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While Hap is no longer with us he did leave over two dozen unpublished articles.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Once all the remaining unpublished articles have been published we will publish “Classic Hap’s Corner.”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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ALLEN AND HAP’S SEALED TRAINS…

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 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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ENDURANCE RECORDS-SHOOTING AND BASEBALL…

ENDURANCE RECORDS-SHOOTING AND BASEBALL…

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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A BIG BANG THEORY OF SORTS…

A BIG BANG THEORY OF SORTS…

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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HARDLEY A MAN IS STILL ALIVE…

HARDLEY A MAN IS STILL ALIVE… 

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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MARINES HAVE LANDED AND THE SITUATION ISWELL IN HAND…

MARINES HAVE LANDED AND THE SITUATION  ISWELL IN HAND…

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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The Price Of Basic Necessities…

The Price Of Basic Necessities…

I was searching the Internet for some arcane information when I came across an article entitled The Cost Of Basic Necessities The Year You were Born. Never one to pass up an opportunity to fill any empty voids in my mind with trivia I quickly scanned it for 1947, the year of my birth.

Listed was a few common kitchen commodities showing the difference seven decades has made on the cost of living. One dozen eggs cost 70ȼ the year I was hatched, equal to $7.65 in today’s dollars. Now these were 12 no-frills Grade A large eggs. They were organic and free range, long before the terms were appropriated by advertising men in an successful attempt to raise their price to a gullible public. A one pound loaf of good old American white bread, the best for peanut butter and grape jelly brown bag school lunches, went for 13ȼ, about a $1.37 at the market these days. 

Then there was whole milk at 20ȼ a quart in a recyclable glass bottle topped with a waxed paper cap deposited by the milkman in the grey insulated milk box on the front porch. Not the $2.15 type in plastic or cardboard plucked from a supermarket’s refrigerated section. Whole milk is milk as it comes from the cow, with all the butter fat still contained. It is full-bodied, thick, and rich in taste, not like the namby-pamby 1% or 2% variety or the watery skim milk so popular with today’s anorexic health fanatics. 

It was real milk delivered by real men from Radway’s or Michael’s Dairy. Dressed in white shirt and trousers, with a military style combination cover, they packed the bottles in ice at the dairy in the wee hours of the morning and then set out in their appointed rounds. The milk was pasteurized in 1947,but not homogenized. The lack of the second process was the source of an occasional adolescent donnybrook with my brother.

Homogenization is the physical process of breaking down the fat molecules in milk so that they stay integrated rather than separating as cream. Milk that is not homogenized separates easily, the cream rising to the top. One only had to shake the bottle to temporarily homogenize the milk before drinking or pouring on your cereal. I still put my finger over the cap and shake the milk container out of habit. It is one of the many things that hang on from my youth that I do or say that mystifies my kids.

On an arctic like winter’s morning in New England even the insulated milk box could not protect the milk. It would freeze, and the cream would expand to push off the cap. The resultant pillar, wearing the bottle cap like a Scotsman’s tam o’ shanter, was a rare and sought after treat to be eaten right then and there. Awakening on just such a freezing morning we would race each other downstairs and out onto the front porch, barefoot and pajama clad, oblivious to the cold. 

Flipping the top of the milk box open would reveal the delicacy and my brother, being older and faster, would often gleefully tease me by allowing me to stick my hand in before slamming the top down on my fingers. As I hopped about on the icy porch on frostbitten feet, sucking on my stringing and often bloodied fingers, he would, with a Mephistophelian grin, snap off the cream and wolf it down it with a taunting devilish glee. One never knew what he enjoyed most, the frozen treat or my pain.

But what of the other basic necessity of life, a trip to the National Smallbore Rifle Championship? I dug out the 1947 Smallbore Championship program to see how the costs have changed.

The 24 page document revealed some interesting facts. Bedding was provided at no cost and three squares in the Mess Hall might run as much as $2.50 a day. The championship was a 3200 and was limited to only 700 rifle competitors, who would pay for matches à la carte.

The registration fee was a $1.00 and each match cost an additional dollar. There were eight fired matches and three unfired aggregate matches making up the championship. The prize schedule was sliding and, if there more than 500 entries, the top award was $35.00. So, with registration fee, it cost $12 to shoot the national prone championship. There were additional special individual matches and team events, but everything cost a buck if you were an NRA member. It was a dollar fifty for a non-Association members. The 1947 Official Bulletin of the National Smallbore Championship reports that 618 participated and only 82 firing points were empty. 

Seventy years later the championship was a 4800. The entry fee, prorated, was $17.00 per match with a payout of $50 to the winner. It is not too much out of line with the growth in the cost of eggs and milk. However, unlike 1947 the maximum number of competitors that could be accommodated in 2017 was 200 but only 87 firing points were needed.

