn, and candy bar, I rode drag on Steve’s gang during the walk downtown. 

Exiled to a seat directly in front of him so Steve could keep an eye on me without acknowledging my existence, I sat candy bar in shirt pocket and popcorn in lap. The lights dimmed and there followed a travelogue, a cartoon, coming attractions, and the feature, The Kentuckian, starring Burt Lancaster as 1820 frontiersman Elias “Big Eli” Wakefield. “Big Eli” and son “Little Eli” were leaving Kentucky for Texas. What followed was a love triangle between “Big Eli” and two women, which didn’t interest me much, and a quarrel with the villainous bullwhip wielding Stan Bodine, played by Walter Matthau, which did. Bodine, decades before and nowhere as nice as the heroic Indiana Jones and his bullwhip, uses his bullwhip as a weapon. In the climactic scene Bodine whips Wakefield raw but, losing his whip, is pummeled in the end by Wakefield’s fists. 

On the walk back home Steve, ever the walking footnote, regaled his indifferent buddies with a myriad of minutia. Drawing on his even then impressive well of knowledge, he informed them that the bullwhip was the first man made device to break the sound barrier. In his Latin I text book, he said, there were pictures of  mosaics dating from the second century AD showing lash whips like Bodine’s. The next man made things to exceed the speed of sound, according to an article he read in The American Rifleman, were conical bullets and that led to his favorite subject, aviation. 

“Do you guys know that the first manned supersonic flight occurred on October 14,1947? Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager piloted the US Air Force’s rocket powered aircraft #46-062, the Bell X-1, named Glamorous Glennis in honor of his wife. Dropped from the bomb bay of a B-29 the Bell X-1 was the first airplane to exceed the speed of sound in level flight, reaching a speed of Mach1.06.” He went on to tell us that the fuselage design of the X-1 was based on the shape of the 50 caliber Browning Machine Gun bullet which was known for its stability in supersonic flight. The X-1 was simply a  “bullet with wings.” 

He was, as usual, accurate but there is more to the story which involves General John J. Pershing and John Moses Browning. The machine gun came into its own during World war I when Germany’s Mashinegewehr 08 and Great Britain’s Vickers Machine guns faced off across No Man’s Land. Ironically both guns were versions of American born, but later British citizen, Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim’s original 1884 Maxim gun. The Maxim gun was first  used by Britain in 1893 during the First Matabele War’s Battle of the Shangani when 700 British South Africa Policemen and five Maxim guns held of 3,500 Matabele warriors on Saint Crispin’s Day 1893. When the smoke had cleared some 1,500 warriors’ bodies littered the field while the BSAP buried four of their comrades. Of such events British historian, poet and essayist Hilaire Belloc wrote:  

Whatever happens, we have got 
The Maxim gun, and they have not.  

When the American Expeditionary Force landed in France in June of 1917 they had a motley collection of about 1200 near obsolete machine guns in their inventory including Colt-Browning M1895 “potato diggers”, M1904 Maxims, M1909 Benét–Merciés, Hotchkiss M1914s, and Lewis machine guns. This was a logistical nightmare and the Army put out a bid which Browning answered with a design he had been working since 1900. In its first test at the Springfield Armory Browning’s machine gun fired 20,000 rounds with a few stoppages due to poorly loaded cloth belts. It was followed with another 39,500 rounds that only stopped when the sear failed. A second gun repeated the original trial and went on to fire over 21,000 rounds in 48 minutes and 12 seconds, a cyclic rate of 435 round per minute. Designated the M1917, production guns arrived in France just a few months prior to the armistice, too late to really prove their worth. However, over the next six decades it would earn its spurs with service from the Banana Wars through the late 1960s until replaced by the United States Machine Gun, Caliber 7.62 mm, M60.  

The United States did not have a heavy machine gun to match the Germans so Pershing asked the Army Ordnance Department to develop one to defeat armored vehicles and aircraft, specifying at least 50 caliber and a muzzle velocity of 2,700 feet per second so as to match the effectiveness of the French 11 mm incendiary armor-piercing round.  Browning simply redesigned the M1917 for a larger for a more powerful 50 caliber cartridge that Winchester developed from the .30-06 design which, unfortunately, it did not meet Pershing’s specifications. Winchester later obtained some captured German 13mm Tankgewehr ammunition which gave them some insight and soon after the 50BMG cartridge was born. The resulting water cooled gun dropped the M1917’s single pistol grip trigger assembly in favor of twin spade handle grips with a thumb operated butterfly trigger, as a nod to its greater recoil, and was designated the M1921 Browning machine gun.  

Browning died in 1927, but the work on refining the M1921 continued. By 1933, the now air cooled gun, was designated M2 HB (heavy barrel), and the “Ma Deuce,” was adopted.  

The United States entered World War II with the M2 in service as fixed and flexible aircraft guns, anti-aircraft guns, a tripod mounted infantry version, and mounted on various vehicles as a dual purpose anti-aircraft and anti-vehicular weapon. After nearly 90 years it is still in service with the armed forces of 116 nations and over 3,000,000, and still counting, have been manufactured.   

So, in retrospect, we need to credit Pershing, Browning, and two teams of anonymous engineers and ballisticians at the Springfield Armory and Winchester for the 50 caliber BMG and, therefore, man’s first successful foray into supersonic flight.  

Image result for X1 Plane

Bell X-1 USAF #46-062 Glamorous Glennis  

See the source image
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Before the Old Man allowed me to even pick up a rifle he required me to memorize the National Rifle Association’s Ten Commandments of Safety. The tenth was “Do not mix gunpowder and alcohol.” Being eight years old it was meaningless to me but as I grew to maturity I found that there was more to it than a simple exhortation to not drink when shooting, much like the pilots’ rule of eight hours from bottle to throttle. 

It seems that the term proof for alcohol came about during the Tudor dynasty in 16th Century England. Black powder had been around for a few hundred years but about this time manufactures began wet mixing it. The addition of distilled spirits to the three ingredients, sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate, or ‘villainous saltpeter’ in the words of Shakespeare in Henry IV, Part One, created a paste. Once dried the paste could ‘corned,’ easily broken down into uniform size pieces.  

‘Corned’ gunpowder was more efficient than its predecessor, dry mixed ‘Serpentine’ powder. ‘Serpentine’ was mechanically milled and mixed which gave it the consistency of flour allowing its components to easily separate when the barrels were jarred while being transported over rough roads in unsprung wagons. This often required it to be remixed before use. Not so with ‘corned’ powder. 

The Tudor Dynasty was not a peaceable period of English history. Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, only became king after defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. The Tudors also dealt with civil unrest: the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Prayer Book Rebellion, Kett’s Rebellion, Wyatt’s Rebellion, and the Rising of the North. Add to that the cost of building coastal defenses, creating the Royal Navy, and too many vainglorious continental wars which won them neither power nor territory. The only byproduct of this profligate spending was staggering debt, especially during the reign of Henry VIII. 

Henry was not willing to give up his extravagant life style. And there was also the matter of his six wives but he was lucky for he ruled in the days before alimony and so they were dispatched, in order, by being divorced, beheaded, death by natural causes, divorced, beheaded, until survived by Catherine Parr. She was his third wife named Catherine and so the third time was indeed the charm.  With the Royal Treasury running low what else was Henry to do? So he took control of the Church of England confiscating the property of the Church of Rome and raised taxes. 

It is with Henry’s taxation that mixing alcohol and gunpowder come together with the creation of the proof system, so called so called because it would “prove” the alcohol content of distilled spirits. Liquors were taxed according to their alcohol content and the test involved soaking a ‘corn’ of gunpowder with the liquor. If it the gunpowder burned with a steady blue flame it was proof, if it burned quickly it was over proof and if it did not burn it was under proof.  This determined its tax rate.  

It was not a very accurate measure of alcohol content as the flammability of alcohol is dependent on its temperature but, without a thermometer or hydrometer-devices centuries in the future, it was the best Tudor tax collectors could do. But Henry, an accomplished musician and composer, didn’t care much about accuracy as long as he heard the musical chime of pence, groats, and shillings striking each other as they cascaded into the coffers of the royal treasury. 

But proof has yet another definition involving gunpowder and firearms. A proof test is a stress test to determine if a firearm is safe with a given load. They are performed during the development of the firearm and then on each production model to ensure the safety of the user. 

Proofing was codified in England by the Gun Barrel Proof Act of 1868 and Germany adopted a similar plan in 1891. By 1914 the European nations formed the Commission Internationale Permanente pour l’Epreuve des Armes à Feu Portatives, the Permanent International Commission for Firearms Testing, commonly known as CIP. The United States followed suit in 1926 with the establishment of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI). 

