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The Beginnings of Marine Corps Marksmanship by Kenneth Smith-Christmas / The American Rifleman

The Beginnings of Marine Corps Marksmanship

In a 2010 article in the Marine Corps’ Leatherneck magazine about the Marine Corps’ competitive shooting program, author Ron Keene cited several shooters who confirmed that in addition to the inter-service prestige that is accrued by participation in these contests, the program has an overriding benefit to the Corps at large in terms of overall marksmanship training.

This phenomenon has been known for many years, as the successful competition shooters are often the same coaches who teach marksmanship skills to all Marines. Marines are known worldwide for their skill with firearms, and it is generally accepted that Marines have always been outstanding marksmen and have always won any shooting contests that they have ever entered.

However, this is not quite the case. By the 1930s, Marine Corps publicists had begun the legend that Marines had always been crack shots with musket and rifle, pointing to unsupported exploits of Marine “sharpshooters” on board ships during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. In most instances, this was not what really happened. Although some early accounts refer to Marines’ abilities with the musket, most do not.

Marines and sailors man the “fighting tops” during the American Revolution. Although generations of Marines have been told that their forebears had been “sharpshooters” since the founding of the Corps, this is not borne out by documentary evidence.

Marines and sailors man the “fighting tops” during the American Revolution. Although generations of Marines have been told that their forebears had been “sharpshooters” since the founding of the Corps, this is not borne out by documentary evidence. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

The legend may have had some basis in fact, as an example of this can be found in a laudatory letter that surfaced about twenty years ago. Written by a Marine officer after the Battle of Bladensburg, it recounted how the field in front of the Marines’ line was strewn with the corpses of British soldiers, and the writer congratulated the Marines of that detachment for their prowess with the musket. However, it must be remembered that a Marine wrote this letter to a fellow Marine, so its objectivity may be suspect.

During the American Civil War, the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor was Cpl. John Mackie for his exploits during the battle of Drewry’s Bluff. He blazed away at Confederate Marines on shore with his Springfield musket while on an ironclad ship which was running the gauntlet of the forts around Richmond, Va. However, few other instances can be found where Marine Corps marksmanship with shoulder arms was at all noteworthy.

Indeed, when Marines fired a volley at a mob of insurrectionists in Washington, D.C., during the election day riots of 1857, they killed several bystanders, but few of the rioters at whom they were shooting. In 1899, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Major General Charles Heywood, was dismayed to find that out of a full strength of about 6,000 men, only 89 officers and enlisted men qualified as marksmen or sharpshooters.

Cpl. John F. Mackie was the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War for his valor at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Va., in 1862. Mackie led his Marines in maintaining a brisk fire against Confederate Marines on shore, but they were not “sharpshooters.”

Cpl. John F. Mackie was the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War for his valor at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, Va., in 1862. Mackie led his Marines in maintaining a brisk fire against Confederate Marines on shore, but they were not “sharpshooters.” Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Marines simply did not have the opportunity to practice with their rifles, since Marine barracks were established at Navy Yards in major coastal cities such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Norfolk among others. At these locations, Marines did not have access to open fields or shooting ranges. Although gallery practice ammunition was available, indoor shooting with black powder .45 caliber rifles does not replicate the real thing.

Additionally, small arms practice while on board ship is a difficult and unrewarding endeavor. Finally, prior to 1896, Marines who felt a need to gain extra practice had to purchase their own ammunition from the Quartermaster. Heywood’s solution was to appoint Major Charles Laucheimer as the Inspector of Target Practice, and he then directed that the Marine Corps improve in this field. Laucheimer inaugurated the program by entering a rifle team in a competition at Sea Girt, N.J., in 1901.

This was the Marine Corps’ first shooting match. Among his team members was a future commandant, then Lt. Thomas Holcomb. The Marines were firing the newly adopted Krag-Jorgensen .30 caliber rifle, which had recently replaced the M1895 Lee Navy 6.5 mm straight-pull rifle that was carried by Marines during the Spanish-American War. The results were disappointing. The Marines placed sixth out of eleven competing teams, and their final results were far below the winner, the National Guard team from Washington, D.C.

Upon Heywood’s retirement in 1903, he was replaced by then-Brigadier General George F. Elliott, an even more enthusiastic promoter of marksmanship. Among historians, Elliott is credited as being the father of the Marine Corps marksmanship program. Drawing on the knowledge and skill of civilian shooters, most notably “Doc” Scott, a Maryland dentist, the skill of Marines training at headquarters in Washington, D.C., steadily improved as did the abilities of Marines stationed afloat and ashore.

