Category: Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad
By the way, you had better be in really good shape to try this by the way! Grumpy
Per the backstory, Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones was an esteemed professor of archaeology with a diagnosable wanderlust. Professor Jones was bored with teaching and found himself trekking across the globe in search of priceless artifacts and powerful totems. Through four feature films and a television series, the adventures of Indiana Jones have captivated kids and grownups alike. Rumor has it there is yet another installment due out in 2023. I personally can’t wait.
George Lucas of Star Wars fame first imagined the character and story arc. Steven Spielberg directed all four movies. John Mangold is on tap to direct the pending fifth. Lucas purportedly drew his inspiration from several sources.
The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago supposedly served as inspiration for Indy’s home base. If you’ve not had the pleasure, the Field Museum is simply an incredible place. Acres of taxidermied creatures all harvested from the golden age of naturalism grace countless exhibits. Back when this collection was amassed if you wanted an example of some animal or other you just went out and shot it. Their menagerie is amply stocked with stuffed pandas, for example. We live in a different time today.
Their collection is full to bursting with such stuff as a massive African bull elephant and Sue, the world’s best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex. Everything from whales to bugs is meticulously cataloged and on display. My favorites were the preserved hides of the maneaters of Tsavo. In the late 19thcentury, these two maneless male African lions killed and devoured between 31 and 100 peasant workers who were building a trans-African railroad. I’ll likely do a piece on that sordid tale eventually.
The Real Deal
While Lucas was inspired to build the Indiana Jones tales from a variety of sources, one guy stands out as the archetype for the fearless naturalist explorer genre. Roy Chapman Andrews was a rare breed of man. Born in 1884 in Beloit, Wisconsin, Chapman felt his calling from a very early age.
Roy Andrews grew up in the Wisconsin wilderness exploring the forests, creeks, and farmers’ fields surrounding his home. Along the way, he learned marksmanship and taught himself taxidermy. He made enough on mounted animals to put himself through college.
After graduation, Andrews applied for a position with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. There were no openings available, so he took a job instead as a janitor in the taxidermy department. Along the way, he also earned a Master of Arts degree in Mammalogy from Columbia University. In 1909 Andrews embarked upon his first overseas trek.
Andrews took the USS Albatross to the East Indies gathering examples of lizards, snakes, and similar reptiles for the museum’s collection. In 1913 he explored the arctic aboard the schooner Adventuress in search of a specimen of the bowhead whale. While he returned with the best film of seals in their natural habitat ever obtained, he remained nonetheless whale-less.
Andrews married Yvette Borup in 1914, and the couple struck out for the Far East. Over the next several years the two naturalists led the Asiatic Zoological Expedition across China. In 1920 the pair departed Peking aboard a fleet of Dodge automobiles. Along the way, they found countless fossils of prehistoric animals that had been previously uncategorized.
In 1923 Andrews and his wife discovered the world’s first fossilized dinosaur eggs, fundamentally changing the way science regarded dinosaurs. While these eggs were originally assumed to be from a sort of ceratopsian dinosaur called Protoceratops, they were further identified in 1995 to belong to a theropod called Oviraptor. The extraordinary finds Andrews made were duly shipped back to his museum for study.
By the late 1920’s the political situation in China was deteriorating, and the Great Depression was having its inevitable impact. Andrews’ final trip to China was in 1930. While there he recovered an exceptional series of mastodon fossils.
Throughout his adventures, Roy Chapman Andrews was armed. Where today’s naturalists might find themselves emotionally distraught over the prospect of fresh government oil leases, Andrews was the very image of the indestructible manly man. I found reference to two rifles and a handgun that were his regular companions during his travels.
Back in those days if you wanted to have a gun in a foreign country you just packed it in your suitcase. Gun control was really not a thing around the globe, and folks appreciated the unique utility of these indispensable tools. We really cannot imagine such today.