The testing procedure has evolved over the years. At first an excessive charge was used and then the firearm examined for damage. By most standards it was primitive. The Copper Unit of Pressure (CUP) or Lead Unit of Pressure (LUP), was a more sophisticated method of determining the chamber pressure. A hole drilled in the chamber was fitted with a piston and a precisely made lead or copper slug was placed on top and held in place by a fixture. When the cartridge was fired, the amount the slug was crushed allowed engineers to determine the pressure. Today, electric transducers provide the most accurate measurement of chamber pressure. 

Once a firearm is passed, a proof mark is punched into its receiver, frame, barrel, and/or slide. Anyone who owns a firearm manufactured by Anschütz, Heckler & Koch, SIG Sauer, Walther, or any other German firearms factory can’t help but notice the Teutonic obsession for proof marks for their runes are scattered all over the firearm. Shooters find them reassuring for safety and collectors find them useful in determining the age and origin of a firearm. 

The Tudors loved their food and, as the head of the Tudor household, King Henry VIII spared no expense in the kitchen. Actually, he spared no expense at anything which is the reason he ran up so much debt and started to tax spirits. That begs the question, why, when proofing was developed in the reign of one of the greatest of royal gastronomes , is the old expression ‘the proof is in the pudding and not ‘the proof is in the gunpowder?’  

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Publisher’s note. This is a New Year’s Eve special posting as this Hap’s Corner was not published in September as originally scheduled. – Joe Graf

My local Scout council had arranged for all newly minted Eagle Scouts to spend a career day with a local volunteer who shared similar vocational and advocational interests. In my case they faced the daunting task of finding a teacher with a naval background who had some competitive shooting experience.

Much to my surprise they magically managed to pull that rabbit out of hat. It seemed there was a former naval officer who taught at Mitchell College and claimed to have some shooting experience.

Mitchell was a two year junior college that specialized in what one might call academic rehabilitation. A large percentage of the student population had already managed to flunk out of a four year institution or, like me, had a dismal high school record. The school was very good at what it did and, as it also happened, I was ticketed for enrollment there after I escaped high school by the skin of my teeth.

The school was about a mile from my home which worked out well. I was one of the few seniors at New London High School who I did not have a drivers’ license and, even if I did, my father needed the family car to go to work. It wasn’t a bad walk, but for the fact that each day I had to pass by my old grammar school. The half drawn white window shades in the three story brick building seemed to be the teeth in a sardonic grin. Harbor School knew how I had skated through kindergarten through sixth grade on my store of useless knowledge and an ingratiating smile. I often thought it was enjoying the schadenfreude of the situation.

He pointed to a chair and gestured that I should sit as he sank into his. The desk was crowded, but tidy. Mr. McCoy, a mathematics instructor, was most hospitable and quickly had my measure as he enquired about my Eagle, school, hobbies, and my career plans. It was my dream, despite my academic performance, to become a naval officer. Being a teacher was also in the mix.

Once the formalities were over, he took me on a tour of the campus during which he discussed his experiences at Naval Academy casually mentioning in passing that he shot rifle at Annapolis. It was all very enlightening as he gave me valuable insight into what it might take to attain my goals.

A few months later I was a Mitchell freshman taking the traditional 100 level courses in English, psychology, biology, history of western civilization, and algebra. The latter was my bête noire. In the past five years I had taken algebra four times, failing it twice, scraping by once in summer school, and, at The Old Man’s instance, taking it once more to insure I got a grade of C or better.

On the Mitchell campus I bumped into Mr. McCoy from time to time. I was fortunate not to have him for algebra. I say this only because my fifth algebra go around resulted in a marginal C- meaning that what little reputation I had with him remained intact.

Mr. McCoy popped into my consciousness in 1968, the year the Department of the Army abandoned the National Matches and changed its face forever. He was featured on the cover of The American Rifleman as one of the first wave of volunteers who have served so well at Camp Perry

I earned an AS at Mitchell and followed it up with a BA, after which I managed to graduate from Navy Officer Candidate School. After the Navy I went to grad school on the GI Bill and a monthly paycheck from the Connecticut National Guard, for which I did little but shoot.

When, what is known laughingly, as my career as a writer of shooting history began, I was did an article on the NRA All American program. Much to shock and delight it turned out that Midshipman Jessie W. McCoy, wielding a Ballard rifle for Navy, was a first team All American in 1939. The photo staring out from page 24 of NRA All Americans: A Commemorative 1936-1998 showed that Mr. McCoy had changed little in the ensuing 26 years. Future NRA President Rear Admiral Morton Mumma, Jr., then a lieutenant, was his coach and the team won the NRA National Collegiate Smallbore Championship.

Although I did not know Mumma he was the skipper of the USS Sailfish (SS-192) at the start of World War II. Originally commissioned as the USS Squalus, the submarine sank off the coast of New Hampshire during test dives in May of 1939. After being salvaged the Sargo class submarine was put back in commission and conducted numerous patrols in the Pacific earning nine battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation. Her conning tower is on display at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, as a memorial. One survivor of the catastrophe was Allen C. Bryson who was a shooting crony of The Old Man. His son, Gordon Bryson, a high school classmate, is my life-long friend. One more connection.

Another member of the 1939 All American class was Sam Burkhalter, a shooter I came to know when he lived in Connecticut in the 1960s. I often think that I wished I had known then what I knew know.

A Master’s in Education started me on a 33 year career in the classroom. My broad, but shallow, education enabled me to be certified in high school special education, science, history, social studies, and blueprint reading. It was with great irony that I also had a certificate in mathematics and spent many a semester teaching algebra, something that am sure would have left Mr. Marshall, Mr. Seybold, Mr. Gonsalves, Mr. Pierce, and Mrs. Sutera scratching their heads in amazement.

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“Rifle training was serious business, and we worked at it for several months each year.  …The positions were standing, or offhand as we called it, sitting, kneeling, and prone, all using the rifle sling for support.  The sling, a leather strap attached to the rifle for carrying the piece, was a necessary aid for accurate shooting.”   So remembers Victor Vogel, in his elegantly simple memoirs of life as an enlisted infantryman in the United States Army between the World Wars, entitled Soldiers of the Old Army.   

In Vogel’s time the various services’ rifle teams fought ferociously on Camp Perry’s greensward for the honor of taking home the National Trophy, a massive bronze casting mounted on a well-polished piece of hardwood. The bronze bas relief is of an ancient warrior holding four dogs, all  straining at their leashes. The bronze is evocative of Mark Antony’s soliloquy in Act 3 of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which he reveals his plan to incite violence against Caesar’s assassins with the phrase, “Cry ‘Havoc and let slip the dogs of war! ” It is but a short leap to understand why the National Trophy is commonly referred to as the “Dogs of War Trophy.” 

Rifle training was serious business for the Army and the Marines. The Army, in a draft document entitled Marksmanship-Rifle General, published by the Infantry School in 1923 outlined the training regime, stating that,  

“Under ordinary conditions the annual practice season for the regular army, exclusive of competitions, will cover a period of six weeks for each organization. A period of two weeks is devoted to preparatory exercise and gallery practice and four weeks to range practice.” 

Six weeks is a lot of time in a training year and no other soldierly skill was allowed that much time. 

Much the same may be said of the Marines, for whom marksmanship is a high and holy thing. They first demonstrated it at Belleau Wood where an official German report classified the Marines as “vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen …” Army General John Pershing, himself a Distinguished Marksman, said, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle.” And that rifle was the United States Rifle, Caliber .30-06, Model 1903.  

The ’03 was the Doughboy’s and Devil Dogs’ biggest source of military training, hard work, and sport. As for training and hard work, until they were perfect, recruits spent countless hours under the watchful eye of an experience non-commissioned officer learning how to manipulate their ‘03 through the formal choreography that is the manual of arms. 

The rifle had to be kept spotless, so gallons of hot soapy water were pumped through their bores after shooting to wash away the corrosive salt left behind by the detonation of the primer. This was followed by oiled patches and then the rifle was oiled again, a light coat of machine oil for the metal and linseed for the stock.  

Speaking of hard work, the Old China Hands of the 15th Infantry carried it one step further. According to Charles Finney a private in the 15th in 1927, “…every rifle had to have two sets of stocks, one scuffed and scarred and used for drill, the other boned and polished, wrapped lovingly in linseed-oily rags and only used for parades and guard mount.” To bone a stock one had to first cadge a soup bone from the company cook, clean it, and then spend hours pressing it hard  into the stock in the direction of the grain with a bit of linseed. This tightened the wood grain and polished the wood to a high sheen. 

Soldiers and Marines took qualifying seriously for in June 1922 Congress provided that an enlisted men who qualified with their primary weapon could receive extra pay.  In 1923 extra qualification pay varied from $1 to $5 each month, depending on the shooter’s skill, Congressional appropriations, and army regulations. During the days of the Great Depression, when Congress was tightfisted, the bonus money only went to those who qualified as Expert.  