Stationed in barracks at navy yards in major cities or afloat with the fleet, Marines had little, if any, opportunity to practice their marksmanship skills

Stationed in barracks at navy yards in major cities or afloat with the fleet, Marines had little, if any, opportunity to practice their marksmanship skills. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps.

One of the incentives at the time was an authorization in 1906 to pay marksmen an extra one dollar per month, two dollars for sharpshooters and three dollars for those who qualified as expert. This “beer money” was above the basic privates’ pay of 18 dollars per month. Very importantly, about this same time, the Marine Corps adopted the Army’s Model 1903 .30 caliber Springfield rifle.

The adoption of this rifle had far-reaching effects, and it became the measuring stick against which all other contemporary rifles were judged. Based off the Mauser action, the Springfield was nearly unique among the service rifles of the world at that time. With the exception of the British Lee Enfield, other military rifles then in service around the world (the French Lebel, the Russian Mosin-Nagant, the Japanese Arisaka and the Mannlichers and Mausers carried by nearly everyone else) had rear sights that were only adjustable for elevation.

Conversely, the rear sight of the Springfield and the Lee Enfield could also easily be adjusted laterally for windage. This feature gives the shooter the ability to compensate for the effect of the wind on the bullet at long range. In fact, some American service rifles had incorporated this feature as early as the 1870s. The Buffington rear sight that was introduced in 1884 on the single-shot .45 caliber “Trapdoor” rifle used a dial knob, which made windage adjustments very simple during battle.

Although the sighting system on some of the later models of the Krag-Jorgensen rifle was an improved version of the Buffington sight, the sight on the new M1903 Springfield was a marvel of minute adjustments. It was a rifle designed for precision shooting, and the Springfield ’03 soon reached a position of near-holiness among Marine shooters, a place it held until replaced by the semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle during World War II.

Even when they did find a place to go shooting, up until 1896 Marines had to purchase ammunition to shoot in their “Trapdoor” Springfield rifles for target practice.

Even when they did find a place to go shooting, up until 1896 Marines had to purchase ammunition to shoot in their “Trapdoor” Springfield rifles for target practice.

With the new rifle, Marines’ skill at arms began to improve dramatically in subsequent rifle matches, and the intensive program continued to show steady improvement at a number of different shooting competitions. The Marine Corps’ rifle team took fourth place in the 1905 National Matches, and then placed second in 1910. However, the Springfield rifle and Laucheimer did not do it alone.

Laucheimer was joined by a number of Marine riflemen who went on to be distinguished marksmen. Among them was then Capt. Douglas C. McDougal, who joined the program in 1909. McDougal’s principal duty during his two-year tour at Marine headquarters was as instructor of rifle marksmanship, and he was the captain of the Marine Corps rifle team’s first triumph of winning the National Matches in 1911.

However, the person most responsible for the dramatic emergence of Marine Corps excellence in marksmanship was William C. “Bo” Harllee, and he made it happen through his devotion to the program, his innovative approach to education and his unbounded energy to ensure results. Indeed, there are few other instances in history where one man can make such an incredible difference in an institution, and literally change everything so quickly. William Harllee stands out among military men.

A southerner by birth, he was raised in the tradition of the “Lost Cause” by his uncles, all of whom served in the Confederate Army. After graduating from high school in rural Florida, the imposing, lantern-jawed Harllee attended South Carolina’s state military academy, the Citadel, for a year until he was dismissed for accruing too many demerits. He then studied at the University of North Carolina.

In 1899, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. Charles Heywood, discovered that of the 6,000 Marines in the Corps only 89 of them were qualified as sharpshooters or marksmen, and he took steps to improve Marines’ shooting skills.  Maj. Gen. George F. Elliott, Heywood‘s successor, enthusiastically built upon his efforts and in a few years Marines became renowned for their skill with the service rifle.

In 1899, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Maj. Gen. Charles Heywood, discovered that of the 6,000 Marines in the Corps only 89 of them were qualified as sharpshooters or marksmen, and he took steps to improve Marines’ shooting skills. Maj. Gen. George F. Elliott, Heywood‘s successor, enthusiastically built upon his efforts and in a few years Marines became renowned for their skill with the service rifle. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

When his family could not afford further college tuition, he became a schoolteacher in Florida until he obtained admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1897 which was his life’s ambition. Unfortunately, he soon found himself at odds with the academy’s superintendent over his refusal to bend to what Harllee considered pettifogging rules, and he was dismissed in 1899 for again acquiring too many demerits.