The situation reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who is an airplane salesman. He had originally been in retail furniture but decided to take his considerable sales skills and combine them with his love of flying for a more satisfying career. I asked about the difference between the two fields and he replied, “You know, pretty much everyone needs a bed, a sofa, or a kitchen table. No one really needs a four-million-dollar airplane.”

No matter what the cost I guess it is pretty much the same for eggs, milk, and a national smallbore rifle championship. 

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DOWN RANGE IS NO PLACE TO BE….

DOWN RANGE IS NO PLACE TO BE….

The memory of the first highpower round I ever shot at Camp Perry is still sharp. It was August 18, 1975 and the Members’ Cup required 20 shots. Standing on the 200 yard line of the 1,000 yard range, then known as Vaile, I looked up range and noticed shooters on Rodriguez Range doing the same thing, only they were to my right and 200 yards behind me. There are few things more distracting to the shot process than knowing you are down range of several dozens of loaded 30 caliber rifles about to go off.

It turns out I had no reason to be concerned, this had been going on for more years than I had been alive. We were safe, well outside of danger fan of the Rodriguez riflemen and, anyway, who would want to sacrifice ten points to pick off a portly shooter who would make a poor trophy mount. Never the less, I was still down range and that is never a comfortable place to be.

I was sort of use to the sounds of being down range during shooting. The 200 yard firing line at Quaker Hill, my home club, was just out of the maximum range of the shot fired from station number one of the skeet field. The pitter patter in the leaves of the trees, as an ounce or so of #8 shot rained down a short, but safe, distance away, was a common enough sound. Serving targets during a highpower match accustomed me to the crack of a 168 or 173 grain 30 caliber bullet passing overhead. 

Distracted from my prep, my thoughts went to Olympic rifleman and battleship sailor Willis Augustus Lee, Junior. Lee started his shooting career with the U.S. Naval Academy Rifle Team. As a Midshipman he competed in the inaugural National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio in 1907. There he won both the National Trophy Individual Rifle and the National Trophy Individual Pistol matches, a still unmatched feat, on the very ranges where I stood. Lee had trained on the outdoor ranges at Naval Station Annapolis on Greenbury Point across the Severn River from the Academy. 

Thirty five years later Midshipman Lee was now Rear Admiral Lee and broke his flag on the battleship USS Washington.During the Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal he was aboard when she sank the Japanese battleship Kirishima, the only United States battleship to sink an enemy battleship in a one-on-one gunnery duel during World War II. It was, most certainly, the last time the world would witness a battle of such leviathans. 

And here two of my passions, shooting and aviation, intersected. In Lee’s time Greenbury Point was also the site of the Naval Aviation Camp where Lieutenants Gordon ‘Spud’ Ellyson, Naval Aviator Number One and John Towers, Naval Aviator Number Three, experimented with a Curtis A-1 Triad.

Pioneer aviators Ellyson and Towers were familiar names to me from my green and salad days as a Naval Aviation Officer Candidate at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Naval Air Station Ellyson Field was located northeast of “Mainside” and, in my day, the sole intermediate and advanced training site for rotary-wing Naval Aviators. 

To make my connection to Ellyson a bit closer he was also stationed in my hometown, New London, Connecticut, during the Great War. He qualified in submarines which made him the first of a very rare breed of Navy men who were entitled to wear both the wings of a Naval Aviator and the dolphins of a submariner. Unfortunately, his promising career was cut short when, on his 43rd birthday, he crashed into Chesapeake Bay while on a night flight from Norfolk, Virginia, to Annapolis, Maryland.

Towers went onto a distinguished career in Naval Aviation. He established NAS Pensacola, the ‘Cradle of Naval Aviation,’ and planned and led the first air crossing of the Atlantic in Curtis NC flying boats. Retiring as a vice admiral the Navy named the airfield at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, in his honor.

When Ellyson first arrived at Greenbury Point he found Towers in the hangar working on the A-1, so he grabbed a wrench and joined him. As they went about their work Ellyson thought he heard angry wasps zipping about. He asked Towers if the wasps bothered him. Towers casually replied, “No, there are no wasps. The sound is ricochets from the rifle range.” It seems an oblivious Navy civil engineer had sited the hanger directly behind the Academy’s rifle range butts.

A seemingly unconcerned Towers reported that the Midshipmen only practiced musketry on Wednesdays and Fridays and that most hits were high in the eves of the building. Considering the hazardous nature of aviation at that time a few bullet holes in a hanger’s roof didn’t seem like much to worry about. In fact, the enlisted men entertained themselves by chalking circles around the holes, counting as many as 30 in a day.

