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The Greatest Hero America Never Knew The true story of Waco’s Col. Robert Howard. By David Feherty

photography courtesy of the Howard family

The name was always spoken with reverence, but I had no idea who he was. Then an Army Ranger I’ll call Leroy (because that’s his name) told me he couldn’t go on my T1F Taliban Pheasant Hunt in South Dakota last year because he had a chance to meet Bob Howard, who was on his deathbed in Waco. Leroy’s decision really piqued my interest. Nobody turns down the Taliban Pheasant Hunt—and, perhaps more telling, nobody goes to Waco without a really good reason. It was then that I decided I had to find out who Howard was.

A-googling I went. And it turned out that Robert Lewis Howard was a Green Beret and a TCU grad. He had appeared in two John Wayne movies, making a parachute jump in The Longest Day and playing an airborne instructor in The Green Berets—not exactly a stretch for him. Howard was the only soldier in the history of the United States to be nominated three times for the Medal of Honor, our country’s highest military decoration, which is awarded to members of the armed forces who distinguish themselves “conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.” The men who fought with Howard all agreed that he should have received a Medal of Honor for each one of his three citations—which explains why he was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses (the second-highest honor, given in the Army). No matter. He had plenty of other gongs and ribbons. He had a Silver Star, several Bronze Stars, and eight Purple Hearts (though he was wounded 14 times). Then there was all the stuff awarded to him by the armed forces of other grateful nations.

For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why neither I nor anyone else outside of the Army had heard of this extraordinary American. I had theories. First, many of Howard’s actions in theater were still classified. We know he was in Laos and Cambodia before we knew we were in Laos and Cambodia, but we just don’t know what he was up to, apart from getting nominated for the Medal of Honor every few months or so. This was back in the days when a clandestine operation could be run without having to broadcast it on C-SPAN first.

Then there was the rest of the Vietnam war, the part we knew about. Howard received his Medal of Honor from Nixon in 1971, with his sweet little first-grade daughter Missy looking on from the front row. None of the TV networks covered the event. Though Audie Murphy and Alvin York both received a Medal of Honor for their actions in World War II and the Great War respectively, and got the ticker-tape parades, fame, and fortune they both deserved, Howard got nothing, because he fought in the war that the Flower Power generation, led by Jane Fonda and her ilk, who exercised the very rights that the men and women who served in Vietnam fought to protect, demonstrated against by (among other things) spitting in the faces of returning soldiers. You can probably guess how I feel about this issue.

So after reading up on Howard, I decided to follow my friend Leroy’s lead and head down to Waco to meet the man myself. But before I could get down there, on Wednesday, December 23, 2009, Col. Robert Howard died at the age of 70. The next day, the Associated Press ran a 10-sentence obituary. The New York Times and Washington Post followed with slightly longer obits. I couldn’t believe the man’s passing had generated so little notice.

I went to Waco anyway.

Driving down I-35 toward Waco to visit Missy, the second daughter of Col. Robert Howard, I noticed for the first time that this stretch of the interstate is known as The Purple Heart Trail. I was still thinking about the coincidence when I sat down in Missy’s living room to watch a video that few people have ever seen. The video was given to Howard by the Medal of Honor Foundation.

It is Missy’s daddy at 64 years old, with a short, pale blue ribbon and small gold medal covering the knot in his tie, his jaw square and strong, his face still scarred, angular, and violently handsome. He is talking about the day he received his Medal of Honor from President Nixon, of whom he says, “He had nice hands. They were, you know, decent.”

Missy tells me that when her daddy came home to San Antonio, which wasn’t that often, he was a gardener, a gentle man with massive hands and a velvet voice who worked on his roses and never once spoke of what he did in the war. “He could make anything grow,” Missy says.

Now the Colonel’s ocean-blue eyes are focused on some far-away hellhole jungle clearing. Howard says the Hueys took ground fire on the way down to the landing zone, and his platoon suffered casualties even before it landed. But there was no peeling off for this group. Silver wings upon their chests, these are men, America’s best. (No longer do these words remind me of Bill Murray in a greenskeeper’s shed.)

“We finally got in on the ground, and I got with [the] lieutenant,” Howard says. “He says, ‘Bob, we need to secure this LZ [landing zone], and I want you to get a couple of men and secure the exterior of the LZ.’ And I got three men behind me, and I can remember being fired at. I fell backward and they killed three men behind me, and I’m firing and killing the North Vietnamese that’s trying to kill us. So I made my way back to the lieutenant and told him that the LZ was completely surrounded. By that time, one of the helicopters had been shot down.”