He then enlisted in a Texas volunteer regiment and proved his worth in battle as a sergeant during the Philippine Insurrection. Appointed as a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1900, he began a stormy, but significant career with the Marines. He served in the Boxer Rebellion, and then returned to the Philippines to help quell the ongoing insurrection.

While he commanded the Marine detachments of the USS Tacoma during the Cuban pacification of 1906, and the USS Florida during the landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1914, the campaign for which he is most remembered was his controversial effort to ensure the pacification of the Dominican Republic in the early 1920s. Aside from combat, Harllee was also instrumental in directing both the Marine Corps Publicity Bureau and the Marine Corps Institute, in their formative years.

However, his most noted contribution to the Corps was in marksmanship training. While stationed in Hawaii in 1904, Harllee was dismayed at the lack of opportunities for the Marines of his command to practice shooting with their rifles, an continual problem for the Marine Corps since its founding. As noted before, Marine barracks were located at naval bases in large cities and the Marines stationed in these barracks would have to travel to rudimentary or makeshift shooting ranges in the surrounding countryside for any marksmanship training.

By 1911, Marines were not only winning inter-service rifle matches in the United States, but also winning shooting competitions against international teams in China. Future Commandant of the Marine Corps Thomas Holcomb, who had shot on Harllee’s team, is seated on the right.

By 1911, Marines were not only winning inter-service rifle matches in the United States, but also winning shooting competitions against international teams in China. Future Commandant of the Marine Corps Thomas Holcomb, who had shot on Harllee’s team, is seated on the right. Photo courtesy of

Harllee succeeded in building a modern range in Hawaii, all with Marine labor and a minimum outlay of government funds. Moreover, Harllee also began an intensive program of instruction for the Marines under his command. Based on his firm belief that the successes of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War were in no small part due to the shooting abilities of its troops, who were for the most part raised in the rural traditions of hunting and shooting, Harllee energetically began to teach his Marines the principles of rifle shooting on the new range.

His teaching methods harkened back to his days as a rural schoolmaster, when he taught under the supervision of a German immigrant professor, Dr. Frederick Buchholz, and he adopted the professor’s “Seven Laws of Teaching.” Indeed, Comdt. Thomas Holcomb later commented that Harllee was a “born instructor—he could teach anything.” The program succeeded and Harllee came to the attention of the Marine Commandant.

After a brief stint in Chicago, where Harllee successfully started up the Marine Corps’ first publicity bureau to assist with recruiting, he was summoned to Washington in 1908 and assigned as the captain of the Marine Corps’ rifle team. The Commandant had some misgivings about him, as Harllee was well known as a forthright and focused Marine, who would often bypass regulations he found to be irrelevant, and officers he considered to be martinets, to complete his assigned mission.

Moreover, he had never lost his appreciation for the stunts that had landed him into trouble at the Citadel and West Point. But Harllee undertook the mission to excel. Harllee’s first important improvement was to insist on absolute teamwork among the Marines on the rifle team. After several incidents in which team members were disciplined or removed, it was apparent that every man was to help his teammates, and personal egos were to be left at the doorway.

One of  “Bo” Harllee’s students at the Winthrop, Md., Marine Corps shooting range was the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

One of “Bo” Harllee’s students at the Winthrop, Md., Marine Corps shooting range was the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Secondly, he tried a novel experiment to reduce the pressure that a shooter experiences in a very demanding high-profile match. He kept his men partying and drinking until the wee hours the night before a match, so that they would sleep soundly when they finally did go to bed and were too tired the next day to get nervous. This approach must have worked, as the Marines kept winning match after match.

The lack of suitable rifle ranges was still a problem, and the Marines had to shoot on a range at Williamsburg, Virginia, about 150 miles southeast of Washington. In 1909, the Commandant ordered Harllee to build a modern shooting range on a parcel of land in Maryland, about 30 miles south of Washington. Again, Harllee successfully built a modern range, complete with barracks, mess hall and even a vegetable garden, which opened as the Winthrop Range in 1910.

The range was an instant success, and Marines began putting it to good use. The Winthrop Range was in use until the Marine Corps opened its new training facility across the Potomac River in Quantico, Va., in 1917. Amoung the dignitaries to fire on the Winthrop Range was the then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Moreover, Harllee hit upon the novel idea of opening the range to civilians, and he initiated a program in which men and women could take a chartered steamship from Washington.