That was big money in the days when a private was getting $21 per month, much of which went to deductions starting with 10¢ for The Old Soldiers Home and followed by barber and tailor bills, tobacco, tickets to the post theater, and personal hygiene supplies. Qualifying meant enough extra money for a few tickets with a taxi dancer at the local dance hall, a carton of tailormade smokes as opposed to a pouch of Bull Durham and rolling papers, or a few extra schooners of beer. 

Some enlisted men  were so serious about earning the extra money and moving on to Camp Perry with their service’s team that they took advantage of a regulation which allowed them to purchase a rifle from the Ordnance Depart for the princely sum of $35. These rifles had star gauged barrels and were essentially Match Grade.  

A man on his way to Distinguished would buy a spare tunic, one size too large to allow for the various positions, and convert into a shooting jacket by sewing leather or sheepskin pads onto the shoulder and elbows. A glove was optional but the ‘Sling, Small Arms: leather M1907’ was mandatory. He might buy a rifle fork to support the rifle while he used his O’Hare micrometer to adjust the rear sight. With a scorebook and a pencil the man was fully equipped to try for a spot on a Camp Perry team or, possibly more importantly, qualification pay.  

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The Rental Car Ammunition Bunker

Rummaging through my file folder entitled “It must be true because you just can’t make this stuff up” I found notes on a tale related by Glenn Dubis at Lones Wigger’s memorial service which was confirmed by two hoary old AMU alumni, Jim Meredith and Rick Hawkins. Confident that most of the principals are either dead, living in retirement in a nation with no extradition treaty, and/or that the statute of limitations expired with German reunification, I feel free to pass on the tale. 

The story begins with two kindred spirits meeting in occupied Germany in the late1940s US Army lieutenant Frederick J. Kiefer, on occupation service in Germany, befriended Werner Seibel, a young man on the hustle to put Hasenpfeffer and Spätzle on his family’s table in desperate post war economic times. 

Kiefer found himself trying out for the All Army Pistol Team at Fort Benning in February of 1950, beginning a long association with what would become the Army Marksmanship Unit. The unit was established in 1956, at the direction of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to, ostensibly, win international competitions. At the time international shooting was dominated by the Soviet Union so it was likely more of a political decision rather than competitive one. Because to goal was to embarrass the Soviets the AMU had liberal funding. Kiefer eventually became the AMU’s  “International Coordinator” at a time when the cash rich  AMU was regularly traveling to Europe for training and competition. 

The AMU teams traveled back and forth to Europe aboard Military Airlift Command  (MAC) flights which landed at Rhein-Main Airbase. Kiefer’s buddy Seibel has a car rental business just a hop, skip, and  a jump from Rhein-Main and it wasn’t long before he and Kiefer were scratching each other’s backs. 

The AMU rented vehicles from Seibel and he, or one of his employees, would pick up the team at the airport and then go to the garage to complete the rental paperwork.  The procedure was reversed upon departure, with the team staying at a small hotel that Seibold had arranged for near the garage. There is no doubt that the shady Seibold was “wetting his beak” with the friendly hotelier.  

The teams, rifle, pistol, running game, and shotgun, operated on the philosophy that one never had too much ammunition unless one was on fire or had fallen into deep water. Therefore, they always brought an ample supply of training and competition ammunition which was never completely expended. Ammunition is heavy and there was always lots of  paperwork to be completed when shipping it on MAC flights. Like all travelers the AMU teams wanted no delays in returning home and ammunition paperwork was an unwanted speed bump. 

Additionally the teams always visited the Anschutz, Feinwerkbau, and RWS factories to test barreled actions and ammo. Quite often this resulted in finding an exceptional lot of ammunition which was then purchased. 

Thoughts of how to avoid the reams of required paperwork paper work and lugging the ammunition back to Fort Benning began to percolate in the minds of the team leadership. At some point Wigger decided they would just leave their surplus ammunition in Germany. Some think that Wigger asked Dieter Anschütz if they could store it at his factory and was told no. Others surmise that Wigger just didn’t want to call in that kind of favor. 

Leaving US Government ammunition with a German national was certainly not legal and Seibold, as well as the team, must have known this. Seibel, grifter that he was  probably presumed it was a temporary arrangement worth the risk. The incentive of possibility offending the AMU and losing its car rental business, along the cash cow of hotel kickbacks, allowed him to turn a blind. Reluctantly he allowed himself to be strong armed into permitting them to use storage space in the back of one of his single car garages  

Off the beaten path and full of junk, It was a perfect place, if not the last place, anyone might think of looking for choice lots of match ammunition. The ammunition, everything from .22 through .308, and 12 gauge, was carefully packed in cans and stacked in the very back of the garage, covered with a tarp and debris, and hidden behind a sheet of disreputable plywood. It goes without saying that this ammunition bunker was not authorized by anyone in authority. 

German gun control at the time was the most stringent in Europe, a left over mix of the Nazi era 1938 German Weapons Act and Military Government decrees, with harsh penalties. Seibel knew this and grew fearful that someone might find out about the secret cache of ammunition, tip off the Kommunalpolizei. This would be followed by a quick appearance before a magistrate and a long term of breaking rocks at the local Justizvollzugsanstalt. so he began haranguing Wigger about clearing out the garage.  

Wigger responded In the late 1980s when the team was in Suhl, East Germany and he was hospitalized for a severe nose bleed. The Old Lion summoned  Dubis to his bedside and directed him to go to Seibel’s garage and conduct an inventory. Dubis’ elevated status on the team, justly earned by setting a few world records on his way to his first world championship, did not trump the fact he was the most junior person on the team.  

Within a few years of Dubis’ inventory the last of the ammunition had been removed and shot up with no one having gone to jail. Soon after Seibel faded into the swirling mist of shooting mythology, having either sold his business or retired, possibly living high on the hog from the ill-gotten gains from the hotel kickbacks. 

The only question remaining is, with the demise of Seibel’s auto rental business, who has assumed the mantle of European vehicle purveyor to the AMU? 

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Maltese Falcons And An Old Etonian

My wife and I were thinking about a vacation trip when a flyer came in the mail about a tour to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta. I was a bit familiar with it as it played a vital strategic role in World War II. So much so that it was the most heavily bombed piece of real estate in history. It was a heroic stand and King George VI awarded the island the George Cross with the words, “To honour her brave people I award the George Cross to the Island Fortress of Malta to bear witness to a heroism and devotion that will long be famous in history.” It was the first of only two times the George Cross has been a collective award. So important is the award to the Maltese that when the nation became independent of Great Britain in 1964 a representation of the medal was given a place of honor on the hoist of the national ensign.   

As a pilot Malta holds a special place as it is famous for three Gloster Sea Gladiator biplanes, named ‘Faith’, ‘Hope,’ and ‘Charity’, who helped defend the island against the Italian ‘Regia Aeronautica’ in 1940. The fuselage of ‘Faith’ is preserved in Malta’s National War Museum. My brother was most insistent that I take the tour to bring him back photos to add to his Brobdingnagian collection of airplane pictures. Not so insistent that he offered to underwrite part of the trip, but that is another story. 

Another aviation connection happened shortly after the three biplanes became famous.  George Frederick “Buzz” Beurling, DSO, DFC, DFM & Bar, Canada’s leading ace of World War II, arrived on the island to claim 27 of his 32 aerial victories over Axis aircraft. It was not without cost; however, he was shot down four times. His reckless aerial derring-do reflected his persona. He was rebellious and distained authority. Therefor he picked up two nicknames “Buzz,” he was in the habit of  beating up airfields, and “Screwball” for his erratic behavior. But he was a skilled fighter pilot in the right place at the right time. He was fast, maneuverable, and preyed on Axis aircraft which reminded the beleaguered citizens of Malta of Falco peregrinus brookei and so he was hailed as “The Falcon of Malta.” 

Then there is The Maltese Falcon. John Huston’s 1941 film noir classic based on a  Dashiell Hammett book. The Maltese Falcon is the tale of San Francisco private detective Sam Spade’s adventures as he deals with three unscrupulous denizens of the underworld who are out to find a golden bejeweled statuette of a falcon. As one might expect, guns play a prominent part in this story.     

A few  minutes into the film Spade’s partner, Miles Archer, is center in the screen when a hand rises and it a revolver A shot follows, and Archer lies dead. Fade to an exchange between Detective Tom Polhaus, played by Ward Bond, who greets Humphrey Bogart’s Spade with:  

“Hello, Sam. I figured you’d want to see it before we took him away.” 

“Thanks, Tom. What happened?” 

“Got him right through the pump with this.” 

“It’s a Webley.” 

“English, ain’t it?” 