The laissez-faire attitude came to a screeching halt the day a bullet punched a hole in the wall, zipped through the hangar chest high, scattering sailors port and starboard, before it splintered the wooden wall on the far side of the hangar. Ellyson quickly ordered everyone out of the area.

Returning the next morning Ellyson found the wings of the A-1 perforated by ricochets. As they stitched Irish linen patches over the holes and painted them with aircraft dope to tighten and stiffen the fabric, Ellyson was deep in thought.Weighing all aspects of the situation he concluded that aviation was dangerous enough without adding bullet wounds to the already inevitable possibility of the broken bones, burns, and drownings that usually incurred when the flimsy wood and cloth aircraft crashed, as they so often did. 

Pragmatically Ellyson directed that they would no longer work when the range was in use.

I didn’t have that choice and went back to work, shooting a nine for my first record highpower shot at Camp Perry.

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YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT…

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT…

It took my brother Steve years to establish a rifle team at the high school where he taught physics. One of the strongest arguments offered by his opponent on the Board of Education was emotional: the danger of kids and firearms. He was able to eventually squelch the argument by pointing out that, nationwide, between 1982 and 2011 there were 115 fatalities in high school football but just one in organized scholastic competitive shooting. He further noted that that single incident was the only one ever recorded. His perseverance paid off with a successful program.

This is not to say that competitive marksmanship, at all levels, is not without its dangers to health. However, those dangers have been long recognized and there have been aggressive steps taken to insure student athletes involved in the shooting sports are well shielded from danger.

The first and most obvious is vision and hearing protection. Most ranges now require safety glasses and ear plugs. My club even provides free disposable earplugs to all from a gumball machine type dispenser mounted on the range wall.

Perhaps the biggest concern is ingestion of heavy metal, volatile liquid fumes, and gunpowder dust. 

In the shooting world lead is the dirtiest of the four-letter words. Clubs, especially those with junior programs, follow stringent hygiene plans to insure the cleanest and safest range environments. My club’s plan requires a semi-annual washing of the range with a special soap, periodic rinses with water and vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum , all brass is pushed forward of the firing line to be picked up the by the range committee, no juniors are allowed forward of the firing line, eating drinking and gum chewing are prohibited in the range, special soap is provided to wash hands and face after shooting, a sticky floor mat is installed at the range door, air flow is tested, protective gloves and booties are provided for work parties, and all work is required to be logged.

Most rifle cleaning solvents are classified as volatile fluids, a liquid with the tendency to become vapor, and are often petroleum based. You don’t want to breath too much of the vapor and using rubber gloves when cleaning is not a bad idea.

The touch stone of cleaning fluid is Hoppes #9 As a member of the Cult of Hoppes I ascribe to the mantra, “It’s okay if you don’t start with Hoppes, but you’ll probably end up with it.” It’s banana like smell evokes the nostalgia of the carefree shooting days of my youth. They make an odorless version of the venerable elixir, but one wonders why.  

The final leg of our danger triad is gunpowder dust. For those who are serious reloaders, both black powder and IMR types, when dealing with kegs and caddies of powder there is the inevitable dust kicked up as it is transferred to small container or the reloading press. This poses two dangers, loose powder which might ignite from a spark or static electricity and lung issues.

This problem is best solved by keeping a clean reloading station, sweeping-never vacuuming-the floor regularly to avoid spilled powder build up, and wearing a surgical mask when transferring powder.

This all was brought home to me by an incident that involved an old and venerated member of my club, Chris Beebe. When I first meet Chris, he was in his late 70s and long retired. I inevitably would find him on the first bench of the high-power range. A bit arthritic, he pulled his car right up to the line to ease his loading and unloading of a myriad of gun cases, tool boxes, and a portable loading bench. It was a no parking zone but Chris’ status as a respected and beloved elder statesman of  the club rendered the sign moot. He was held in such affectionate high esteem that one of the wives of a fellow bench raster made him a special jacket with an extended back flap so when he bent over the bench in cold weather his lower back would be covered and kept toasty warm.

Chris would usually be testing some esoteric load, perhaps a .22 PPC6mm PPC, 338-06 A-Square, .35 Whelen or the 6.5mm Grendel cartridge. at 50, 100, or 200 yards as he prepared for some bench rest event or another. He was a fastidious reloader with eye that was as accurate as the well-worn Brown and Sharpe spindle micrometer tucked into his shirt pocket.   He was a friendly old fellow who loved to yarn and was also a wealth of information. We all enjoyed spending time with him and usually went away in a better mood and wiser in the way of reloading

As a member of the Range Hygiene Committee I hoped to learn something of his safety and hygiene procedures which might help us. I started by asking him how he managed his work space and the state of his health. For more than a half century he had been inhaling gun petroleum-based cleaning solvent fumes like a rock start snorting coke and ingesting gun powder like a kid at the circus attacking a cone of cotton candy. He replied, “Hap, I am nearly eighty years old and that am doing OK even though I have probably sniffed a barrel of Hoppes and swallowed enough gun powder to keep you in cartridges for a year.”