This is the only personal account on record of the events for which he received the Medal of Honor. To begin with, Howard seems uncomfortable talking about it. But this is not the most difficult thing he has done. He pauses and draws a breath, then begins to explain dispassionately what happened when the men resumed their operation and a grenade explosion knocked him unconscious.

“When I come to, I was blown up in a crump on the ground, and my weapon was blown out of my hand. I can remember seeing red and saying a prayer, hoping I wasn’t blind. I couldn’t see. And I knew I was in a lot of pain and my hands were hurting. I couldn’t get up, and I really didn’t want to get up anyway because I couldn’t see. And then I finally starting getting the vision back and it was like blood was in my eyes, and I started feeling, but my hands were all blown up.

“And then it was like there was a big flame and there was smoke and there were people screaming and hollering. It in fact was an enemy soldier that was burning the people that would have been ambushed with a flamethrower. And the guy walked up to me and was getting ready to burn me, and he looked at me and he didn’t burn the lieutenant. The lieutenant was about 5 feet away from me, and he’s laying face forward, and he was hollering and he was screaming. I knew he was hurt. And the guy looked at me with the flamethrower, and then I looked at him. I guess I looked so bad and pitiful, he decided not to burn me up. He just turned and walked off.”

Now Howard was unarmed, and his hands had been blown apart. He was peppered with shrapnel. He couldn’t walk. So he grabbed the lieutenant’s shirt and starting dragging him—a big man, maybe 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds—toward safety as an estimated two enemy companies fired on them.
The great man’s face changes as he talks. His jaw stiffens, and his eyes, though narrowing, seem to take on an even more penetrating blueness. I am mesmerized as he relives these moments.

“So I’m pulling him back down the hill, and there was a sergeant that was laying down behind a log with a weapon that hadn’t been wounded that had seen this. But he was crying and not using his weapon. Here I am, begging him to help me because I can’t walk and drag the lieutenant back down.
“I said, ‘Well, give me your weapon,’ and he wouldn’t give me his weapon, but he did give me a .45. Just as he gave me the .45, and I’m trying to tell him to give me a couple more magazines of rounds for it, a bunch of enemy soldiers come running toward us. So here I am trying to fire the handgun, and I can remember shooting this enemy soldier that was fixing to stick me with a bayonet. He was running toward me. In fact, he fell across the lieutenant that I was dragging, and so just as he fell across there was another one behind him. They were trying to get us alive is what they were trying to do.”

The sergeant finally began to fire his weapon, and Howard got hit again. A bullet smashed into a magazine in his ammo belt for his rifle, setting off the rounds he was carrying. Howard estimates he was hit with 15 or 20 rounds of exploding ammunition.

“Here I am thinking, I’m blowing up again,” he says. “And there were other soldiers back behind him that hadn’t been hurt at all that had been watching us being almost executed by the enemy and not doing anything, not even firing their weapons.”

Howard eventually got the lieutenant to a medic. His platoon was trapped under heavy fire and had now suffered too many casualties to fight the enemy on their terms. The medic propped Howard up, and he told his brothers, “We are going to establish a perimeter right here, and you’re going to fight or die.” Then Howard did the unthinkable. He got a radio and called in an air strike on his own position. He ordered the men to make a triangle with three strobe lights around their position to keep from getting hit.

“They brought the fire into our position,” Howard says. “In fact, I remember fire landing right between my feet and, you know, ricochet hitting me in the face. You know, that’s how intense it was.”

Eventually, helicopters were able to extract the men. Out of 37 soldiers who were ambushed that day, six survived, largely due to Howard’s heroics and quick thinking. He acted in a similarly heroic manner and endured similar injuries, saving the lives of many others on two other separate occasions for which he was nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Ten lines. That’s what the Associated Press gave Col. Robert Howard.

Back among the living in Waco, I notice that Missy has inherited her father’s looks. She is slender and beautiful. Her husband Frank Gentsch is athletic and carries his badge and handgun in the comfortable, easy manner one might expect of Waco’s chief of detectives. Frank says that before his first date with Missy, the colonel showed him how he’d kill a man with his bare hands. That must have been a little unsettling, but Frank still has a bullet in his back, so you know the old man was proud of him. On Missy’s lap sits their adopted 3-year-old daughter, Isabella, with a snubby little nose and the cutest fuzzy fro held back with a pink headband. Howard adored her­—as he did his other children and grandchildren.