A Webley-Fosbery. automatic, six -shot. They don’t  make ’em anymore”  

Most folks in the audience would have questioned Spade’s identification of the pistol in question. It looked like a revolver,  but it was, in fact, an automatic pistol. 

The pistol’s inventor, an Old Etonian named George Vincent Fosbery, was commissioned into the Bengal Army in 1852. Thirteen years later, in a fierce engagement with Pashtuns at a Northwest Frontier outpost called  Crag Picquet he earned a Victoria Cross. Probably armed with what passed as the standard officer sidearm at the time, the cap and ball muzzle loading 0.422 Adams revolver, he must have seen an improvement was needed.  Twenty five years later he retired as a lieutenant colonel and began designing firearms.  

The innovative pistol was based on the Webley Government Mk VI.  The cylinder was modified with engraved zig zag tracks which engaged a stud in the bottom of the frame. When the gun is fired, the upper body recoils advancing the cylinder half way to the next chamber, and cocking the hammer.  When the upper body returns to battery, the cylinder turns the next half turn to line up the next chamber. It was very well made, but the open tracks made it susceptible to dirt and fouling. 

The Webley–Fosbery was never adopted by the British Army as it’s sidearm. Nearly a foot long and weighing in at a whopping 2 ¾ pounds unloaded it was both unwieldy and heavy. Despite its clumsy size it saw limited action in both the Boer Wars and World War I when some British officers privately purchased them. 

Undeterred by the pistol’s lack of commercial success, Fosbery went on to develop what he called the Paradox Gun, It was a side by side shotgun capable of firing both shot and a bullet because it had broad shallow rifling for the last few inches of the length of the barrel. It was capable of accuracy out to about 150 yards.  Manufactured by Holland and Holland in eight, ten, and 12 bore they were very popular with the professional big game hunters who ran safaris in British East Africa during the early  decades of the 20th Century.  

While the Paradox Guns certainly accounted for uncounted buffaloes, hippos, elands, zebras, oryxes, waterbucks Greater and Lesser Kudus,  lions, leopards, elephants, Cape Buffalo, and rhinoceroses but they also had a more sinister prey.  A few dozen were purchased by the Royal Naval Air Service at the onset of World War I. A special incendiary round was designed to ignite the hydrogen cells of German Zeppelins. It is not known if the RNAS ever bagged a hydrogen filled bag with its paradox gun, but, if so, it certainly would  have made an interesting wall mount besides an example of African fauna.  

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The wife and kids were out for the night, so I had the television set to myself. I don’t watch much TV, usually Red Sox games, so this was a treat. In my recliner, a bowl of popcorn in my lap, I powered it up and explored Newton Minnow’s ‘vast waste land’. My thumb clicked the remote, quickly rejecting the History Channel, which now demeaned it’s once great name and reputation with programming about Sasquatch, ancient aliens, and shark wranglers, along with cooking shows, sports channels-it was not baseball season, reality TV, vacuous talking heads on the news, and way too many shopping channels.

I was running out of options when a flickering black and white image of a spinning globe and the strains of La Marseillaise grabbed my attention. The familiar voiceover told of refuges from Nazi occupation following a tortuous route across the rim of Africa to Casablanca in hopes of obtaining an exit visa to Lisbon and onto the New World. I was hooked. The Humphrey Bogart classic movie Casablanca ranks among my favorite films along with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and A Day at the Races.

Casablanca is a great film, but one must occasionally suspend belief to enjoy it. Such is case when “Irrevocable Letters of Transit” are discussed. Ugarte, a petty grifter, tells Bogart’s Rick Blaine that he is in possession of such letters, effectively exit visas, that are, “…signed by General de Gaulle, Cannot be rescinded, not even questioned.” At the time Casablanca was administered by collaborationist Vichy France and de Gaulle was in exile. Why would any pro-Nazi bureaucrat, especially Vichy’s unscrupulous and cynical prefect of police in Casablanca, Claude Raines’ Inspector Louis Renault, who admits to being, “a poor corrupt official,” honor them?

Speaking of suspended belief. The closing scene takes place on wet puddle filled runway and, as a pilot, it has always intrigued me. In an earlier exchange Renault asked Rick,  “What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?” He replied, “My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.” An astounded Renault shoots back, “The waters? What waters? We’re in the desert.” If that is true, why the wet runway?

My mind drifted off, as it so often does, into a stream of consciousness and I found myself thinking of another escape from the Germans; Allen Dulles and ‘The Sealed Train’. A sealed train is one that travels internationally, under a customs seal-hence the name. Under seal its contents are not legally recognized as having been in the nations through which it travels and are not subject to tariffs.

On April 8, 1917 Dulles, then a young diplomat, assigned to Bern, Switzerland, was told he had a phone call from Vladimir Lenin seeking a meeting.  He demurred as he was on his way to play tennis. The next morning Lenin left Switzerland aboard a German sealed train bound for Petrograd, there to spark the Russian Revolution. Thirty six years later Dulles, now Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, may well have thought about his missed opportunity, the sealed train. How much different his job might have been he just put down his racket, picked up the phone, and met with Lenin?

My stream of consciousness eddied back to the summer of 1967. I had a summer job teaching sailing and was shooting a lot of service rifle. I shot on the US Naval Underwater Sound Lab’s winter league smallbore team and helped The Old Man with their junior program. Because of this Allan Cameron, Executive Officer of the Lab, had taken me under his wing. He issued me an M1 from the Lab’s armory and provided an unlimited supply of .30-06 TW54 ammunition.

I dreamed of going to Camp Perry and was in hot pursuit of a spot on the Connecticut State Rifle and Revolver Association’s High Power Team. In those days, membership on an accredited state team meant the Director of Civilian Marksmanship picked up the tab for transportation, room and board, entry fees, and National Match ammunition. The  ranges were run and manned by the various services who both scored and pulled targets. The only responsibility a shooter had was to be safe and, having earned the required Small Arms Firing School certificate, be at the assigned firing point at the appropriate time, draw ammunition, and shoot.

My plan was to use the money saved to purchase a “Rifle, U.S. cal .30 M1, National Match” for $95.00. Minimum wage at the time was $1.40, so the rifle went for about three 40 hour work weeks, oddly enough just about the same as it would today.

I had been shooting OK in the tryouts but was closer to the bottom than the top. What kept me in the running was that I was a ‘New Shooter”, a valuable commodity, as every team had to have at least 50% “New Shooters.”

The Friday before the final tryout was a brutally hot and sunny July day so I shucked off my usual long trousers for cutoffs when I got to the dock. Busy getting the class started I forgot to slather on, what we called in the pre sunscreen days, suntan lotion. After four or five hours of herding six 20 foot sloops around the Thames River my albino legs had turned a nice tomato red.

Tryouts were Sunday and I hoped time and some burn remedies would put me right. Over the next 36 hours my mother covered my legs with petroleum jelly, ice packs, a poultice of cold wet tea bags, dish towels soaked in Epsom salts, and, in desperation, buttermilk.

The first stage of the tryout went well, there was little contact between my burned legs and my clothing and I opened with a 195-7X standing. So far, so good. That all ended when I prepped for sitting. The agony of my elbows and trousers on my thighs and my tight dry skin cost me comfort and flexibility. I could not get into a good position. Rapid and slow prone were OK but my hopes for Perry had ended at the 200 yard line.

That was my missed opportunity, my sealed train for later that year Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor played a trick, without a treat, on the competitive shooters. On Halloween he announced that the Army would not support the National Matches in 1968. The NRA would keep the National Matches and Championships alive, but when I finally got to Perry, I had to foot the bill, shoot, score, and pull targets.

The Good Old Days were gone, never to return, and I had missed them, not for a set of tennis, but for lack of a little common sense and a large squirt of suntan lotion.

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Hap’s Corner continues

While Hap is no longer with us he did leave over two dozen unpublished articles. Beginning August 1, 2021 the remaining articles will be published. One will be published each month on the first of the month.

Once all the remaining unpublished articles have been published we will publish “Classic Hap’s Corner.” These are Hap’s Corner articles that have been publish in various paper-based media prior to the founding of pronematch.com. In total are nearly 400 Hap’s Corner articles that will be published on pronematch.com.

In addition to Hap’s Corner there is a library of information Hap has compiled over his lifetime. His desire was to have this information made available to the public so that this history is not lost. It will take some time to digest all of his work and how best to make it available on this site.

We at pronematch.com hope you find this site helpful, useful, and entertaining. The staff are all volunteers. Donations are used to offset the costs to maintain the site and keep it online. Please consider using the Donate button to make a donation and support this site.

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Hap Rocketto – Services

Visiting hours are on Thursday July 22 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Gaffney-Dolan Funeral Home, 59 Spruce St., Westerly, RI. Funeral service will take place Friday July 23 at 10:00 AM in the funeral home. Burial with Full Military Honors will follow at St. Sebastian Cemetery, Westerly. Obituary and details are here.

