Rhode Island is a small state, to be absolutely accurate it is more than just a small state, it is the smallest state. Despite its diminutive size, it is but 48 miles from north to south and only 37 miles east to west, the Ocean State boasts 400 miles of coastline. It ranks 20th in the nation in that category, far ahead the state that is 47 times larger and ranks 20th in geographic size, Oklahoma. With so much of its land bordering on the ocean it is no surprise that Rhode Island has enjoyed a close relationship with the sea and particularly the United States Navy.
The Naval relationship started with Rhode Island-native Esek Hopkins, the Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy. Following him were the Perry brothers, Oliver Hazard Perry, the Hero of Lake Erie and namesake for Camp Perry, and his younger brother Commodore Matthew Cailbraith Perry, who was largely responsible for opening Japan to the west. Both were born in Rhode Island and are buried in Newport within sight of the Naval War College.
Three young Navy officers, and future presidents, received training at various Rhode Island naval facilities. John Kennedy trained in PT boats at the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center Melville on the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, Richard Nixon took officer indoctrination at Naval Operating Base Newport, and George H.W. Bush flew out of Naval Air Station Quonset and Naval Auxiliary Air Station Charlestown.
The Naval Construction Training Center Davisville, home of the Seabees and site of the development of the ubiquitous Quonset Hut, the Naval Torpedo Station Goat Island, which produced nearly one-third of the approximately 62,000 torpedoes manufactured for the Navy during World War II, and the Naval Net Depot Portsmouth, which fabricated tons of anti-submarine netting and booms for ports up and down the east coast, and trained the sailors in the installation and handling of harbor defense nets, are but a few more of the naval facilities that called Rhode Island home.
In the aftermath of World War II, and recent recommendations by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, much of the land occupied by the Navy in its centuries long association with Rhode Island has become public lands given over to historical and recreational use.
Of interest to riflemen is the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge located on a spit of land that juts out into the mouth of the Sakonnet River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The 242 acre refuge is one of five national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island and best known for its saltwater fishing and the largest winter population of harlequin ducks on the East Coast. It earliest history records that it was used for sheep farming and horse racing.
As war threatened the Coast Artillery Corps used Sachuest as the site for a fire control station for the defense of Narragansett Bay. Three buildings, camouflaged as a farmhouse, barn, and silo, were built to direct the fire of batteries of 16 inch guns.
When the Navy expanded its Newport training facilities to meet the rush of recruits immediately following The Day of Infamy, it acquired land on the point for use as a fleet recreation area. The idea was to provide a healthy entertaining outlet for the excess energy of the horde of randy young and vulnerable sailors, It was hoped that baseball and volleyball would keep them out of the fleshpots of Newport, Providence, and Boston, thereby preserving their virtue and health for Navy and the contents of their wallets for allotments to be sent home to help support families still smarting from the Depression.
The Navy also used the site as a small arms training center, constructing eight 200-yard rifle ranges, a 500-yard rifle range, two 50-foot rifle ranges, and a pistol range along with necessary workshops, barracks, and ammunition bunkers.
With a facility to man the Navy looked to the National Rifle Association for help in finding expert staff for the new ranges and selected well known smallbore competitor and Association Vice President Thurman Randle to lead the effort. He was commissioned a lieutenant commander and quickly set about the task of with organizing, standardizing, and putting into operation the entire U.S. Navy small arms training program.
Randle recruited some 600 members of the NRA who served as commissioned officers or enlisted instructors and taught over two million sailors how to shoot. His men were scattered across the nation while he was headquartered at Sachuest. There he supervised a week of marksmanship training for every sailor entering the ships pool at the Newport Receiving Station.
The Navy is long gone from Sachuest and so the rattle of musketry does not disturb the quite solitude enjoyed by birders, walkers, and fishermen. But after three quarters of a century Thurman Randle’s shooting domain exists in more than memory. It was recently noted on a Rhode Island fishermen’s website that fishing at Sachuest required a fishing/parking pass, sturdy shoes, and caution on the slippery rocks. The angler also needed to be prepared for a long hike to the fishing grounds that was uphill both ways and a real tripping hazard when walking through the overgrown and crumbling remnants of the abandoned shooting ranges.
After the war Randle served as NRA president and donated, in 1952, a large sterling cup to be awarded to the winning team in the Women’s International Smallbore Rifle Postal Team Match sponsored by the NRA. The trophy is now known as the Randle Cup and the match as the Randle Women’s International Team Match and therein lies the Randle Rhode Island rifle range relationship.