And he was right in so many ways. When he passed away at the age of 95 he left a wife, three children, nine grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren and a 15-foot crater where the crematorium used to be.       

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A Distinguished Scout…

 

A Distinguished Scout…

I enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard to shoot on the rifle team and actual military duties were the furthest thing from my mind. Assigned to Company C, First Battalion, 169th Infantry based in Middletown, Connecticut, a unit of the 43rd Brigade, part of the fabled 26th Yankee Division, I drew my gear and rarely saw the armory after that. With Viet Nam in the rearview mirror the Guard was hemorrhaging personnel as the enlistments of the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots expired. To fill out its meager muster roll the rifle team was assigned to “Middletown Charlie” whose troops never saw us but enjoyed the extra rations they drew on our names.

The 169th has a long and storied history. It began as a militia unit in 1672 during the early days of the Connecticut colony, it fought in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish–American War, chased Villa on the Mexican border, World War I, the Pacific in World War II, occupied Japan, and was activated and served in Germany during the Korean Police Action.

While I was in there was another unit in the 26th YD’s Connecticut Table of Organization with a shorter but, perhaps, a more colorful and interesting history. It was C Troop, 26th Cavalry Regiment, the linear descendant of the 26th Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) (26th CAV (PS)).

During the withdrawal to Corregidor, in the waning days of the Philippine Campaign, the 26th’s First Lieutenant Edwin P. Ramsey led the last mounted cavalry charge in American military history on January 16, 1942.

The action brought a rare smile to the dour visage of Major General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV, commander of the Philippine Department. The successful horse action was a brief reprieve for ‘Skinny’ Wainwright, an old cavalryman, who had little to smile about as he stubbornly resisted the advancing Japanese in a futile attempt hold the Philippines.

The Philippine Scouts were part of the United States Army from 1901 until the end of World War II. Fierce fighters, many refused to surrender and became the core of the guerilla resistance to the Japanese. The Scouts were disbanded in 1948, when the Philippines became an independent nation, and many Scouts elected to remain in the US Army eventually serving in Korea and Viet Nam.

One such Scout was Dominador ‘Don’ Figuracion who claims a trio of trivia tidbits, two involving shooting. As a 21 year old private he had been soldiering less than a year, following in the footsteps of his father, Juan, who served in the Scouts at the same time.

When the first Japanese landing parties stormed ashore in the Philippines on December 8, 1941 they were met by the 26th Cavalry. The Scouts, the first Filipino unit to be issued the new M1 Garand rifle, which mounted troops stowed in saddle scabbards, were one of the first United States Army ground forces to be involved in combat during World War II. Even though the Army was fully equipped with the M1 early in 1941 this engagement marked the first time it was used in combat and Figuracion was there and claims he was among the first, if not the first, to fire the rifle in anger.

He was aboard his mount Santango when Ramsey had his men draw their .45s before ordering that final wild cavalry charge against an advancing Japanese infantry unit. Surprised by the boldness of the charge and the thundering of the fast moving horses, the Japanese troops broke and ran.

All the hard fighting and privation was to no avail and Figuracion became a prisoner when Bataan surrendered and suffered the horrors of the infamous “Bataan Death March.” Figuracion spent a year behind the wire in Camp O’Donnell before escaping into the jungle and joining a Philippine guerilla group. While with the guerillas he met his wife of 72 years, Ely.

Figuracion survived the war and remained in the Army where he was awarded the Aircraft Crewman Badge which topped his ribbon rack replete with a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Ribbon, Prisoner of War Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Asia Pacific Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary medal, Viet Nam Service Medal, Philippine Defense Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

In the years following he became a United States citizen and served in Viet Nam before retiring a sergeant first class.

To occupy some of his time he took up pistol shooting while in the Army and in 1960 earned his Distinguished Pistol Badge.

So, other than the remarkable fact that he was married to the same women for 72 years, what are his three claims to trivia fame? First, he rode in the last cavalry charge in US Army history. Second, he was among the first, if not the first, to fire the M1 rifle in anger. Third, he is the only survivor of the Bataan Death March to hold the Distinguished Pistol Badge.