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Hap Rocketto Obituary

It is with great sorrow that pronematch.com announces the passing of Harold “Hap” Rocketto on July 8, 2021 at the age of 74. The shooting community has lost it historian who was also a distinguished rifleman.

Harold “Hap” Rocketto, his involvement in the competitive shooting sports is long and broad.  His involvement started in 1961 as a freshman on the New London (CT) high school smallbore rifle team.  Since that time, he honed his skills to become an accomplished rifle shooter.  Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, a member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the NRA 1600 Club, and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall of Fame. He was the 2002 NRA Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, and a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team.  He has been awarded an international distinguished badge in smallbore.

Hap has also worked to ensure the sport continues.  For over 40 years he has been a coach to junior and new shooters. He coached juniors at the Quaker Hill Rod & Gun Club so long that children and grandchildren of juniors have participated in the Quaker Hill junior rifle program.  Many of these juniors moved on to compete alongside him in the local (Eastern CT) adult indoor 3-P rifle league.  He volunteered as an assistant coach for seven seasons at the US Coast Guard Academy.  He is certified by the National Rifle Association as a Level Two Coach in Smallbore Rifle, High Power Rifle, and Pistol.  He is also certified by USA Shooting as a High Performance Coach, one of just six certified by USA Shooting.

At the International level Hap won ten medals in two Maccabiah Games.  He has been Captain and Coach of the US Dewar International Postal Team, Captain, Coach and Adjutant of the US Drew Cup International Postal Team, Coach and Adjutant of the US Wakefield International Postal Team.  Hap has also been Adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts Team, 2013 United States Pershing Team, 2017 United States Roberts Team, and appointed Adjutant of the 2022 (2021) Pershing Team.

Hap has also put pen to paper documenting regional, national, and international rifle matches. Known as a historian of the shooting sports his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and on pronematch.com.  He was the contributor to the smallbore portion of the NRA book “The National Matches 1903-2003 The First 100 Years”.

Hap, along with his brother Steve, cofounded The Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein club.  Known as the club of the light-hearted shooters, it is a reminder that this sport is about having fun and enjoying the sport.

We are diminished. 

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Teddy, Elihu, and Alfred…

TeddyElihu, and Alfred…

Two of the greatest honors for a service arm shooter at the United States National Matches are also related with a most prestigious international honor.  

One hallowed tradition began a few weeks after the conclusion of the 1904 National Matches, held at Fort Riley, Kansas. President Theodore Roosevelt sat down, on September 25, 1904, and penned a letter to Private Howard Gensch of the New Jersey National Guard, the winner of the President’s Match, which gave even greater meaning to the event’s name as well as greater prestige to the winner. Thus, began the tradition of the President of the United States sending to each winner of this match a personal congratulatory message.

The other involves the six highest scoring civilian competitors in the National Trophy Rifle Team Match and the four highest scoring civilian competitors in the National Trophy Pistol Match who are honored as members of the National Civilian Rifle and National Civilian Pistol Team. The captain and coach of the highest-scoring civilian team in each event are also named as the coach and captain of the appropriate team. All receive Elihu Root gold medals.

But just who is Elihu Root and why is so honored? Perhaps if most shooters had been paying attention in high school United States History classes, instead of doodling various service rifles and pistols in their notebooks, this question need not be asked.

Root was a statesmen who served the United States well. He was appointed Secretary of War by President William McKinley in August of 1899 and remained in the post under President Theodore Roosevelt after McKinley was assassinated in September of 1901.When Roosevelt’s Secretary of State John Hay died in 1905 Roosevelt appointed Root to that office. In his later years he also served New York as a senator.

As New York City Police Commissioner Roosevelt had transformed a dysfunctional and archaic New York City Police Department. As president he saw a War Department in need of the same modernization anddirected Root to bring it up to date. Under Root’sleadership some 70,000 soldiers posted at a collection of dusty western frontier forts and damp stone coastal artillery fortifications swiftly became a modern army with a general staff that was professionally educated at West Point and the Army War College. 

Roosevelt and Root were also strong supporters of marksmanship and to that end, on April 27, 1903, they saw the War Department promulgate General Order 61,pursuant to the 1904 Army Appropriations Act,establishing the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice (NBPRP). The NBPRP was the logical outcome of Roosevelt’s belief that, “The first step in the direction of preparation to avert war, if possible, and to be fit for war, if it should come, is to teach men to shoot.”

The order also established The National Matches, commissioned the  National Trophy, and established an organization for the instruction of citizens in small arms marksmanship, provided service firearms and ammunition for civilian instruction, and funds for the construction, equipment, and maintenance of rifle ranges.

A few years earlier chemist, engineer, and inventor Albert Nobel sat down at a table in Paris’ Swedish-Norwegian Club. Dabbing a pen into an ink well he signed his last will and testament setting aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes.

Nobel had invented, among other things, the blasting cap, dynamite, gelignite, and ballistite which was the first of the modern smokeless explosives and gun powders. He also bought an iron and steel  company which he converted into an armaments factory which quickly became famous for its various caliber automatic cannon, the Bofors Gun.One of the prizes was to be called the Peace Prize, leading the more cynical to think that that this was just balm to sooth a guilty conscious.

While wheeling and dealing with Congress to establish the NBPRP Roosevelt was also busy mediating a treaty between Japan and Russia to end the Russo-Japanese War. The agreement hammered out in Portsmouth, New Hampshire resolved the conflict and brought Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906, the first Nobel of any type awarded to a United States citizen.

Six years later Root was awarded the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize for, among other things, having persuaded Latin American governments to participate in the Hague Peace Conference, limited Japanese and American naval fortifications in the Pacific. He worked with Great Britain, who controlled Canada’s foreign affairs at the time, to negotiate issues between the United States and Canada on an Alaska boundary dispute and competition in the North Atlantic fisheries. All the while he pursued the goalof resolving international conflicts by arbitration. 

That the first two United States Nobel Peace Laureates worked in concert toward the creation of the world’s greatest 20th Century army and a 100 year old military firearm marksmanship contest must be considered a great irony. 

Today’s best civilian service arm marksmen are bound together at the National Matches by a quest for a prize initiated by Teddy Roosevelt and gold medals bearing the likeness of Elihu Root. Roosevelt and Root are equally connected for creating the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and gold medals featuring the profile of Alfred Nobel.

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Paraffin or Tallow. It’s The Group That Matters…

I have been going through my annual ammunition testing and noticed that the lubricant on Lapua, which I am experimenting with for the first time, and my tried and true Eley are quite different. Lubricant on a .22 cartridge is not, as most believe, applied to ease the travel of the lead bullet down the rifle barrel. While it does help its  primary function is to ensure smooth chambering.

The Lapua has a thin oily coating while Eley is coated with a tick waxy lubricant. The Eley website states that they use two different types of lubricants, one a beeswax and tallow mix and the other paraffin wax. So, what’s the difference?

With the thought of “What’s the difference?” I was suddenly seven or eight years old again and sitting in the old Victory Theater with a mouth full of jujubes pulling out my fillings and a lap full of popcorn. It was the days of the British Raj in India. Tyrone Power, decked out in Khaki Drill topped with a kepi replete with neck flap, roamed the Khyber Pass and a cashiered officer portrayed by Rock Hudson redeemed himself by fighting the Sepoys on the silver screen in the days of the British Raj in India. These military potboilers in what Queen Victoria, Empress of India, called ‘The Jewel in The Crown’ taught me the importance of the difference in bullet lubricants.  

It all started with the Sepoys of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI), a component of the Britain’s East India Company’s Bengal Army. The John Company’s 19th BNI had been recently armed with the new Enfield Pattern 1853 rifle-musket, a .577 muzzle-loader that used paper cartridges. Paper cartridges were greased to make them somewhat waterproof and to ease seating the bullet in the bore. A side effect was that after firing the melted lubricant mixed with the powder and paper residue and made the fouling easier to clean. 

India was in a state of political foment when a new shipment of cartridges arrived from England.  Ringleaders of the nascent Independence Movement spread the rumor that the cartridges were greased with tallow made from beef, pork, or beeswax, not the more commonly used vegetable oil. The procedure for loading the Enfield required tearing open the cartridge with the teeth, pouring the powder down the barrel, and ramming the ball home. Loading an Enfield virtually insured that a Sepoy would touch a forbidden substance.  

The Hindu Sepoys were forbidden to eat beef, the cow being a holy animal. The Muslim Sepoys could not eat pork as it was prohibited by the Quran and vegan Sepoys could not touch beeswax. Therefore, no Sepoy could use the new cartridge without violating his religious sensibilities. While there is no irrefutable evidence that any of these materials were used on the cartridges, perception is, as political operative Lee Atwater once said, reality. 