These men and women would learn the rudiments of firearms safety and handling from Marine instructors on board, then learn to fire the standard infantry rifle on the range. Harllee felt very strongly that the defense of the nation could be enhanced by familiarizing its citizens with firearms, in the event of a national emergency or general mobilization, and he worked very closely with the rejuvenated National Rifle Association to further this effort.

On the day before their attack on Belleau Wood in June, 1918, Marines had stopped a German advance with their long-range rifle fire at distances of more than 600 yds. This feat astounded Allied military observers.

On the day before their attack on Belleau Wood in June, 1918, Marines had stopped a German advance with their long-range rifle fire at distances of more than 600 yds. This feat astounded Allied military observers. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

One of William Harllee’s greatest contributions was his authorship of the pocket-sized “U.S. Marine Corps Score Book and Rifleman’s Instructor” manual which became the basis for marksmanship training for the next 25 years. Indeed, parts of it were incorporated in the U.S. Army’s manual, as well as those used by Great Britain, Cuba and Haiti. The manual was the standard for all new Marine recruits during World War I.

During this period, the Marine Corps moved from one recruit depot in downtown Washington D.C., to depots on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Originally sited in Philadelphia, Penn., and then in Norfolk, Va., in 1911, the east coast depot was consolidated at Parris Island, S.C., in 1915. The west coast recruit depots had been set up at Bremerton, Wash., and Mare Island, Calif., but they had been consolidated at Mare Island (near San Francisco) by 1912.

This function moved to San Diego, Calif., after World War I, where it remains today. Harllee’s work paid great dividends during World War I. When Marines of the Fourth Brigade stopped a German attack at Les Mares Farm, on the eve of the battle of Belleau Wood, Allied observers were incredulous. The Marines, in prone positions, were calmly firing at the attacking Germans over 600 yds. away and the Marines completely disrupted attack after attack. Marines now truly were legendary riflemen, and have been such to the present day.

This article is based on a paper that was presented at the 2010 annual conference of the International Committee of Museums of Arms and Military History, held in Dublin, Ireland. See for more articles about historical firearms, edged weapons, armor, artillery and fighting vehicles.

For further reading, see “Marine from Manatee: A Tradition of Rifle Marksmanship” (1984), written by Col William C. Harllee’s son, RAdm John Harllee USN.

The author thanks Owen Conner and LtCol Robert M. Sullivan (Ret) of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, as well as Dirk Haig of, for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

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Gourmet Grunts, 1968-70 by Mr. Phil Gioia

GIs used ingenuity – and initiative – to turn field rations into field “cuisine” during the Vietnam War.

In every war, soldiers have griped about their food; American GIs serving during the Vietnam War were no exception. Yet even at the remote terminus of an extended logistics chain reaching halfway around the world, the U.S. Army in Vietnam generally performed very well in getting the right field rations to its troops fighting “at the sharp end.”

Depending on the tactical situation, fresh food cooked in unit kitchens – Type A Rations – could sometimes be sent forward to feed field units. (See “Vietnam War-era U.S. Army Rations,” p. 23.) This “hot chow,” transported by jeep, truck or helicopter, was served from three-compartment, insulated, mermite containers that each kept about five gallons of food hot (or cold) for extended periods. But for most GIs serving in the bush, “Meal, Combat, Individual” (MCI) field rations – still universally known by their World War II predecessor’s designation, “C rations” – were the order of the day … every day.

During the 1968 Tet Offensive, I was a 2d lieutenant infantry platoon leader in 505th Airborne Regiment. It was very cold and wet – especially at night – that February in I Corps (at the northernmost combat zone in South Vietnam), and the fighting seemed always to take place under heavy rain or in dense, gray overcast. In our rucksacks, we each carried several olive-drab colored cans of C ration meals. C rations weighed a lot and weren’t inspired cuisine, but we were grateful to have them.

C rations arrived in very strong, reinforced-cardboard, wire banded cases. There were 12 boxed meals to each case, with varied main menu items (M units) in each box’s largest can. These ranged from the popular “Spaghetti With Meatballs in Tomato Sauce” to the dreaded “Chopped Ham and Eggs,” a mysterious concoction apparently intended as a breakfast unit. Along with each main M unit meal came smaller cans (designated B-1, B-2 and B-3, and D-1, D-2 and D- 3) of supplementary foods such as cheese, crackers, peaches, fruit cocktail, peanut butter, chocolate and pound cake. Finally, an accessory pack contained salt, sugar, instant coffee, nondairy creamer, toilet paper, matches and (in that era) cigarettes. Given the unpopularity of some main menu items, to be perfectly objective about who received what meal, we turned the case upside down and chose the main meals without seeing the labels. Everyone hoped not to pick the awful ham and eggs concoction, nicknamed “the Joker.”