The life of a soldier, especially a Special Forces one, is complicated. There are top-secret stories that can’t be told and endless questions. “When is Daddy coming home?” Or worse: “Will Daddy come home?” Howard was married three times and remained close only to those who “got him.” Like so many of our fighting men and women, he felt tremendous guilt over the many times he was forced to choose between his country and his family.

After his discharge when he was 53 years old, Howard spent 13 years processing claims for the Department of Veterans Affairs and spent most of the last three years of his life in Iraq and Afghanistan, visiting troops, giving talks, and boosting morale. For a soldier, meeting Bob Howard was like a religious experience. Shaking his hand was an honor never to be forgotten. You see, they knew who he was. They got him.

We American civilians can say what we like about the morality of any war, but we should support the American soldiers and their allies whom we have sent to wage it. I’ve visited military hospitals, psych wards, and VAs in Dallas and around this country, and I’ve seen them. Mostly from Korea and Vietnam. Old, unkempt men, the military bearing and pride they once had now gone. Sometimes the only evidence it ever existed is on a battered regimental or naval ball cap. They rock back and forth, mumbling into full jungle beards, with rheumy, blast-zone-empty eyes. Or they sit in pairs, often holding hands, together and alone with horror-story memories that play over and over in their heads. Some sit with their imaginary long-dead friends, whose body parts still lie in the killing fields upon which they once so bravely fought. To America’s eternal shame, for many of them home is a sterile corner of the Cuckoo’s Nest, freezing and drunk under a highway bridge, or, if they are lucky, a spare room in the house of a worn-out son or daughter.

At least Bob Howard was spared that fate. Pancreatic cancer finally stopped him. As the disease spread to his lungs and lymph nodes, his expiry date drew closer, and he was visited by more and more soldiers, most of them old friends. But there were a few lucky youngsters, too, of whom Leroy was one of the last.

And there was always Missy, there with him every day with Isabella. Sometimes his granddaughter Holley, the starting catcher for the Texas Tech softball team, would visit. Or Tori, whom the colonel always called “Victoria.” Tori was always heartbroken when she had to leave her grandpa’s bedside and was a constant comfort to both the colonel and Missy at the end. Howard’s eldest son, Robert, is at Fort Bragg, going through Special Forces school.

As a soldier, Robert had already seen how his father acted around other military men. But for Missy and the other children, their father’s illness, and the parade of visitors it occasioned, showed them something new about their father. When Missy and the grandchildren were around, Howard was the gentle old gardener, the same man they had always known. But when a soldier entered his hospice room, he would stiffen. His voice changed to gravel, and any sign of vulnerability evaporated. He would laugh and bellow orders until the soldier was gone, and then there he’d be again: the gardener with the sparkling blue eyes, smothered in children whom he’d caress with rough, scarred hands.

By all accounts, Howard was a spectacularly bad patient. He was a nightmare for his nurses, refusing to take the painkillers, often swilling them around, then spitting them out after the nurse had left. He was going to be clearheaded until the end.

After yet another astonishing fight, during which the family was told on several occasions that Howard had only hours left, the head of the world’s most dangerous gardener finally fell sideways onto his beloved Missy’s shoulder, and America lost what was arguably her greatest warrior ever.

The name Robert Lewis Howard belongs beside George Washington, John Paul Jones, Chesty Puller, Alvin York, and Audie Murphy, to name a few of the greatest. By the time anyone reads this, Howard will have been lain to rest at Arlington the day before I became an American citizen. I would have given anything to have been with Missy, Frank, and the rest of the family on that day, but I know the colonel would have barked at me to get my worthless foreign ass to my swearing-in ceremony.

Col. Robert Howard’s funeral cortege should have started at the foot of the Jefferson Memorial. His flag-draped casket should have passed through streets lined with thousands of grateful, flag-waving Americans to Arlington, where, in preparation for his final resting place, some politician had been dug up and tossed into the Potomac. But that didn’t happen.

Ten lines. A couple of longer obits here and there. That’s all he got.

On the drive back to Dallas from Waco, I got to thinking. We should rename that stretch of I-35 after him. The Col. Robert Howard Highway. People would shorten it, of course: the Howard.