The 34th BNI had refused to use the new cartridges and on March 29, 1857 were paraded in their cantonment at Barrackpore to be disarmed and disbanded. An agitated Sepoy, Mangal Pandey, was not going to take this affront lying down and fired upon a British sergeant-major and a lieutenant, begging the question, “Did he break caste with a new style cartridge, or did he have some older ammunition secreted away for just such an occasion?” While being subdued he shot himself in the chest but recovered just in time to be hanged for mutiny 11 days later. At the time the British looked upon Pandey as a traitor and a mutineer. However, he is a hero in contemporary India and Bollywood produced several movies about him. The  Indian Department of Posts issued a commemorative stamp in his honor. 

It is not known if the Eley Brothers supplied any of the Enfield cartridges which may have sparked the Indian Mutiny of 1857. At the time they were a leading company in the arms business heavily involved with percussion cap production and development of the first combustible paper cartridge so it is conceivable that an Eley cartridge may have been the mutiny’s catalyst. 

Eley was to become an icon in the cartridge field, so much so that it was referenced in Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure Speckled Band. Holmes headed off on the case and told his trusty colleague John Watson that Holmes would be obliged if Watson would slip his revolver into his pocket as, “An Eley No. 2 is an excellent argument with gentlemen who can twist steel pokers into knots.” Holmes must have also been a dab hand with the pistol for in The Musgrave Ritual he reportedly sat in his arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges and proceeded to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks. It is worth noting that Watson felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of their rooms was improved by Holmes’ idiosyncrasy. 

We do know that Eley uses two types of lubricants today. One a natural beeswax base and the other a petroleum derived paraffin wax. The beeswax tallow is softer, thicker and stickier than paraffin and so reduces the damage to the bullet during chambering and is used in the top of the line ammunition Tenex and Match. Unfortunately, the qualities that make it smooth loading also allow it to pick up dust and grit. This means that rifles using it require frequent and careful cleaning of the chamber. 

Paraffin, on the other hand, makes for a much cleaner feeling ammunition as it is not as viscous and being harder does not pick up debris as readily as a tallow based lubricant. It is particularly well suited for semiautomatic firearms providing the necessary lubrication but not clogging the firearm’s action as easily as the beeswax lubricant.

Being neither Hindu, Muslim, nor vegan the lubricant on my ammunition means little to me. However, the size of the group does, and so the Sisyphean quest for 3/4 minute ammunition, regardless of lubricant, continues. 

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The Bishop’s Boys Blast Away…

The Bishop’s Boys Blast Away…

I am sure that we have all shared the experience of finishing a conversation and, as we walk away, of thinking of the perfect reply to a question or barb too late. The French call it L’esprit de l’escalier. In English it is called staircase wit, or the more plebian term, a comeback. 

The etymology for this term leads us to the writing of French Enlightenment philosopher Denis Diderot. During a dinner a remark was made to him for which he had no reply. It was not until he had reached the bottom of the stairs on his way to his carriage that he thought of a reply, too far away in time and space for it to be of any use. 

The Old Man, of blessed memory, a learned scholar of Yiddish, would have called it trepverter, “stepwords,” the reply you think of on your way out when it is too late to use it, but I digress.

As an author a similar thing occasionally happens when you read an article that covers an area of your interest. The immediate response after reading it is to bang your palm against your forehead and blurt out, “Why didn’t I think of that!” 

Such was the case when I saw an article by Dr. Larry E. Tise, the Wilber and Orville Wright Distinguished Professor at East Carolina University in USA Shooting Sports entitled Wright Brothers At Kitty Hawk: Hunters And Marksmen. It was a trifecta of my passion for flying and shooting and my involvement with the US Coast Guard.

As a pilot I have read extensively about the Wright Brothers, including the two most authoritative works, Tom Crouch’s The Bishop’s Boys and David McCulloch’s The Wright Brothers. But as a rifleman I had never once had come across any reference to the pair shooting. This may not be surprising as they apparently made little note in their journals of hunting and recreational shooting activities. 

The boys grew up in late 19th century rural America. Therefore, it is not far-fetched to imagine them being familiar with firearms and potting away in a meadow with a .22 rifle while their father Milton, a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, moved them twelve times across the breadth of the Midwest before settling in Dayton, Ohio.

The Wright shooting artifacts, four homemade targets, only survive because of an act of larceny on the part of a Miss Margaret Hallowell, from Nag’s Head. In 1909 she and a few friends rummaged through the abandoned Wright camp at Kill Devil Hills for souvenirs of the internationally famous bachelor brothers. This petty pilfering by Miss Hallowell must have been quiet out of character as there are several streets in Nag’s Head that bear the name of Hallowell so she may have been from a prominent family. 

On the 25th anniversary of the First Flight she met Orville, confessed her sins, and returned her loot. Nearly a decade later Orville sent the targets back, telling Hallowell that the targets were shot by Wilber, Charles Furnas, and himself in May of 1908. The targets remained in Miss Hallowell’s possession until her death and later were acquired by Twiddy and Company of Corolla, NC where Tise came across them.

The homemade targets have about a one inch aiming black, roughly the same as the A-23 50 yard conventional prone target’s ten ring of 0.89 inches. There are six additional rings, but scoring was not by ring value but rather the distance of the shot from the center of the target.

Orville holds the rifle in a 1911 photo, and it appears to be a Marlin. The most popular .22 Marlin repeater of the day was the lever action Model 1897, and it is fair to presume that it is the rifle in question. It came in several versions and the romantic in me believes it to be a Model 1897 Special Style Bicycle Rifle. Let’s face it, what other type of rifle would the proprietors of the Wright Cycle Exchange own?

The nifty little gun was available with a round or octagon barrel and could be had for $15.35. The tubular magazine would hold either 16 short, 12 long, or ten long rifle black powder cartridges probably made by Remington Union Metallic Cartridge Corporation, Western Cartridge, or Winchester. Lesmoke, the first semi smokeless powder, was not introduced by Peters until after the Wrights left Kitty Hawk. 

Bicycle riders have had an interesting relationship with firearms dating back to the late 19th century when cycling became all the rage. Cyclists legs became a favorite target for dogs to savage. In response the French developed a low powered small caliber revolver called the Velo-Dog, a contraction of velocipede and dog, which used cartridges usually loaded with cayenne pepper or bullets made from wax or cork for cyclists to use against any overly aggressive canine. 

In that vein the Bicycle Rifle had an interesting feature, when a takedown screw in the receiver was removed the rifle broke down into two pieces. For an extra buck and a half, you could purchase a canvas leather bound case that would hold the rifle in two pouches and strap neatly and securely under a bicycle frame.

Orville seemed to have a leg up on his older brother as he won two of the four rifle matches-Wilber and Furnas splitting the other two, won the coin toss to see who would pilot the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft, and lived to the ripe old age of 77 while Wilber succumbed to typhoid fever at 45. 

When the Wrights packed for Kitty Hawk, they also brought along a 5-by-7-inch glass-plate negative Gundlach Korona V view camera. On December 17, 1903 they asked John Thomas Daniels, Jr., a Surfman at  the Kill Devil Hills U.S. Life-Saving Station to squeeze the rubber bulb shutter release when the Wright Flyer became airborne. Daniels, who had never even seen a camera before, reported that he was so startled when the Flyer left the ground that he almost forgot to take the iconic picture of the first flight. 

And there lies my involvement with the Coast Guard for the Life Saving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service were merged in 1915 to form the modern Coast Guard and I am a rifle coach at the US Coast Guard Academy. 

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Sitting on my bookshelf is a gift from the late great Art Jackson, two deformed metal discs. One is a 1947, the year I was born, Mexican one peso piece with a hole shot through it on the circumference, the other a lead disc with a bullet hole, just off center which has inscribed on it “Shot with a Remington  Rifle” on one side and on the obverse, “Shot with a Remington Cartridge” with “Kleenbore” in it familiar dog bone shape in the center.

Art was given the pierced peso piece by Winchester’s legendary exhibition shooter Adolph Topperwein when he and Bill Blankenship visited him at his home in the early 1950s during a break from training for international competition at nearby Fort Bliss, Texas. Topperwein was long retired and the peso was taken from his store of coinshe had shot when active. The lead slug was picked up following an exhibition shoot by Remington’s Tom Frye. 

The first known exhibition shooter, Frank “Doc” Carver,won established a record by breaking 885 glass balls out of 1000 in San Francisco on February 22, 1878 and was proclaimed the “Champion Rifle Shot of the World.” Carver also laid down written rules  for this now arcane branch of the shooting sports. The shooter could use any rifle shooting a solid bullet, the target had to be a 2 1.4 inch composition ball or wooden block, the assistants tossing the blocks had to stand between 25 and 30 feet in front of the shooter, the targets had to be thrown to a height between 25 and 30 feet, and a judge, referee, and scorer must be present at all times.