 

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640 hits or 36 Hitless, Sort Of The Same Thing…

640 hits or 36 Hitless, Sort Of The Same Thing…

The 26th of May was a sunny start to the Memorial Day Weekend and I was wielding my power washer while adhering to, depending on your literary bent, either Voltaire or Ben Parker, Spider Man’s uncle, who it is said once remarked that with great power comes great responsibility which is why I had set the machine for 1500 PSI and carefully attached a 15º nozzle to the washer’s wand. I wanted my siding cleaned, not sliced up like a side of bacon.  

My home is surrounded by a stand of oaks and the acidity of the leaves and the shade means that I have a poor excuse for a lawn and the yearly task of ridding my siding of a haze of gray mildew. To both entertain myself and protect my hearing from the electric hum of the power washer I had donned a headset fitted with speakers attached to a portable radio. Tuned to WEEI, the local sports station, I was listening to Joe Castiglione and Tim Neverett bringing me all the action of a Red Sox/Atlanta Braves game. I am not a fan of interleague play, but this game was sort of nostalgic.

From 1915 to 1952 the Braves were the Boston Braves. They decamped to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, selling their ballpark to Boston University, where my brother slaved in the groves of academe. BU eventually named it after MIT alumni and BU Trustee, William Emery Nickerson, the designer of the machinery used by King Gillette to manufacture the euphoniously named razor and blades. After 13 years of imbibing the produce of Milwaukee’s many famous breweries the Braves again moved, this time south to Atlanta, where they could now get their fill of another ballpark staple, peanuts.

Baseball announcers and color men have a lot of time to fill during the three to four hours it takes to play a ballgame. Any one worth his salt can come up with an unending litany of esoteric statistics, recollections, and trivia to fill the time between pitches. This being a Braves game, and the 26th of May, Castiglione found the time to discuss no hitters and perfect games and the fate that befell Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Harvey Haddix in a game against the Braves on the same date in 1959.

A shut out in baseball is a game where a team does not score and is like a 1600 in prone shooting. A no-hitter, of which there have been 299, is a game in which a team does not record a hit, but a batsman reaches base. It is a 3200 in shooting. A perfect game is recorded when no opposing player reaches base, “27 up and 27 down,” there have been 23 ‘Perfectos” in baseball history, the equivalent of a 6400 prone.

Haddix threw a perfect game through 12 innings, retiring the first 36 batters he faced. It is a feat almost inconceivable in modern baseball where pitch counts rule and most starters going seven innings are praised for endurance.  

In the top of the 13th inning Pirates third-baseman Don Hoak committed an error which allowed Felix Mantilla reach first. Eddie Mathews advanced Mantilla with a sacrifice bunt and  Hank Aaron was intentionally walked. Haddix lost the game, When Joe Adcock hit a walk off home run. Despite the loss Haddix’s 12 2/3-inning, one-hit complete game is considered by many to be the best pitching performance in major league history.

As a result, Haddix had a no hitter on his resume, that is until 1991 when Major League Baseball changed the definition to “a game in which a pitcher or pitchers complete a game of nine innings or more without allowing a hit.” Despite his having thrown more perfect innings than anyone in a single game, Haddix’s game was erased from the list of no hitters, Haddix’s response was “It’s O.K. I know what I did.”

A sort of similar situation nearly occurred to Steve Angeli. Over four days on the Palmyra Pennsylvania Sportsman’s Association firing line during the 2015 Mid Atlantic 6400. Angeli reached a level of perfection that only two other riflemen have achieved when he shot 640 tens and Xs for a perfect 6400X6400.

California dentist Tom Whitaker was the first to accomplish the near impossible with a 6400-574X, at the Western Wildcats in 1975. Lones Wigger, not to be outdone, upped the X count to 588 at Fort Benning in 1977.

Angeli, however, did something that neither Whitaker or Wigger did. Traditionally half of the double Critchfield Course is fired with metallic sights and the other with any sights, meaning a telescopic sight. While the rest of the field opted for telescopic sights during the any sight phase Angeli was comfortable and confident with irons and stayed with them.

His confidence paid off and he shot a 6400. However, his remarkable accomplishment seemed doomed to anonymity. His score equaled Whittaker and Wigger but his X count did not top Wigger’s open or Whitaker’s civilian record X counts. His 6400-561X seemed doomed to obscurity, like Haddix, until saved by NRA Smallbore Rule 2.2.1. Angeli turned 60 in 2015 making him a senior and so his name now fills that line in the record book. Had it not been for his age, Angeli’s remarkable performance, arguably the best in smallbore prone history, would have suffered the same fate of Haddix’s perfect 12 innings: obscurity.

It says something about their sports where both Haddix and Angeli were lauded, one for 36 misses and the other for 640 hits.

 

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RANDLE’S RHODE ISLANDRIFLE RANGE RELATIONSHIP…

 

RANDLE’S RHODE ISLANDRIFLE RANGE RELATIONSHIP…

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.