His life deserves more. But it’s a start.

David Feherty is a golf analyst for CBS Sports.

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What to know about the best ammo for hunting thick-skinned, dangerous game by John McAdams

What to know about the best ammo for hunting thick-skinned, dangerous game
Bullet selection is always an important consideration when preparing for a hunt. However, choosing the appropriate bullet literally becomes a matter of life and death if you’ll be hunting dangerous game like cape buffalo.
The good news is that most of the big ammunition companies now offer several different lines of ammunition that are specifically designed for hunting thick-skinned, dangerous game. In particular, Nosler manufactures its Safari Ammunition line specifically for those hunters.
Before going into detail on Nosler Safari Ammunition, I’d like to provide a little bit of background on the sort of bullet performance hunters pursuing thick-skinned dangerous game (cape buffalo in particular) really need while they’re afield.
You’ve probably heard it before, but it bears repeating here: cape buffalo are really, really big and really, really tough. As a point of reference, a big bull can weigh twice as much as a mature bull elk.
Buffalo have thick hides, dense muscles, and heavy bones that are known for defeating lightly constructed bullets. Since buffalo are often encountered at close range and in thick cover, the margin for error is very small and more than a few hunters have lost their lives (or spent time in a hospital) as a result of poor bullet performance.
With this in mind, heavy for caliber, controlled-expansion bullets are essential for hunting buffalo. In short, you want a bullet that will reliably expand to a certain point in order to cause lots of tissue damage, but not expand so much that it won’t reliably penetrate deep enough to reach the vitals.
At the same time, most professional hunters recommend chambering a good quality expanding bullet for the first shot and loading non-expanding bullets for all subsequent shots. This is because the first shot will most likely be taken at a broadside or slightly quartering angle.
Since those shooting angles minimize the distance a bullet must penetrate to reach the vitals, expanding bullets are better choices because they make a larger wound channel, cause more damage to the internal organs of the buffalo, and are less likely to exit and unintentionally wound another buffalo in the herd than non-expanding bullets.
However, follow-up shots will most likely be taken at less desirable angles and expanding bullets do not typically penetrate quite as well as non-expanding bullets of the same caliber and weight. For this reason, non-expanding bullets are better choices for follow-up shots because they can be relied upon for the necessary amount of penetration to reach the vitals from non-ideal angles.
So, most dangerous game hunters need a mix of good quality controlled-expansion bullets and non-expanding solids that shoot to the same point of impact. Fortunately, product lines like Barnes’ VOR-TX Safari, Federal Premium’s Safari Cape-Shok, Hornady’s Dangerous Game Series, and Nosler’s Safari Ammunition are all designed to provide that sort of performance.

Image: Nosler

Nosler worked in partnership with Norma Precision to manufacture its Safari Ammunition. This ammo pairs their legendary Partition Bullet with Nosler Safari Solid bullets of the same weight that also shoot to the same point of impact.
On one hand, the Partition delivers rapid and violent, yet controlled expansion that is deadly on all manner of game from impala and whitetail deer all the way up to moose and eland. It’s also a good choice for initial shots on buffalo.
On the other hand, the Nosler Solid bullets are tough, flat-nosed, homogenous projectiles that can be relied upon for deep, straight-line penetration through thick muscles and heavy bones of even the largest creatures. These projectiles are wonderful choices for follow-up shots on buffalo as well as for shots on smaller game like steenbok and duiker to minimize damage to the hides.
Nosler Safari Grade ammunition is currently available in the following cartridges and bullet weights: 9.3x62mm Mauser (286gr), .375 Flanged (300gr), .375 H&H Magnum (300gr), .404 Jeffery (400gr), .416 Remington Magnum (400gr), .416 Rigby (400gr), .450 Rigby (500gr), .458 Winchester Magnum (500gr), .458 Lott (500gr), .470 Nitro Express (500gr), .500 Nitro Express (570gr), 500/416 Nitro Express (400gr), 500 Jeffery (570gr), and .505 Gibbs (525gr).
So, if you’re looking for the right ammo to take on safari with dangerous game on the menu, then you should really consider using Nosler Safari Ammunition. This is some versatile rifle ammunition that you can depend on when the chips are down.

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About the Author

John McAdams

John McAdams is a proficient blogger, longtime hunter, experienced shooter, and veteran of combat tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to his work for MultiBriefs, John started The Big Game Hunting Blog and Big Game Hunting Adventures in order to help others fulfill their hunting dreams. Be sure to subscribe to his show: the Big Game Hunting Podcast.