In December of 1907 Topperwein used three 1903 model Winchester .22 semiautomatic to shoot at 72,000 2½ inch square hand thrown wooden blocks, missing only nine. His longest run without a miss was 14,540 and followed the endurance shooting rules laid down by Carver, the father of the discipline. 

On May 25, 1935, at Forbes Field, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Babe Ruth his 712th, 713th, 714th homeruns. The 714th would be last he would hit, but it established a major league baseball career record for homers. Ruth started playing for the Boston Red Sox in 1914, played for the New York Yankees for 14 years after being sold by the Sox, and ended his days back in Boston with the cellar dwelling Bostin Braves in 1934. Ruth’s phenomenal career was fueled with natural talent he enhanced it with beer, broads and hot dogs and one minor run in with science

October of 1959 saw Remington’s Tom Frye, using three Remington Nylon 66 .22 semiautomatic rifles, hit 100,004 out of100,010 wooden over a period of 14 straight days. Breaking Topperwein’s record. Yet there was a cloud over his achievement in the bright Nevada sky when he finished.

Ruth’s record fell to Hammerin’ Hank Aaron when he hit his 715th home run on April 8, 1974 off of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Al Downing. The ball was caught in thebullpen by  relief pitcher Tom House. It was a double connection with Ruth for he broke his record while wearing a Braves, albeit Atlanta, uniform. Aaron ended his career with 755 home runs, well before baseball’s Steroid Era.

Barry Bonds broke Aaron’s record on August 7, 2007, hitting a full-count, 84 mph pitch from Washington’s Mike Bacsik 435 feet to right-center field before a  hometown crowd. It was a night game but even the bright lights of AT&T Park could not hide the cloud which hovered over the event.

To break any endurance record in shooting or baseball takes excellent physical conditioning, concentration, training, skill, the best equipment, patience, and resolve. For example, Frye’s Nylon 66 weighed four pounds and he lifted it 100,010 a total work out of a little over 20 tons, or about 1.5 tons a day for two straight weeks. Think of the friction on the trigger finger or the cumulative effect of the pounding of even the miniscule .22 Long Rifle cartridge, just 0.2 foot pounds, for that many shots.

Unfortunately, almost all of these record holding performances were soiled in some way or another. Carver was said to have taken morphine injections to ease the pain in his shoulder. 

Ruth experimented once with an injection of sheep testicleextract to increase his power but it instead it made him violently ill, giving a whole new meaning to the term foul ball. His time on the Disabled List was chalked off by the Yankee front office as one of his famous hot dog induced belly aches. 

Frye was reported to have taken muscle relaxants to ease him through his marathon and he did not abide by Carver’s rules. The noted forearms writer crusty Colonel Charles Askins had examined photos of Frye’s attempt and noted that the man tossing the blocks was standing just off Frye’s left shoulder, a more advantageous position than Topperwein.

Topperwein’s only relief for his sore muscles was having his wife Plinky help him dress and occasionally bathe his face with cool water during shooting while a barber shaved him each morning. 

The amiable Aaron was known to take an occasional beer after a game in the locker room with his teammates to relax while the abrasive and standoffish Bonds was a central figure in Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug scandal.

Never the less, each man’s singular accomplishment, some tainted, represents, as Topperwein put it to Frye, an accomplishment of “wonderful endurance and accuracy.”

Impressive as they were what about the wonderful endurance and accuracy of the anonymous men who rhythmically tossed thousands of wooden blocks 25 to 30 feet into the air for days on end?

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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. 

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Our regular Friday morning breakfast meeting happened to fall on October 9th in the middle of Fire Prevention Week and the anniversary of the Great Chicago and Peshtigo Fires.Considering the occasion, I raised the question of what might happen if a shooter’s home suffers a fire to my old junior, and now shooting crony, George Planeta. He is eminently qualified to answer this question as he has a basement full of reloading components and was a fireman for many decades. 

Most competitive shooters have an ample store of powder, primers, bullets and loaded ammunition squirreled away in a cool, dry, and dark corner of the basement. The components and cartridges are most likely stored, neatly labeled and packed in original cardboard, MTM, or Plano plastic boxes inside of the ubiquitous military surplus M19A1 30 caliber or M2A1 50 caliber ammunition can favored by the handloading crowd. Was the loss of precious ammunition, a house, and possible injury to well-meaning first responders just a disaster waiting to happen? 

My brother Steve, the walking footnote, had just seated his hearing aids in time to hear the question. Before George was able to form an answer, Steve had dug into his reservoir of trivia and began a monologue about great ammunition disasters.

“The French” he disdainfully began as he is no Francophile, ”and ammunition disasters. “Who can forget Kirchberg!” It was suddenly reminiscent of the Pearl Harbor scene in the movie Animal House where Bluto declared the Germans had bombed Pearl Harbor. Ernie Mellor muttered, like Otter, “Kirchberg?” Channeling Boon I replied, “Forget it. He’s rolling.” 

Ernie knowingly shook his head, rolled his eyes, and signaled the waitress to warm his coffee. A veteran of countless of Steve’s spontaneous detailed wandering accurate lectures on esoteric subjects he resigned himself for a long haul.

“It was June 26, 1807” expounded Steve, “The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was occupied by Napoleon’sGrande Armée and the Corsican Tyrant had stockpiled barrels of black powder in Fortress Kirchberg. A lightning strike hit the fortress’ powder magazine and set off an explosion that leveled two city blocks and killed more than 300 innocent Luxembourgers.”

“Then there was Halifax.” He went on. “The French again!” he sneered contemptuously, “This time it was the munitions ship Mont Blancit must have been a French ship with a name like that! On December 6, 1917 she headed to the war zone loaded with  2,300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of high-octane gasoline, and ten tons of gun cotton. At about 8:45 AM, while threading her way through The Narrows towards Bedford Basin, she collided with the SS Imo, sailing in ballast.”

“Fire broke out on the Mont Blanc and 9:05 AM she vaporized in a blinding white flash, the third  largest conventional explosion of all time. Every structure within a half mile was leveled and approximately 1,950 people were killed by flying debris, fire, or crushed under collapsed buildings. Over 9,000 additional people injured,The Mont Blanc crew pusillanimously abandoned ship and ,ironically, all survived, except for one sailor killed by debris. What else would you expect of the French.” Steve scornfully added,

“And what about the Port Chicago Naval Magazine Disaster?” Steve related that on the evening of July 17,1944 Navy stevedore crews had loaded 4,600 tons of bombs, depth charges, and ammunition aboard the Victory Ships Quinault Victoryand E.A. Bryan which were moored on opposite side of a pier. It was the Quinault Victory’s maiden voyage as she had been launched just 30 days earlierIn a matter of seconds, at 10:18 PM, both ships were wracked by explosions. The Bryan simply disappeared while the 12,000 ton Quinault Victory was lifted clear out of the water, tossed 500 feet, and ended upside down in the mud in what might be the shortest  career of a Victory Ship,. The explosion registered 3.4 on the Richter Scale, killed 320 sailors, and injured nearly 400 more.”

Steve stopped to draw a second breath and George wisely took advantage to break in and make his report. He described a video he had seen which had been produced by The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute and the International Fire Chiefs Association where they conducted a series of experiments to provide firefighters with fact-based information to help them address the realities of fighting fires in structures containing sporting ammunition. 

In  a controlled experiment 28,000 rounds of various caliber and types of small arms ammunition, up to 50 caliber and eight gauge, in factory packaging were piled on a platform reminiscent of a Hindu cremation ghat. Four by eight sheets of drywall were set on frames at intervals out to 30 feet. Baulks of wood were stacked underneath, doused with diesel fuel, and set alight.

During ensuing fire much of the ammunition cooked off tossing the bullets and particles of brass about, but with little force. Lots of tiny bits of cartridge cases and bullets stuck into the wallboard. Only three or four had enough force to even partially penetrate the gypsum.

The results led to the conclusion that ammunition will not propagate in a chain reaction from one cartridge to another, it does not mass explode, and may be safely controlled and contained by fire fighters using water and wearing standard fire fighter turn out gear. 

We were relieved to learn that if one of our homes caught fire there might be some sizzling, popping, and a bit of brass tossed about, but the firefighters would be relatively safe coming to our rescue.

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Miss Mowry was at the board writing, in a graceful Spenserian hand, our English assignment for us to copy. Ham handed as I was my cursive scribble resembled more of a rat’s nest in a fishing reel than her elegant script. It was an article of faith in my fifth grade class that Miss Mowry had eyes in the back of her head. One did not cavalierly transgress classroom rules. But, for some reason, the inkwell, set flush into the top center of my desk, had attracted my attention and my adolescent fascination with dipping my pen into it quickly drew the attention of the ever vigilant Miss Mowry.