In the field, improvising on the otherwise monotonous C ration menu became GIs’ daily game. On operations, my radiotelephone operator was a wizard at creating something very similar to the café mocha sold at today’s Starbucks by combining several coffee, sugar and nondairy creamer packets and then shaving two discs of the foil-wrapped milk chocolate into the brew. He mixed it all together and heated it in an empty B-2 can. The top of the can was opened most of the way around, bent back, and the sharp-edged sides folded under to form a convenient handle.

Though thousands of American GIs were constantly in the field in Vietnam over a period of 10 years, the Army never developed a small, folding metal stove or simple frame for heating C ration cans with heat tablets. Although the Germans had issued one during World War II that later was widely adopted worldwide (as the Esbit stove), for U.S. troops in Vietnam it was, “Sorry ’bout that, GI!” So we heated our C’s on small, expediently built stoves made from empty B-1 cans. The cans were topless with holes punched around the bottom to provide air flow. Once fashioned, these jury-rigged “stoves” were kept for constant use.

We ignored the Army-issued Hexamine heating tablets as being too weak. Instead, our fuel of choice was a small chunk of C-4 plastic explosive, torn from one of the brown-wrapped demolition blocks we carried. Safely stable unless it had a detonator in it, adequately ventilated C-4 burned with an intense, blue-white flame, making an ideal cooking fuel. Use of C-4 for cooking was so prevalent that we once received official notification from Division Headquarters to knock off using it for that purpose – the engineers were running out of C-4 for demolition use.

On my second Vietnam tour in 1969-70, I was a captain and infantry company commander in 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), operating against North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regulars in III Corps war zone (in central South Vietnam along the Cambodian border). In summer 1969, we received a number of very clever C ration cookbooks from the famed McIlhenny Company in Louisiana, makers of Tabasco hot pepper sauce.

The company sent thousands of small bottles of their famous sauce, packaged in green watertight containers, each containing a copy of The Charlie Ration Cookbook: Or No Food is Too Good for the Man Up Front and a few small, fold-out can openers we called “P- 38s.” This was a stroke of marketing genius by McIlhenny. Nearly a half million men were in Vietnam then, and many GIs were first introduced to Tabasco sauce by this clever effort. The cookbook was illustrated by Fred Rhoades, who inked the famous Beetle Bailey comic strip. It suggested several ways the different C rations could be combined – with a few dashes of Tabasco sauce, of course – to create meals such as “Foxhole Dinner for Two,” “Ceasefire Casserole” and “Patrol Chicken Soup.” We all tried a few recipes; we all survived.

We were still being fed C rations at the beginning of my second Vietnam tour, but within a few months we were issued a completely new type of field ration. Although in that era the only “freeze-dried” product we knew was instant coffee, the new ration was a freeze-dried, dehydrated main meal vacuum-packed in a lightweight plastic bag. It seemed like science fiction – one simply added water to reconstitute the food (hot or cold water, but the food sure tasted better hot). These were known as Long Range Patrol Rations (LRP), which the troops immediately pronounced “lurps.”

They featured eight main meals, in cluding “Chicken With Rice,” “Spaghetti With Meat Sauce,” “Pork With Scalloped Potatoes,” “Chili Con Carne” and “Beef Stew.” They also included a cereal or fruitcake bar, two foil-wrapped milk chocolate discs, and some pieces of candy. They had the same accessories as C rations but were a lot tastier, and the main meal seemed of larger volume. Later, I discovered that an LRP ration actually provided about 1,200 fewer calories than the equivalent C ration. Perhaps they freezedried out the calories!

While the LRP was definitely lighter than the C ration (11 ounces vs. 32.7 ounces), its drawback was the amount of water needed – 1.5 pints for each LRP meal. Yet in Vietnam’s hot and humid climate, we normally carried a lot of water anyway. In my company, we each typically carried two or three one-quart canteens plus a two-quart plastic canteen. We were also issued a five-quart canteen that hung off the back of the rucksack (similar to today’s camelback canteens, but without the over-the-shoulder drinking tube). A quart of water weighs two pounds, so we each carried 10-20 pounds of water alone, before adding equipment, weapons, grenades and ammunition to our loads.