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“Hoss” from Bonanza was a Real Life War Hero by WILL DABBS

Bobby Blocker parlayed his exceptional size and talent into an esteemed career in both television and movies.

Bobby Dan Davis Blocker was born in 1928 in De Kalb, Texas, to Ora “Shack” and Mary Arizona Blocker. He attended military school as a child and excelled at football. Blocker played ball in college as well. The fact that he was 6’4” and weighed 320 pounds didn’t hurt his gridiron prospects.

Bobby Blocker, right, was always a really big guy.

While in college Blocker parlayed his immense size into jobs as both a rodeo performer and a bouncer in a bar. Despite his intimidating habitus, friends described him as good-natured and soft-hearted. Upon his graduation from college in 1950 Blocker received a letter from Uncle Sam.

Bobby Blocker Goes to War

Blocker’s imposing personality adapted well to military service. He’s obviously the big guy in the middle.

Bobby Blocker was drafted in 1951. He took his basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and was there molded into an infantryman. He spent another nine months honing his craft in Sapporo, Japan. In December of 1951, Blocker deployed to Korea with F Company, 2nd Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division—the Thunderbirds. He served in-country through August of 1952.

The landing at Inchon was the largest amphibious invasion since the Second World War.

Blocker landed at Inchon and by Christmas was in the thick of the fighting. In short order, he found himself near Chorwon in what is today North Korea. The series of fortifications that Blocker’s regiment manned was called the Jamestown Line. He remained in combat for 209 days.

Wintertime combat in Korea was just ghastly.

The Jamestown Line was a series of trench systems. Where much of World War 2 had been a war of mobility, Korea frequently devolved into a bloody stalemate fought in foxholes and static trenches more akin to those of the First World War. Add to this the bitter cold and penetrating wind and you had a recipe for misery on a scale most modern folk cannot imagine.

This is the typical terrain overlooking Old Baldy. It is desolate and forlorn.

Opposing units seesawed back and forth assaulting hills and taking fortifications in a war where success was measured in yards. Allied troops designated the dominating terrain feature Old Baldy, a distinctive promontory that held a commanding vantage over the entire area. The most critical piece of dirt in the area became known as Pork Chop Hill.

Pork Chop Hill ultimately cost way more than it was worth.

Bobby Blocker’s part in this sordid bloody production was simply the opening act. The Thunderbirds seized Pork Chop Hill, so named because of its geometric similarity to the familiar porcine comestible, in May of 1952. A seriously bloody fight took place between Allied troops and the Chinese the following year.

As the Russians are finding out in Ukraine, it’s tough to get worked up over the prospect of dying for nothing.

In April and July of 1953, some 347 Americans died against an estimated 1,500 Chinese dead. The two major battles for Pork Chop Hill gained notoriety due to their apparent utter pointlessness. Men bled out to hold terrain that had little significance in the real world. This fight unfolded while the UN Command was negotiating with the leadership of China and North Korea over the Korean Armistice Agreement. Both sides wanted the hill as a bargaining tool. Of all the reasons a man might have to die in battle, this was a really crappy one.

SGT Blocker’s fight was harsh and pitiless.

Back when Bobby Blocker called this desolate scrap of real estate home things were still plenty horrible. Blocker was acting First Sergeant on May 25, 1952, when his company manned positions on Hill 200 near Outpost Eerie. In the frenetic combat that followed six Americans were killed and a further 21 were wounded. At the same time, 132 Chinese soldiers fell.

Bobby Blocker, shown here on the far right, took to soldiering readily.

Gordon Abts, an American grunt who earned the Silver Star for gallantry in May of that year, served under Sergeant Blocker. He later said, “(Blocker) was a great guy. He was very strong. He could take a beer can between two fingers and crush it. He was very athletic. He was loud, but very friendly and got along with everybody. He was a great leader.”

In some of the harshest fighting of the war, Bobby Blocker proved to be a capable combat leader.

SGT Blocker was wounded rescuing his men under fire. He was credited with saving the lives of several members of his unit during combat. At a time when most Chinese attacks occurred at night, Blocker and his men fought gallantly against the infiltrating Communist hordes.

By the summer of 1952, Bobby Blocker’s war was over.