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HAP, JAKE, TOMMY, AND MALCOLM…

 

HAP, JAKE, TOMMY, AND MALCOLM…

During the 2017 Roberts Trophy Match we took a side trip to visit a few of the historical spots that dot the bucolic English country side. Heading west from Bisley we soon arrived at Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. My brother Steve had been involved in the first computer study of the site under the direction of Dr. Gerald Hawkins, a noted astronomer, under whom he studied at Boston University. Hawkins was a pioneer in Astroarchaeology. In one of the first uses of computer technology in the field he plotted the location of the standing stones and the celestial bodies and ran the numbers. From the data derived he concluded that Stonehenge was an astronomical observatory used to predict the movement of the sun and stars. It was kind of neat to have that kind of family connection to this World Heritage Site.

As imposing and historic as the ring of standing stones are a smaller monument caught my eye as we walked towards the visitors’ center. It was a small stone cross standing on a three-step pyramid that was set on a rectangle of flat stone. Inscribed on the grey rock are the words “To the memory of Captain Loraine and Staff-Sergeant Wilson who whilst flying on duty, met with a fatal accident near this spot on July 5, 1912. Erected by their comrades.”

As a pilot this memorial was intriguing. After asking about I found that Loraine and Wilson’s memorial was commonly called ‘The Airmen’s Cross.” It memorializes the first Royal Flying Corps personnel to die in an aircraft crash while in the line of duty. Six years later the RFC, the air arm of the British Army, was no more when it was merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to become the Royal Air Force.

I was mulling over this discovery after we returned to our hotel when I recalled that Sir Tommy Sopwith, an early British aviation pioneer, had established the Sopwith Aviation Company a short distance from Bisley in 1912. I took a dive into the pool of useless information that clogs my mind to surface with yet another association that combined my passions of shooting and flying.

Early aircraft were fragile. Their thin spruce frames were covered with Irish linen which was drawn tight, stitched in place, and then covered with a paint like liquid called dope. As the dope dried it tightened and stiffened the fabric making an airtight and weatherproof covering. However, early dope was a two-edged sword as it was made with nitrocellulose, a highly flammable component. Nitrocellulose, commonly known as guncotton, is a prime component in modern gunpowder. One of the many hypotheses put forward in the aftermath of the fiery destruction of the German zeppelin Hindenburg has that static electric charges ignited the heavily doped skin of the aerial behemoth.

The Aeronautical Division of the US Army Signal Corps was interested in arming aircraft and needed to determine if they were robust enough to withstand the recoil of rifle fire. Civilian pilot and aircraft manufacturer Glenn Curtis and Army Second Lieutenant Jake Fickle were assigned the task. A photograph of the test flight shows Curtis at the controls in suit and tie with a newsboy’s soft cap pulled over his head. Fickle, in full military uniform, riding boots, choker collar blouse, and campaign hat, sat on his left with a United States Rifle, Caliber.30-06, Model 1903 cradled in his arms and a pocket full of ball ammunition.

They took to the air from the Sheepshead Bay Race Course, located in southeastern Brooklyn, New York, on July 20, 1910. After Curtiss piloted the ship to an altitude of 100 feet over the race track, Fickle took careful aim at a 3X5 foot target set upon the ground and fired off two rounds. Those two shots planted the seeds for the development of aerial gunnery and proved that firearms could be discharged from an airplane in flight without causing fatal structural damage.

While Fickle fired the first airborne shots the first recorded aerial combat took place on November 30, 1913 during the Mexican Revolution. Two American pilots, soldier of fortune Dean Ivan Lamb in a Curtiss D Pusher flying for the Carranzistas, and filibuster Phil Rader, piloting a Cristofferson Pusher for General Huerta, encountered each other over the Mexican village of Naco on the Senora/Arizona line. The two pilots, old drinking buddies, recognized each other on sight, but that didn’t stop Rader from pulling out his pistol and taking a few pot shots at Lamb, who replied in kind.

A year after the test Fickle found himself again holding an ’03 in an airplane. This time his old Army pal Second Lieutenant Henry Harley Arnold was at the controls. Flying over Long Island’s Nassau Boulevard airfield, this time at 200 feet, Fickle fired off five rounds of ‘ought six,’ pulled out a stripper clip, recharged the magazine, and again blasted away again. When he was done there were six holes in a dinner plate which served as the target.

That is not the end of the story. Arnold and Fickle were contestants in what was probably the first aerial shooting contest. Their opposition was a British team featuring Tommy Sopwith, aviation pioneer, motor sports enthusiast and yachtsman, and Malcolm Campbell, pilot, motoring journalist, and world speed record holder on both land a sea. The two future knights of the realm did not do as well and lost to two future US Army Air Forces generals.