One benefit of the new LRP ration was a “tactical plus” – its lack of metal cans. The Viet Cong were very skilled at scavenging, turning retrieved C ration cans into mines and booby-traps. While not large, a B-2 can filled with explosives and packed with nails, stones, metal scrap and bits of wire could kill and maim as well as a fragmentation grenade.

After the war, companies (among them, Mountain House) that had developed the Army’s freeze-dried LRP rations began marketing these lightweight meals for civilian campers and backpackers. Today, if one purchases a freeze-dried “Chicken With Rice” backpacking meal at a camping supply store, it is the direct descendant of the LRP forebear issued to GIs in Vietnam.

Ingenuity in turning field rations into field cuisine was not restricted to individual GI “gourmets.” Occasionally, all troops in an especially fortunate combat unit benefitted from a truly inspired battalion mess sergeant. In 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, ours was a big, cheerful noncommissioned officer from Louisiana, known to the troops as “Mess Daddy.” Although the Army had a strictly prescribed official “feeding plan,” Mess Daddy could create some ingenious improvisational gourmet touches. For example, when an enormous wild boar wandered into a rifle company’s defensive perimeter one night, tripped a flare and was promptly shot, the hapless animal’s carcass was airlifted to the battalion firebase the next morning. Later that afternoon, the company received mermite containers filled with Mess Daddy’s “Special Louisiana Wild Boar Gumbo,” with rice, herbs and spicy vegetables. At veterans’ reunions, the troops still talk about that memorable meal … and perpetuate the persistent rumor that one of the diners enjoying Mess Daddy’s gumbo chomped down on an undetected M-60 machine-gun round.

Also very important in turning field rations into field cuisine was ingenuity in obtaining food in both variety and quantity – however that could be accomplished. Our battalion supply (S-4) section had a highly developed ability to “scrounge,” a polite term for “acquiring by any means possible.” And since 1st Cavalry Division had several hundred helicopters assigned, our S-4 section’s “scrounging range” was extensive. Typically, our battalion S-4 would drive his jeep with trailer up the ramp into a CH-47 Chinook helicopter and fly off on a “marketing mission” to various rear echelon units that always seemed to be well stocked with ration “goodies” the field troops rarely received. With his jeep and trailer loaded with captured Viet Cong and NVA gear and weapons that an aggressive combat unit like ours had in excess after our frequent engagements with the enemy, our S-4 had plenty of valuable “trading goods.” He exchanged these sought-after combat souvenirs with the rear echelon types for what our field troops really wanted – boxes of frozen steaks, extra cases of LRP rations, fresh fruit and vegetables, and a wide array of condiments. Thanks to our resourceful S-4, we always had “something extra” to provide as rations for the troops in the field, and the troops greatly appreciated it.

Our battalion was also famous for flying freshly made ice cream out to our rifle companies in the field. The rumor circulating then was that our S-4 had scrounged a complete, pallet-mounted, diesel-driven ice cream-making plant from some other unit that had “less than adequate” local security. Morale spiked; no one questioned the source.


Phil Gioia graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1967 with an Army commission in the infantry. He served with 82d Airborne Division and 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in Vietnam. He lives in California.

“ACG” thanks Luther Hanson of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum for providing information for the “Crescent Symbol” sidebar.