Blocker’s 179th Infantry Regiment was taken off the line in July of 1952. Only then was SGT Blocker finally evacuated to a hospital. The Thunderbirds went into reserve, and by the end of the summer Blocker was headed home. When he left the Army he had been awarded the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal with two bronze campaign stars, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, the United Nations Service Medal, the Korean War Service Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Now What?

The big Texan came home from the war to wrangle sixth graders.

When he returned to the US the gigantic combat veteran taught high school English and drama before taking over a sixth-grade classroom at Eddy Elementary School in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Now married to his new wife Dolphia, the couple eventually moved to Los Angeles.

Blocker’s imposing stature and natural Texas drawl made him a perfect fit for the myriad westerns Hollywood was churning out.

Blocker had a Master’s degree in drama and began pursuing his doctorate at UCLA. Blocker was from Texas and typically dressed the part. At one point he was standing in a phone booth arrayed in his typical Texan attire when the casting director for a television western spotted him. Things got busy from there.

In every role he played, Blocker was larger than life.

One of his first credited roles was as the Goon in the Three Stooges short Outer Space Jitters in 1957. He made the playbill as Don Blocker for reasons that have been lost to history. At the same time, he was cast as the blacksmith in two episodes of Gunsmoke. Small parts in Colt .45, The Restless Gun, The Sheriff of Cochise, Cheyenne, The Rifleman, Cimarron City, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, Wagon Train, and Have Gun Will Travel followed. This was the Golden Age of TV Westerns, and Bobby Blocker rode the wave. Throughout it all Blocker parlayed his impressive size into screen-filling characters alongside most of the major actors of the day.

Bonanza’s Hoss Cartwright was Dan Blocker’s defining role.

In 1959 Bobby Blocker landed his dream job. He was cast as Eric “Hoss” Cartwright in the hit NBC Western series Bonanza. He by now marketed himself as Dan Blocker professionally. Blocker played the iconic role through 415 episodes.

Stephen Grellet was an exceptionally wise theologian.

When interviewed about the unique combination of power and compassion he poured into the character of Hoss Cartwright, Blocker said he tried to channel Stephen Grellet, the prominent 18th-century French-American Quaker missionary. Grellet once wrote, “We shall pass this way on Earth but once, if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again.” This was Hoss Cartwright’s mantra.

The Rest of the Story

Stanley Kubrick made some weird movies. One of his most iconic roles nearly went to Dan Blocker.

While Hoss was by far Blocker’s most famous role, he logged a little time on the big screen as well. He starred alongside Frank Sinatra in the 1963 comedy Come Blow Your Horn and again five years later as a seasoned tough guy with Sinatra in Lady in Cement. Potentially his most thought-provoking Hollywood encounter involved the esteemed director Stanley Kubrick.

Hard to picture this as anybody but Slim Pickens.

Kubrick was casting his bizarre anti-war film Dr. Strangelove and needed somebody large and menacing to play Major TJ “King” Kong. Peter Sellers carried the film playing multiple parts, but he felt that the role of Kong should be a standalone character. Blocker’s agent perused the script and refused to allow him to read for it. The iconic part subsequently went to Slim Pickens. Dr. Strangelove would have had an entirely different flavor had it been Hoss Cartwright riding that thermonuclear bomb while maniacally waving his cowboy hat.

Dan Blocker’s was a common face on television in the ’60s and ’70s.

Blocker worked regularly into the 1970s on projects as disparate as The Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County and The Flip Wilson Show. Along the way, he was gifted partial ownership in several Bonanza Steakhouse restaurants in return for his service as the chain’s commercial spokesman while in character as Hoss.

By all accounts, Dan Blocker was a devoted family man.

Dan and his wife Dolphia had four children. One son, Dirk Blocker, became an actor of some renown in his own right. Dirk’s most familiar role was that of Marine pilot Jerry Bragg in the awesome 1970’s-era TV epic Black Sheep Squadron. Black Sheep Squadron was a staple of my childhood. Looking back on it I can see the family resemblance. Dan’s son David became an Emmy-winning TV producer. One of his twin daughters was a visual artist.

In 1965 this Chevelle Z-16 was the cat’s pajamas.

Dan Blocker was a great fan of high-performance automobiles. He maintained a 1965 Chevrolet Chevelle Z-16 as well as a 1965 Huffaker Genie Mk 10 racer he christened the Vinegaroon. The Vinegaroon raced for Chevrolet in 1965 and 1966 as part of the US Road Racing Championship series as well as the 1966 Can-Am championship.

