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.