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John Moses Browning

John Moses Browning was the most famous and competent gunmaker the world has ever known. He was the son of Jonathan Browning, himself a highly competent gunsmith, and Elizabeth Clark.
John Moses was born January 23, 1855 in Ogden, Utah, U.S.A., where his father settled after the Mormon Exodus of 1847. It was in his father’s shop that John Moses first learned the art and secrets of gunsmithing.
John Moses, however, was much more than a gunsmith in the sense that he was much more interested in designing and building new, innovative, firearms than repairing broken ones. His first creation was a single shot rifle he built at the age of 14 for his brother, Matt.
1879 was an eventful year for the Browings. Jonathan Browning died on June 21 and, soon thereafter, John Moses and his brothers started their own shop. There they first used steam powered tools, tools that were originally foot-powered but were converted by John Moses to get power from a steam engine. That year also saw John Moses marry Rachel Teresa Child, and his receipt of his first gun patent (No. 220.271) for the Breech-Loading Single Shot Rifle.
John and his brothers began producing this rifle in their Ogden shop but customer demand soon exceeded their shop’s production capacity. They were unable to expand the “Browning Gun Factory,” as their shop was called, because they lacked the capital required for expansion and didn’t have a well established distribution channel to market their products. One has to note here that although John Moses Browning was very satisfied with the sales of his guns he was also very unhappy that the production chores and the daily work prohibited him from working on his new ideas.
A salesman for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company named Andrew McAusland happened to see one of John’s Single Shot rifles in 1883. McAusland immediately bought one and sent it to Winchester’s headquarters. The gun drew Winchester’s interest and T. G. Bennet, Winchester’s vice president and general manager, went to Ogden to buy the rights to Browning’s gun. When Bennet arrived in Ogden, it didn’t take long for the men to agree on the sale and Winchester paid John Moses $8,000 for the rights to produce the gun. The agreement was beneficial to both parties. Winchester was happy because they turned competitor into a benefactor, plus they added an excellent rifle to their product line. John Moses was equally happy because the money from the sale and the ensuing relationship with Winchester allowed him to concentrate on inventing things instead of manufacturing them.
From 1883 until 1902, John Moses Browning designed several firearms for Winchester. Some of them reached production status while others were never produced. They all, however, were ingenious and innovative designs. In addition to that first Single Shot Rifle, other guns that John Moses designed and which became best sellers were: Winchester Model 1886 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, Model 1887 Lever Action Repeating Shotgun, Model 1897 Pump Action Shotgun, Model 1894 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, Model 1895 Lever Action Repeating Rifle, etc.
At the same time, John Moses was also working on another of his ingenious ideas. He wanted to invent an automatic shotgun that would use the expanding gases of a fired shell to recock the gun and make it ready for the next shot. John got this idea while watching a friend of his, Will Wright, shoot his Browning-made rifle. A clump of weeds just in front of the firing line bent with the muzzle blast. This gave John the idea of using the gases for something productive like cocking the gun. He designed a testing gun with which he tested his ideas.
When the testing validated his theory, John applied the principle on three different guns: two machine-guns and a repeating shotgun. His machine-guns, the first fully automatic guns which used expanding gases for cycling, were later sold to Colt and the U.S. Government and served the U.S. Armed Forces through three wars. One was Colt Model 1895 Peacemaker machine-gun, while the other was the famous Browning Automatic Rifle, affectionately called BAR by GI’s. Browning’s machine-guns are still used by US and other armies around the world.
The repeating shotgun that John invented was the primary reason for the break between Browning and Winchester. When Winchester denied production of this gun, John Moses, packed a sample of his shotgun into his luggage, crossed the Atlantic, and negotiated an agreement for Fabrique National de Belgique (FN) to produce his gun. FN was then a young company in dire need of products to produce. Browning’s automatic shotgun revolutionized the hunting market. This same shotgun was later produced in U.S.A. by Remington, as their Model 11. Still later, variants of this shotgun were produced by almost all of the large shotgun manufacturers, including Savage, Franchi, and Breda.
John M. Browning was usually working on more than one project at one time. He started working on automatic pistols before 1900. He was the first to invent the slide which encloses the barrel and the firing mechanism of a pistol. Pistols of his invention were produced by both FN and Colt and they range from baby .25 caliber pistols to the .45 Government Model. The first automatic pistol designed by Browning was produced by FN as FN’s .32 caliber Model 1900. The most famous pistols of John’s design, however, were Colt’s .45 ACP M1911 Government Model and FN’s Browning High-Power Model P-35 in 9mm Parabellum. A highly decorated sample of P-35, is shown at left, while a contemporary version customized by Wayne Novak can be found here.
John Moses Browning passed away in Liege, Belgium, the day after Thanksgiving, 1926. He died of heart failure while in his son Val’s office at the FN factory. It was the last day on earth for this ingenious person who invented more firearms than any other gunmaker in the history of the world.
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What you don’t see on TV about Firefighters


May 4 is International Firefighters’ Day. After his first day on the job as a new firefighter in Asheville, North Carolina, Mike Schoeffel, wrote this essay about what he saw and felt.

The thing they don’t tell you about a dead body is the way it just lies there. You can give a human being in cardiac arrest chest compressions, you can breathe for them, you can inject them with fluids. But if none of that works, the body will just lie on the floor like a sack of rice. You’ll have to step over it as you pick up trash from the used medical supplies strewn across the room.

The unceremonious finality feels insensitive to the recently deceased, but the person is gone. You’ve done everything you could. There’s no need to prolong it: clean up and move on. Ignore the nonperson lying at your feet, the thing that was alive a few minutes ago but is now just a body.