Dan Blocker died from unforeseen surgical complications.

In May of 1972 Blocker went into the Daniel Freeman Hospital in LA to have his gallbladder removed. A cholecystectomy is a common surgical procedure that should have been fairly routine. The hulking combat veteran who played the lovable Hoss Cartwright suffered a pulmonary embolus post-operatively and died both suddenly and unexpectedly. He was only 43.

It turned out that Dan Blocker’s Hoss Cartwright really helped define the Bonanza narrative.

In an unprecedented effort, the writers of Bonanza wrote Hoss Cartwright’s death into the show’s narrative. More commonly when a major character died during the production of a TV show the writers and producers would simply gloss over it. In the later series Bonanza: The Next Generation it is explained that Hoss drowned saving a man’s life.

Dan Blocker’s modest grave is fairly nondescript.

Bonanza sputtered on for one more year without Hoss, but it never was quite the same. That 14thseason wrapped in January of 1973 and has been the least popular of the show’s protracted run. Dan Blocker–actor, war hero, father, and cowboy–is buried in the Woodmen Cemetery in De Kalb, Texas, alongside his father, mother, and sister. His is a fairly unassuming grave for a truly outsized guy.

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I glanced at my buzzing phone between crises at work. There was a kid with an ear infection screaming in Room 2, and the elderly man with chest pain in 3 was very likely having a heart attack. The lady in 4 was sobbing hysterically. Her husband of three decades had moved out the night before, and she had no place else to turn. It was, in short, a fairly typical day at the office.

The message read, “Can I borrow a .22 rifle to chase squirrels? My old hunting buddy and I got access to a nice piece of woods, and we’d like to go walk around a bit. Dad.”


Everybody has a father. I am blessed with a dad.

Role Model, Inspiration, Hero


My father is an indispensable part of my success today. He and mom sacrificed when I was a kid and loved me even when I was unlovely. He lived the example of the Southern Christian gentleman and showed me what it meant to be a man. I never once heard him curse. If everybody had a dad like mine the planet would be a much more peaceful, respectful and productive place.

Dad was a football star in college and even earned a spread in Sports Illustrated. I take after my mom and apparently didn’t inherit any of that. He could have handily beat up everybody else’s dad. However, short of protecting his family I could not imagine anything provoking him to violence.

He and I split the cost of my first Daisy BB gun when I was 7. He gave me my first .22 rifle and 12-gauge shotgun. He taught me the basics of rifle marksmanship and wing shooting as well as how to talk to turkeys.

By the time I left for college, 13 wild turkeys had fallen to my Browning Auto-5 while hunting at his side. Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners were seldom without one. The musty sweet smell of the Army-issue field jacket he wore on hunting trips when I was a kid is burned indelibly into my memory. He would undoubtedly push back at the characterization, but if I took a clean piece of paper and designed the perfect dad he would look like mine.

Dad already has a splendid .22 rifle—a gorgeous Winchester 63 with a tubular magazine in the stock he got for Christmas when he was a kid. The gun shot straight enough for my mom to use it to clip sprigs of mistletoe out of towering Mississippi Delta oak trees for use as Christmas decorations back in the day. A closely held family secret was my mom was always the best shot in the family.

I borrowed his rifle for an article a couple of years ago, and, oddly, it never found its way back home. Dad could have just admonished me to give him his gun back. Instead, he just asked to scrounge one of mine. That’s the kind of guy he is.

After a literal lifetime spent squeezing triggers for fun and money I have tasted both the good stuff and the bad. However, this time was special. Here was my excuse to build my dad the ultimate Information Age counter-squirrel rifle.

A sound suppressed Ruger 10/22 rifle is the ideal Information Age counter-squirrel weapon. The stainless steel
construction combined with the indestructible carbon fiber stock from Archangel make the gun essentially weatherproof.



Naturally the chassis is a Ruger 10/22. This classic, simple, ubiquitous self-loading .22 rifle is reliable and customizable unlike anything else on the market. It is also surprisingly inexpensive. Ruger makes so many of them mass production keeps the costs down. Spare parts and aftermarket cool-guy stuff are everywhere. In my dad’s competent hands, the Ruger 10/22 would be pure death to tree-dwelling rodents.