A few days later, more than a century after the shootout over Brooklyn, where I was born, the US team assembled on Century Range for the 2017 Roberts Match against the British. As Adjutant I couldn’t help but reflect on my fellow airmen, pilot Arnold, with whom I share a nickname, and rifleman Fickle, and hope that the outcome of our present day match would reflect the outcome of their historical one. It did.

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ITS TOMMY THIS AND TOMMY THAT…..

ITS TOMMY THIS AND TOMMY THAT…..

Life, like a busy main street, is full of intersections. Outside of my family, shooting and aviation are my main preoccupations, with Red Sox baseball and America’s Cup yacht racing following. Recently three of these advocational interests crossed in a pleasant way.

The Roberts and the Pershing Trophy matches are the major shoulder to shoulder conventional prone matches shot between the United States and Great Britain. The matches, a metallic sight Dewar course shot on the host nation’s targets, are fired at eight-year intervals. When in England the prize is the Lord Roberts Trophy and when in the United States the contest is for the John J. Pershing Trophy.

It has been my pleasure, privilege, and honor to be appointed by the National Rifle Association as the Adjutant to the 2009 and 2017 US Roberts Team and the 2013 and 2021 US Pershing Team. The hospitality and good sportsmanship of our hosts overwhelmed us when we arrived in England in 2009. However, the great Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Leroy Satchel Paige warned,” Go very lightly on vices such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.”

It was impossible advice to follow as we were inundated with a long list of meet and greets, banquets, and dinner invitations that would have been boorish to refuse. Whether the shooting social ramble had an impact on the eventual outcome in 2009 is impossible to say, but the United States was beaten like a rented mule by the British at Bisley in 2009. It was only the fourth loss suffered by the US in the nearly ninety-year history of the series. The loss stung me, but I smiled and bore it publicly as gracefully as I could.

As I licked my wounds I was reminded of two great British sportsmen, who shared similar interests with me and who also had endured losing a major international sporting event. In their cases it was not shooting but The America’s Cup.

The first to come to mind was fellow aviator Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith. Tommy Sopwith first came to fame and fortune as an aircraft designer and manufacturer whose most famous creation was Snoopy’s aerial steed, the Sopwith Camel, first test flown at Brooklands, just a few miles east of Bisley.

Sopwith challenged for the America’s Cup with a pair of majestic J-Class yachts. Endeavour won the first two races in 1934 but eventually lost to railway magnate Harold Vanderbilt’s Rainbow. Lack of an experienced crew and poor tactics cost Sopwith the Cup. Three years later he again lost in Endeavour II to Vanderbilt’s Ranger.

Sopwith’s yachting adventure recalls another aviation/America’s Cup intersection. Goodyear blimps were a common sight over Newport Rhode Island’s America’s Cup race course during the 12 Meter Era from 1958 until the Australia broke the US grip on the Cup in 1983. Goodyears’s CEO Paul W. Litchfield viewed the company’s airships as yachts in the sky and so the first 13 Goodyear blimps were named after US America’s Cup defenders: Puritan, Reliance, Defender, Volunteer, Resolute, Vigilant, Mayflower, Ranger, Rainbow,Enterprise, Columbia, America, and Stars and Stripes.

Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton rose from the slums of Glasgow to the heights of society by developing a chain of grocery markets and the eponymously named tea company. A friend of both King Edward VII and KingGeorge V, with whom he a shared an interest in yachting, Lipton challenged for the America’s Cup five times between 1899 and 1930.

His yachts were named Shamrock through Shamrock V. They seem oddly Irish names for a proud Scot-one would have thought they should be named Thistle. But then again, Lipton parents, with whom he was very close, were born in Ireland. Having been blackballed by the Royal Yacht Squadron, for being only a grocer and tea merchant, he challenged for the Cup representing Ireland’s Royal Ulster Yacht Club.

Lipton failed to wrest the Cup from the New York Yacht Club, but his gentlemanly grace and sportsmanship made him popular in the United States. A public subscription raised $16,000 for a Tiffney 18 caret gold loving cup engraved “In the name of hundreds and thousands of Americans and well-wishers of Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, Bart, K.C.V.O”. Through his Cup exposure his tea became well known in the United States which allowed him to recoup some of the enormous amount money used in financing his challenges.

We greeted the British in 2012 with a no holds barred socializing campaign to repay them for their kindness four years earlier. Whether the shooting social ramble had an impact on the eventual outcome in 2013 is impossible to say, but it was the British turn to be beaten like a rented mule and the United States’ undefeated record on home soil remained intact. I was pleased to be on the winning side of the ledger and now stood 1-1.