One of Andrews’ primary hunting rifles was a 6.5×54mm Mannlicher–Schönauer. Introduced at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris, this novel bolt-action rifle sported a rotary magazine and saw military service with the Greek and Austro-Hungarian armies. After World War I, these rugged accurate rifles were sold widely to civilians and sporterized. Civilian sporting versions were marketed aggressively.
Ernest Hemingway was a fan and mentioned the rifle in his writings. The famed elephant hunter Walter Dalrymple Maitland “Karamojo” Bell killed more than 1,000 elephants during his long career, many of which he took with this rifle. The bullet’s high sectional density offered exceptional penetration through thick muscle and bone.
The other rifle Andrews was reported to have used was the Savage Model 99 in .250-300. First developed in 1892, the Savage 99 was a hammerless lever action design that fed from a six-shot rotary magazine. The Model 99 was originally floated as a replacement for the GI-issue Springfield Model 1873 Trapdoor rifle but failed to win the contract. The basic design was nonetheless represented in the Model 99 “Musket” issued to the Montreal Home Guard during World War 1.
The Model 99’s rotary magazine made it one of the first lever-action rifles that could safely feed spitzer (pointed) bullets. Spitzer rounds in tubular magazines run the risk of a primer strike by the bullet tip of follow-on rounds and subsequent uncontrolled detonation. The Model 99 action includes a modest pin that protrudes above the action as an indicator that the rifle is ready to fire.
Roy Andrews also packed a .38 revolver as a sidearm. I found an anecdotal reference claiming it was a Colt Army Special. During a 1928 foray through the Gobi Desert, he had an accidental discharge as he drew the gun to dispatch a wounded antelope. The round created a through-and-through wound to the man’s left leg. In the immediate aftermath, Andrews described himself as “almost happy” when he realized the bullet had missed his knee. His immediate concern had been that he might have a “stiff leg for the rest of my life.”
With the able assistance of his head mechanic McKenzie Young, the camp doctor operated on the wound to clean it out and staunch the bleeding. Andrews later observed that Dr. Perez, “Had given me such a dose of morphine that the world looked bright and rosy; in fact, I was rather pleased with myself.” The subsequent arrival of a severe sandstorm combined with the passing the morphine’s effects “obscured my particular sun.” Fortunately, the wound healed without further difficulty.
The Rest of the Story
Most normal folk do not court danger or hardship. Most of us, after a lifetime vigorously invested, will have had a close scrape or two but nothing that might pass for true regular peril. Roy Chapman Andrews, by contrast, was definitely not normal folk.
When asked to describe some of his most memorable moments he responded thusly, “In the fifteen years I can remember just ten times when I had really narrow escapes from death. Two were from drowning in typhoons, one was when our boat was charged by a wounded whale, once my wife and I were nearly eaten by wild dogs, once we were in great danger from fanatical lama priests, two were close calls when I fell over cliffs, once was nearly caught by a huge python, and twice I might have been killed by bandits.” Wow.
When Andrews finally returned to the US after that final expedition he and Yvette divorced. By that point, they had two sons. Andrews subsequently married Wilhelmina Christmas in 1935.
To an impoverished world so encumbered by chaos and hardship, the exotic life of Roy Chapman Andrews provided a welcome respite. He penned several books on his exploits, and his visage graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1923. In 1927 he was given the title Honorary Scout by the Boy Scouts of America. This award was bestowed to, “American citizens whose achievements in outdoor activity, exploration, and worthwhile adventure are of such an exceptional character as to capture the imagination of boys…” Sigh. Nowadays we cannot even intelligently articulate exactly what a boy is.
Once China was closed to exploration, Roy Chapman Andrews did not sit idle. He helmed The Explorer’s Club from 1931 through 1934. Afterward, he assumed the position of Director for the Natural History Museum.