Standard Ruger 10/22 stocks are not bad, but this is for my dad. I want it to be perfect, so I looked to Archangel. Archangel produces a bewildering array of indestructible carbon fiber aftermarket stocks for an equally bewildering array of disparate weapons. For the old standby 10/22, their options run the gamut. They can transform your humble 10/22 into the spitting image of a German HK G36 combat rifle or set you up with a heavy target stock sporting multiple adjustments.

As this rifle was to be toted operationally in the field I opted for the midrange version. This stock incorporates a handy thumbwheel adjustment for length of pull yet remains sufficiently lightweight for easy carry. The stock free floats the barrel for accuracy, is festooned with sling sockets, and also includes a handy carrying compartment for a few spare .22 rounds or some emergency M&M’s.

I mounted glass on the top without a fuss. Neither Dad nor I have quite the visual acuity we once did, and a proper optical sight sure makes it easier to drop rounds on target. All Ruger 10/22 rifles come equipped with a sturdy sight rail, and the receivers are drilled and tapped from the factory.

Magazines range from standard helical feed 10-rounders up to 50-round drums with banana mags of various capacities liberally interspersed. New 10/22 rifles come standard with extended magazine release levers. Modern 10/22 fire control groups and barrel bands are polymer, but you will not wear out these components.

In a timeless tribute to the innate toxicity of testosterone, my dad and his best friend, both well into their 70’s, were recently hanging out at their hunting camp when an armadillo had the poor grace to make an unscheduled appearance. Dad produced his Ruger .22 Magnum revolver and, 6 rounds later, both my dad and his buddy were well and truly deafened. The armadillo, naturally, escaped unscathed. After some vigorous admonishment by his physician son, Dad now keeps a pair of muffs in his pickup truck.

A lifetime’s exposure to gunfire and chainsaws has already taken a toll on Dad’s hearing. You only get so much, and every time you are exposed to excessive noise you lose a little. It is imperative you safeguard every bit of it.

Hearing protection can be tough to manage when in the field hunting, particularly when there are multiple hunters involved. Sound suppressors are the obvious answer. Regrettably, however, civilian ownership requires the same onerous paperwork and $200 transfer tax fully automatic machineguns and grenade launchers might.

Sound suppressors should really be sold over the counter in blister packs at your local Shop-n-Grab. In America you are statistically at greater risk of succumbing to a shark attack or toothpick injury than a criminal assault with a suppressed weapon. (No kidding. I looked it up.) The only place Bad Guys use sound suppressors is on the screen at your local movie theater. However, there is a way to optimize this labyrinthine process.

If you transfer a sound suppressor to yourself as an individual then no one else may legally possess the item. However, if you form a trust it is possible to include more than one person as trustees. Details are available online, and the process is not particularly difficult or expensive. As such, I created a trust for both Dad and me allowing us to share legal possession of a .22 caliber can. The processing time takes about forever, but the resulting convenience makes the wait worthwhile.

The AATS1022 stock from Archangel sports an easily adjustable length of pull to accommodate different shooters.
The stock is functional and lightweight for optimal use in the field.

Practical Tactical


The resulting optimized squirrel rifle will easily keep its rounds within a tennis ball out to 50 meters or more in Dad’s capable hands. He used his Winchester 63 to drop swamp rabbits on the run when I was a kid. Dad’s the one who taught me to shoot, after all.

When stoked with subsonic ammo Dad’s squirrel gun is easy on the ears and even allows multiple shots at the same rat. With the can in place the bullet may agitate the squirrel, but the source of the shot is all but impossible to ascertain. The rifle is lightweight enough to tote long distances, and the Archangel stock allows the gun to be adjusted to fit your particular anatomy. While not just dirt cheap, this rig still remains within the means of most American shooters.

There is indeed a great deal wrong with our nation today. Among our many resplendent social ills, one of our greatest shortcomings is how few American men these days are signing up to be good old-fashioned dads. The job is grueling and the pay sucks, but the unfiltered adoration from a job well done makes up for the suffering.

Dad invested his life in me. As a result, I understood the value of hard work, discipline, good citizenship, and character in a world rapidly becoming bereft of same. Everybody has a father. Lamentably, fewer modern Americans have a real dad. Dad, enjoy your new rifle. The tree rats won’t stand a chance.

43 North 48th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85043
(800) 438-2547

Sturm, Ruger & Co.
411 Sunapee Street
Newport, NH 03773
(336) 949-5200

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