They don’t tell you about all of this because they couldn’t accurately describe it if they wanted to: the ribs breaking under the pressure of your palms. The air making a fart noise as it exits the lips. The AutoPulse hammering the human chest like a piston into Jell-O. The sweat, the smells. And then the dead body just lying on the floor as you toss needle wrappers into a trash bag. “Thanks for your help,” the paramedic says. “No problem,” you respond. “Thank

This was my first major call as a firefighter on my first day with the Asheville Fire Department in western North Carolina. It happened on my first 24-hour shift. I ran three routine medical calls the day before, went to sleep, woke up, and prepared to go home at 7 a.m. But at 7:05, a cardiac arrest call came in, and my replacement hadn’t shown up yet. I hopped on the truck, and off we went toward the residence of the future dead body. The other back man on the truck had just arrived and jumped on, still wearing street clothes. He pulled on his turnout pants as we sped down the street. I was in a blue, department-issued uniform.

The human being we raced toward was not in good health. He was perhaps in his 50s and overweight, and fast-food wrappers and old food were scattered all over his apartment. He’d called 911 to say he was having heart problems. When we arrived, he was lying on his side in bed, a phone resting on his left ear. He was breathing, barely, maybe three times per minute. His laptop was playing a YouTube video about alien abductions. He was in his underwear, covered in sweat. A picture of a smiling, gray-haired woman, possibly his mom, rested on the nightstand.

They don’t tell you about all of this in rookie school because the specifics defy verbalization. The academy is a kind of playhouse: all of the fun stuff — rescuing people from buildings, putting out pallet fires — without any of the real-world terror. The stakes are not high. Instructors do their best to re-create what it’s like on the street, but they can only do so much.

“Do you have street clothes you can change into at the station?” my partner asked as he squeezed the bag-valve-mask. I was busy breaking ribs. 

“Yeah,” I said.

“Make sure you decon those pants as soon as we get back. This place is grimy as hell.”

It was surreal, the way the two of us were having a casual conversation while attempting to revive a human being. That’s the kind of shit they don’t tell you about in rookie school: the casualness of it all, the way that witnessing death becomes, if not normal, routine. They don’t tell you about how paramedics crack jokes while a guy is on the verge of death. The gallows humor isn’t meant to be disrespectful, but it is a means for coping with the horror and making sense of an emotionally draining situation.

We worked the cardiac arrest for about 20 minutes before the paramedic finally called it. The automated external defibrillator, the AutoPulse, the bag-valve-mask — none of it made the situation any better. That’s when the cleanup began, with the body just lying there, as if it were another inanimate object in the room — which, I suppose, it was. I pulled the King Airway from the body’s throat. It was covered in spit and white chunks. For a second, I was worried that I might have hurt him. But then I remembered.

As I sit here now on my back porch in the mountains, images from the morning flash across my mind: my partner and I rolling the man out of bed onto a stair chair, his gut too big to lock the safety belt around, prompting him to fall to the floor with a disturbing thud. Our captain telling me to start CPR. The ribs breaking. The lips farting. The AutoPulse pistoning into Jello. The King Airway covered in spit. The animate turning inanimate.

I know I’ll witness much more gruesome scenes. More blood, gore, general chaos. Children. The deaths will pile up until they become, if not normal, routine. I’ll grow hardened but, I hope, not hard. I’ll deal with these deaths in my own way, as they occur, but this one will forever be the first. There has been a palpable shift; something fundamental has changed within me. Rookie school seems like a distant memory, even though my last day was a week ago.

When we got back to the station, the captain asked whether I was okay. He knew it had been my first serious call, so he gave me his number and told me to text him if I needed to talk. I thanked him, and when I got home, shot him this text:

“I just wanted to say thanks for reaching out to me this morning. As a guy with no experience, it meant a lot.”

To which he replied:

“It is my pleasure, Mike. We have a unique job. We see a lot of hard things, but we do it together…If you ever need to talk, I am available…You performed beautifully this morning. Particularly in a very shitty situation. Very proud. You’re welcome on my rig anytime.”

The thing they do tell you about in rookie school is how firefighting is a brotherhood. I learned that firsthand this morning.

This essay originally appeared at on March 1, 2021.

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Mike Schoeffel is a firefighter with the Asheville, North Carolina, Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism, and his work has been featured in USA Today, Little Patuxent Review, Mountain Xpress, and The Charleston City Paper. He writes at

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