Four years later, after partaking in the social ramble with some discretion, I found myself lying between Shawn Wells and Kerry Spurgin trying to read the wind through driving rain and hail as thunder rumbled above and lighting lit up the gray sky at Bisley. We survived both the terrible shooting conditions and the wonderful British hospitality to win. I was now pleased to be 2-1 against the British.

As we dried off, warmed up, and celebrated our victory I couldn’t help thinking of Sopwith and Lipton. But most of all I recalled that Lipton once said that the greatest lesson in life he learned was, “… to win with pleasure and lose with a smile.” It is a thought I heartily second.

 

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Sherlock And The Soldiers Three…

The Old Man, the family black sheep, left high school and a comfortable home, to bum about the country during the Great Depression. On the other hand, my mother dutifully completed her secondary education at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York. Bustling about from class to class it is conceivable that she may have bumped into contemporary Lincoln alumni a young future cinema and television actor John Forsyth or a teenager who became playwright Arthur Miller-perhaps more famous for his wife Marilyn Monroe than Death of a Salesman.

Despite their differing secondary educations reading was always a high priority for them in the home they created for my brother, my sister, and me. One of my fondest childhood memories is of a narrow bookshelf that fit neatly into an alcove next to my father’s favorite chair in our living room. It contained several matched sets of literary classics, one bound in leather and the other a more traditional hardbound collection.

One leathern bound volume was a collection of Rudyard Kipling poems and stories which spent many an hour with me, flashlight in hand, concealed under the bedcovers, reading well past my elementary school bedtime. The hardbound anthology of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories received the same attention.

To the detriment of my grades pleasure reading and rifle shooting occupied much of my time during high school. And, oddly enough, those two British authors had an interesting relationship to both of my distracting pastimes.

Kipling and Doyle were mutual admirers and casual friends, Doyle having been a house guest of Kipling. Early in 1900 at the start of the Boer War they both headed to Field Marshal Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts’s headquarters in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Kipling spent six weeks working on the staff of The Bloemfontein Friend, a military newspaper. The two missed each other as Kipling left a day before Doyle, a physician, arrived to work at the Langman Hospital.

The British public was aghast at the poor standard of marksmanship of the army compared to that of the Boers. It was much like the evaluation of the US Army’s poor marksmanship following the Civil War which prompted George Wood Wingate and William Conant Church to found the National Rifle Association of America.

Kipling and Doyle returned home from South Africa just as British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury took steps to bolster Tommy Atkins’ skill, or lack thereof, with the rifle. Salisbury called for the formation of civilian rifle clubs and within a year ninety-two were formed, among them Kipling`s club at Rottingdean and Doyle`s Undershaw Rifle Club. Because the two men had differing philosophies on marksmanship training Rottingdean was a full 1,000 yards, reflecting Kipling’s support of military style shooting training. Doyle more pragmatic, and perhaps more land poor, built Undershaw out to only 100 yards and dedicated it to training with the miniature rifle, what we call today smallbore.

Putting their pens where their mouths were, both men featured marksmanship in their writings. In the Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Musgrave Ritual Dr. John Watson observed that his flat-mate,”in one of his queer humours, would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks”. Watson dryly comments that he had always held that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime and felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of the room was improved by it. Who are we to disagree?

Kipling’s vignette about an adventure of his Privates Three relates that,

Ortheris suddenly rose to his knees, his rifle at his shoulder, and peered at the valley in the clear afternoon light. His chin cuddled the stock, and there was a twitching of the muscles of the right cheek as he sighted; Private Stanley Ortheris was engaged on his business. A speck of white crawled up the watercourse.

See that beggar? Got ’im.’

Seven hundred yards away, and a full two hundred down the hillside, the deserter of the Aurangabadis pitched forward, rolled down a red rock, and lay very still, with his face in a clump of blue gentians, while a big raven flapped out of the pine wood to make investigation.

That’s a clean shot, little man,’ said Mulvaney.

Learoyd thoughtfully watched the smoke clear away.

Ortheris did not reply. He was staring across the valley, with the smile of the artist who looks on the completed work.

As you can see, I have a relationship, of sorts, with Kipling and Doyle, and Kipling and Doyle had a relationship with Lord Roberts, but my entanglement with literature and marksmanship does not end there. For, when Noted British rifleman Colonel Thomas Sutton donated The Field Marshall Earl Roberts Trophy, in 1964, for international shoulder to shoulder smallbore prone competition between the United states and Great Britain, he formed yet another link among us.

The Roberts Trophy recognizes Lord Roberts contribution to the shooting sports and the match in his honor is contested at eight year intervals. We are joined because I have had the honor and privilege to be twice part of the United States Roberts Team.

 

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