Truth, Mythology, and Everything In-between

by Hap Rocketto

The rich history and engaging characters of the shooting sports is both an ignored and unplumbed sea upon whose surface we cruise as we shape course from one match to another. It has oft been said that man knows more about the surface of the Moon than the floor of Earth’s oceans. It is the same with shooting as we know more about testing ammunition and the mechanics of our firearms than we do those who created or wielded them.

For over 25 years I have been researching the history and recording the present events and then scribbling down my discoveries and observations for the general education and amusement of various segments of the competitive shooting community. Some of my writings are more or less scholarly historical dissertations, replete with footnoted sources and bibliographies, on important events such as the Palma Match, the United States Randle and Dewar teams, or the history of the service firearm Distinguished program and the Presidents Match.

The other side of the coin reveals a less serious, but just as important, string of shooting anecdotes, stories, and jokes. I use these short pieces to amuse and, hopefully, recreate some of the more interesting and bizarre events that I have witnessed, participated in, or have been told to me by what was, in my green and salad days, the elder statesman and greybeards of the sport.

The ancient Romans used to say Tempus fugit, a Latin expression meaning “time flees”, but now more commonly translated as “time flies”. Well, I have come to know that tempus does, indeed, fugit and, as many of my shooting mentors and heroes have passed to the Great Range in the Sky, I find that I have become an elder statesman and greybeard of the sport. It is now my time to pass on the traditions, legends, and myths of the sport.

The Old Man once told me that it was a poor piece of cloth that couldn’t use a little embroidery. He was right; a little colored thread makes a plain white handkerchief a whole lot more interesting, while not affecting its usefulness in the least. Sometimes we emulate the generations that have preceded us by decorating the mundane events of our shooting life to make us feel better about ourselves. Those listening may believe us or, as our old friends the ancient Romans might have done, take our recollection cum grano salis, with a grain of salt.

I do not believe it is my place to question the stories I hear, and I am guilty of not fully checking the tales I pass on for either accuracy or credibility. I don’t do it because these stories are my way of getting to the soul of shooting and its personalities. The anecdotes are a still life of a person or event that is unbridled by detailed fact. Does it matter if it happened at Perry, Benning, or Colorado Springs? No, what matters is that we have shared a little bit about an event or person that we have enjoyed with those unlucky enough to not have had the same experience.

This all came to a head a few weeks ago when during our morning coffee break when a fellow volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity project mentioned that he heard I was involved in competitive shooting and asked how deeply I was involved.

I gave him a rough overview, trying to be modest, for the Old Man often reminded me that I had much to be modest about. He went on to regale me with his memories of his Uncle who said was a great shot in the early post Word War II years. I didn’t recognize the name and so mentioned that my knowledge of pistol and shotgun shooters was not too extensive.

He replied that his uncle shot smallbore and was so good that he made the 1948 Olympic Team, but had to withdraw because of poor health. On that subject I have more than passing knowledge plus I am on a first name basis with three of the shooters, Art Jackson, Art Cook, and the late Walt Tomsen, the latter two along with Harry Cail made up the smallbore contingent. No where in the literature or oral history does a withdrawal such as described to me occur.

As a matter of fact all those eligible for the tryout were informed that they had to be prepared for departure for England immediately after selection and would probably not be allowed to return home. This left many with the dubious excitement of packing for a trip to the Olympics that never materialized.

So there I sat, tenuously balanced between shooting scholarship and shooting mythology. Who is to say which is better?

I don’t know, but I am reminded of a passage from Mark Harris’ baseball novel Bang The Drum Slowly. The protagonist, Henry Wiggen, remarks about old ballplayers, “You see an old fellow at the All Star Game, or at the World Series, or in the South, or hanging around at the winter meetings, and they lie to you, and the next thing you read in the paper that they are dead, old fellows not so many years before slim and fast, with a quick eye and great power, and all of a sudden they are dead and you are glad you did not wreak their story for them with straight facts.”

In the end I decided to nod my head sagely to my friend, as if in agreement, and let the family myth live on, uninhibited, by the straight facts.

About Hap Rocketto

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