Monday, May 03, 2010

I met history today

I hit the range today for my weekly practice session. This time, in addition to a handgun, I brought out one of my M1 carbines because I needed to test a new load I'd worked up. I'd been reloading the .30 carbine rounds using surplus W820 powder, but I finally used the last of that up and have to switch over to Hogdon's H110, which I absolutely love for my .357 loads.

The carbine I was using today is the top one on this rack, A 1943 General Motors, Inland Division manufactured rifle.From top to bottom by manufacturer: General Motors Inland Division, Rock-Ola Jukebox Company, General Motors Saginaw Steering Gear Division, Underwood Typewriter Co., and Winchester Repeating Arms. (This last one I recently sold to Aaron over at The Shekel, and I still miss it. At least I know that it has a good home where it will be treated well.) All but the Inland have come to me over the years from the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP).

As I got to the range, I groaned and cursed when I saw a couple of trucks already parked by the firing line. The main reason that I shoot on weekdays is because I want the range to myself; I don't want to share with the typical target shooter or hunter that belongs to this club. Many of them are seriously rigid about the club's policies regarding rapid fire, drawing from the holster, and other things that I routinely do for practice. This club is run by a cadre of old men who seriously believe that guns exist only to poke holes in paper or put a deer in the freezer, and any sort of realistic training or practical shooting is frowned upon heavily. I know this well, having been talked to by the caretaker/rangemaster numerous times over the years simply for practicing basic tactical pistol and carbine drills. (Shooters aren't even allowed to shoot standing, kneeling or prone on the rifle range--they have to shoot from the benches only. So much for Hi-Power rifle practice.) But despite my frequent brushes with their inflexible rules, they keep renewing my membership, and they've gotten a bit more tolerant of me after all this time. I also do my part by restricting my tactical training to the weekdays when I'm alone on the lanes.

But now...Sigh. Other people. Dammit. Grumble, grumble....

Seeing as they were on the pistol range, I went over to the 100/200M line to test the .30 loads. I burned up about half an hour there and used up the test ammo, and then some guy with a benchrest rifle showed up (these folks are about the worst range nazis, IMHO) so I called it a day on the rifle line and headed over to the pistol line, figuring that maybe the shooters there would be finished soon and I'd wait them out. I still had some .30 left and a pistol to work with.

When I got over there, one of the shooters was just packing up, leaving one old man, who was shooting a 1911 .45 from the 25M line. I decided that unless he was going to be totally unreasonable about me getting a bit closer to the target and working from my holster, I could get along with him. As I set my gear up on the bench, including my carbine, he stopped and turned to check me and my guns out, like most shooters tend to do. Then he set his pistol down and came over to look at my carbine. "I used to have one of those," he said.

"Oh, yeah?" I replied. I like talking guns about as much as I like shooting them.

"Yep," he said, looking at the carbine, then looking at me. I motioned for him to go ahead and pick it up, which he did. He pulled the bolt back and locked it then held it up so that he could look into the chamber. "Carried one of these in Korea back in 1950." I noticed that his range gear was covered with Marine Corps stickers, and I figured that he probably had some stories that he could tell.

"How'd you like it?" I asked.

"It was great to carry when things were going good. Nice and light and easy to shoot." He hefted it a bit, as if he was recalling the weight of another carbine long ago. "But after the first night that the Chinese came, I never wanted to see one of these again. I threw it on a pile of damaged guns and took a BAR instead. Now THAT sonofabitch was heavy, but it got the job done when the Chinese came back." He set the carbine down. "If I'd still had that thing when they came back, I probably wouldn't be here today."

"That bad, huh?"

"I guess the rifle's fine normally. I liked it before. But we had the automatic versions and mine got all fouled after a while and I didn't have time to clean it so it started jamming up. And the bullets just weren't getting through whatever the Chinese were wearing. It wasn't stopping them."

We talked for quite a while, and he was more than willing to tell some of his stories. I'm not reprinting them all here because they're his, but they were something. I've read about such things but this was the first time I heard it first-hand from someone who was there. This old man was right up there near the Chosin when the Chinese attacked, and he walked almost all of the way back out under fire in one of the coldest winters on record. I'm still in awe hours after hearing him talk about it.

Before he left, I offered him my carbine and the last magazine of my ammunition. He thought about it for a minute, then he took the rifle and inserted the magazine. Shouldering the rifle, he rapid-fired it off-hand, emptying it in about ten seconds and putting every round on the target nicely. Then he cleared it, and handed it back with a smile.

"I still like these things for shooting," he said. "But I'll stick to my .45 or an '06."

I like my carbines too, and I still think that--within their limitations--they make an excellent defensive weapon. But who am I to argue with a little old white-haired man who was once a participant in some of the toughest fighting in the history of the United States Marine Corps.? I've got nothing that even comes close to that.

And my new friend shoots on weekdays too, so hopefully I'll see him again soon.


  1. Wow. Several things. First, nice little collection of carbines you got there. I only have one, an I.M.I. model from the early 90's.

    A lot of fun to shoot, but you new friend verifies what I had heard and long suspected. The round just isn't up to the task as a main battle rifle. (Which isn't what it was designed to be)

    One of my Viet Nam era buddies carried the selective fire M-2, he worked with ARVN troops who carried them all of the time and somehow got a hold of one for his time there.

    When I was a kid in the 60's I knew a lot of men who were WWII veterans. Those guys are getting really scarce, the Korean War vets are right behind them. Even the Viet Nam veterans are beginning to become aged and before I pass on, they will be a rarity.

    I hope someone is collecting the personal histories of these men before it is too late.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. Anonymous7:33 PM

    Great story Thanks for sharing.

  3. My uncle was at Chosin. He never talked about it. All I remember was mom saying that he told them when he came back that if he was taking a nap and they wanted to wake him up, they should shout. He might come up fighting if they shook him.

    Big difference between how the first Marine and the second Army divisions fared. It was bad at Chosin, but the Marines got out with their wounded (and their dead). The 2I pretty much disintegrated.

    Your shooting acquaintance's attitude sounds like a reason the Marines got out.

  4. Thanks for sharing that story - my dad was an Army sharpshooter during Korea. He just flew back home this a.m., after visiting with us for a few days. He & I went to the range on Saturday, for the first time shooting together in about 40 years.

    He hadn't picked up a pistol in 25 years, and did as well with my 1911 as I was doing after not shooting for 2 months.

  5. Great post. We need to be sure we don't lose those stories.