Still facing the board and writing she said, “Mr. Rocketto! I hope you are not idle. 

She caught me. I was not idle, but I certainly was not engaged in the task at hand and she knew it. My penance for being caught fooling with my pen was delivered swiftly. ”Knowing your love for history I think you might be the perfect candidate to be first to recite today’s assignment before the class, Tuesday next. 

She had me there. The only subject in which I had earned an A was history. Most of the rest of my grades were five or six letters further down the alphabet. This was English but we were being required to memorize, and recite before the class, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride. It was a Revolutionary War historical tale with, as I was to learn later, more than a few inaccuracies. 

The poem was based on the heroics of William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, Israel Bissell and Revere. The quartet set out from Boston to warn Sam Adams and John Hancock that British Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, at the head of ten elite light infantry and 11 grenadier companies, was marching on Concord to confiscate the colonial arms cache. 

Revere was detained and taken into custody by the British in Lexington. Dawes escaped the British who arrested Revere but was thrown by his horse in the attempt and ended up arriving back in Lexington on ‘shank’s mare.’ Bissell reportedly rode all the way to Philadelphia, along the Old Boston Post Road, alerting the populace that the war had begun. Prescott was the only one to get through to Concord’s ‘rude bridge that arched the flood’ to warn the patriots. 

The poem propelled the little know Boston silversmith to fame and the others to ignoble anonymity. No one knows why Longfellow singled the unsuccessful courier, my guess is because Revere is an easier rhyme than Dawes, Prescott, or Bissell. 

On the other hand, maybe it was because Longfellow’s maternal grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, was Revere’s commander on Penobscot Expedition. The 44 ship colonial armada of 1779 was intended to wrest control of what is now mid-coast Maine from the British. Instead it became the United States’ worst naval disaster until Pearl Harbor. On such delicate bearings does great literature and history sometimes turn.

In mortal terror of Miss Mowry, I set to work memorizing the poem, which begins, 

“Listen, my children, and you shall hearOf the midnight ride of Paul Revere,On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:Hardly a man is now alive Who remembers that famous day and year.”

The fifth line reflects the fact that poem was written on the verge of the Civil War and only a half dozen or so Revolutionary War veterans were known to be alive.

The line came back to me recently when the National Rifle Association announced that the primary NRA National Championships, Smallbore, Pistol, and High Power are to be consolidated at Camp Atterbury, Indiana in the summer of 2020. The last time all three were conducted at the same venue was in 2013 at Camp Perry, a run that began in 1953.

In the aftermath of World War II, the various National Championships were shot sporadically and scattered and across the country. Smallbore was at Perry in 1946 and 1947. The 1948 smallbore matches were invitational, open only to NRA Regional winners held at Marine Corps Base Quantico. The championship would move west to Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1949. 

When North Korean troops poured across the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950 the National Championships were, understandably, cancelled. The match’s venue continued its westward movement reaching the Pacific in 1951, shooting’s Manifest Destiny if you will. They were contested at San Francisco’s 125 point Sharp Park Range, a municipal shooting facility located in the “City by the Bay.” Smallbore’s diaspora would mark its final year in 1952 at the Jacksonville, Florida Rifle Club’s sandy sundrenched punchbowl of a range. There competitors fought heat, mirage, and prop blast from at the adjacent Jacksonville Imeson Airport. The next year smallbore began a 60 year stay at Camp Perry that was broken only when smallbore was moved ”temporarily” to Bristol, Indiana, to accommodate the 2014 World Championship of Long Range Rifle Shooting. 

When smallbore takes up residence at Camp Atterbury there will be competitors who will be able to claim that they have shot the National Championship at three different venues, Camp Perry, Bristol, and Atterbury. The last group that could make that claim were the veterans of the 1951, 52, and 53 national championships, but that was nearly 70 years ago. 

It seems safe to say that paraphrasing Paul Revere’s Ride, hardly a man is still alive who remembers shooting at Quantico, Fort Dodge, San Francisco, Jacksonville, and Perry.

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As I sat at my desk the usual New London High School cafeteria midday feed, a hearty 25ȼ grinder, a couple of  3ȼ half pint cartons of milk, a bag of State Line potato chips, and a banana, consorted with the warm late spring sunshine streaming through the tall classroom window to lull me into a post lunch torpor. Being less than 100% attentive in Miss Sullivan’s History of the Americas class, or any of her classes for that matter, was not a wise idea. The demanding teacher was quick to pounce on anyone she perceived as not laser focused on the educational business at hand and my often wandering mind  seemed to make me a preferred target.

Miss Sullivan was my favorite teacher of my favorite subject. She knew her stuff, was no nonsense, I could not charm her, and so she was able to bring out the best in me. None the less I lived in absolute fear of her and masochistically took every class she taught 

Her voice cleaved my lethargy like a diamond cutter’s blade slicing off a facet. Nothing before, or since, has been able to focus me like her penetrating ringing tone. It brought me instantly to attention. “Mr. Rocketto, please give us a précis of the Banana Wars,” she commanded. 

For a millisecond I thought she was talking about my crony Gordon Bryson and I sophomorically slapping each other with the peel from my dessert during lunch earlier that day, but quickly gathered my senses. 

I reeled off that the Banana Wars was a series of US interventions in the Caribbean and Central America during the first three decades of the 20th century. While the Monroe Doctrine gave valid reasons for landing Marines, the major justification was the “protection of American property and citizens”, namely United Fruit and Standard Fruit and so the informal name. Having had my moment in the sun, in more ways than one, Miss Sullivan moved onto another classmate.

Temporarily out of danger my mind wandered off, as is its wont, to recall a little known footnote in my favorite sport, rifle shooting. It connected the Banana Wars and the little nation that sits on the western end of the island of Hispaniola, Haiti. 

The United States Marines are known for their prowess with the rifle and many of the Corps great rifleman were engaged in military operations during the Banana Wars. In Haiti they served in the Gendarmerie d’Haiti as advisors. Distinguished Marksman Lieutenant Colonel Douglas C. McDougal was assigned as Major General Chief of the Gendarmerie in 1921 and found the force to be well organized by his predecessor, Brigadier General Smedley Darlington Butler. McDougal noted that the well trained gendarmes had spare time and  thought that rifle practice might be a constructive way to use that time to increase their military efficiency. 

McDougal called upon Major Harry Smith, another Distinguished Marksman, and the Gendarmerie soon had a robust rifle program. It was not without its rough spots as the Haitian’s Creole vocabulary did not encompass much technical jargon, but the Marines persevered, and the men began to shoot very well.

They shot so well that in 1923 members of the Gendarmerierequested permission to send a team to the 1924 Paris Olympics. Even though the Olympics would be shot at 400, 600, and, 800 meters, and no Haitian had fired at a distance longer than 200 yards, they managed to convince McDougal to allow them to compete. 

Money being short, McDougal’s agreement was predicated on the requirement that they could fund the trip. Within a week they returned to tell him that every officer and enlisted man in the Gendarmerie had agreed to contribute five percent of his pay for five months to raise the $5,000 needed to cover the expense. With that McDougal acquired enough Springfield 30 caliber Model 1922 Match Rifles, with Lyman 48 sights, and Remington Palma ammunition, loaded with HiVel powder, to outfit the team.  

Arriving in Paris McDougal found the US Rifle team was headed by a fellow Marine.  Distinguished Marksman, Major Littleton W.T. Waller, Jr. who had shooting thoroughbreds Marines Morris “Bud’ Fisher and Raymond Coulter, Naval Academy graduate Walter Stokes, Joseph Crockett, and Lieutenant Sidney Hinds, USA in his stable.

In the 600 meter individual prone competition, the Haitians showed their potential.  Ludovic Augustin placed fifth with Ludovic Valborge tied for sixth. Destin Destine tied for tenth and Astrell Rolland wound up thirteenth out of a field of 69.  

On match day the Haitians added Eloi Metullus to round out the five man team. They came on strong, tying for third at 400 meters and moved into second place after 600 meters. The Haitian’s strong showing had the US worried and Waller was sourly looking over his shoulder at fellow Marine McDougal with a censorious eye. 

At 800 meters the US took a commanding lead and won by 30 points, certainly fending off a heated discussion between Waller and McDougal had events taken a different turn. The Haitians had tied with their former colonial masters, France, for second. The French, by virtue of a two point higher score at 800 meters, took second on the tie breaker, but Haiti had earned its first Olympic medal.

The bell rang, ending my reverie, and I gathered up my books and scurried out into the bustling hallway. It being Wednesday I headed down to the pipe tunnel where rifle coach George Gregory had built an eight point range. It was not Haiti, but it was just as successful a proving ground for me as the Gendarmerie ranges were for the 1924 Haitian Olympic Rifle Team.    

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