In reminiscing over his long and storied career, Andrews wrote, “I was born to be an explorer…There was never any decision to make. I couldn’t do anything else and be happy.” In 1942 he and Wilhelmina retired to their rural farm in Connecticut. On March 11, 1960, Roy Chapman Andrews died of heart failure in Carmel, California at age 76. His was a vigorous life exceptionally well-lived.
Many times, the person behind a given firearm can easily overshadow it. In the case of the story of the multi-talented William W. McMillan Jr., it is especially difficult to choose a starting point.
Does one consider just his military competitive shooting, or look to only his Olympic shooting years? It’s safe to say that Bill McMillan fulfilled a litany of incredible accomplishments over his 71 years in both military and civilian roles.
McMillan was never far from the firing line, representing America in six Olympic Games. While he owned many firearms, one unique Colt pistol that brought him special recognition is on display today in the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia.
McMillan was born in Frostburg, Maryland in 1929, and went to high school in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania. Immediately after graduating in 1948, he joined the United States Marine Corps. His competitive shooting began early with a series of matches in the military in 1949 that led to McMillan, quickly recognized as a “natural,” receiving the Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge in 1950.
Possibly part of his personal incentive for doing well with a service pistol was the fact that McMillan had been the only Marine in the barracks not qualified with a pistol at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and as a result had to walk the only rifle sentry post – a very cold and windy pier.
McMillan (right) as a U.S. Marine Corps first lieutenant, inspecting a rifle with Capt. John Jagoda (left). (Photo courtesy/WWMcmillan.info)
Just nine days after the gold Distinguished Pistol Shot Badge was pinned on McMillan’s uniform, the Korean War began. In 1953, McMillan received his commission as a second lieutenant in the infantry, after shooting slightly bigger guns in Korea – 75-millimeter recoilless rifles — as part of the 7th Marines.
One short year later, McMillan earned the Distinguished Marksman Badge. He was now “double distinguished,” a competitive shooting level of skill with both rifle and pistol that few ever attained. Honing his skill annually wasn’t easy, but he was able to score an unprecedented five Lauchheimer awards for being the combined champion for rifle and pistol shooting for the Marine Corps.
That wasn’t at all the end of his Distinguished Badge quest. In May of 1963, McMillan received Distinguished International Shooter Badge #14. This “triple distinguished” recognition came after McMillan’s achievements at the 1962 International Shooting Union matches in Cairo, Egypt.
McMillan returned to war in Vietnam, finding himself in the thick of the campaign overseas. As an ordnance officer, he received the Bronze Star and spent a year on Okinawa, responsible for the known-distance ranges for Marine qualifications. He retired from active military service as a lieutenant colonel in 1974 and went into law enforcement training work in California and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
McMillan’s military service regularly intersected with his extensive international competition. He competed in his first Olympic Games in 1952 and placed seventh in Helsinki, Finland, as one of the six shooters on the American team. In 1956, problems with a jamming gun in the tryouts cost him the chance to rejoin the American team in Melbourne, Australia.
But it was in 1960 in Rome where McMillan really shone. Using a High Standard .22 pistol that is today on exhibit with his Olympic gold medal at the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum in Springfield, Missouri, McMillan posted an eight-point win in a fiercely competitive rapid-fire pistol struggle against Soviet and Finnish rivals. This was one of the two shooting medals the Americans brought home from the Italian Olympics. Notably, McMillan actually took a nap in the middle of the shooting competition while other competitors shot, then calmly went to the firing line and produced the top score against some probably unnerved opponents.
In the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, McMillan’s high score, just one point behind his 1960 win, was only good enough to bring him 12th place. In Mexico in 1968, 17th place was McMillan’s best result, in an Olympics increasingly dominated by foreign shooters. In Munich in 1972 and at Montreal in 1976, McMillan’s scores, while very respectable compared to his showing in the 1960 Games, left him far from the winner’s podium. The 1980 Games would have been McMillan’s seventh Olympic appearance, but the U.S. boycott of the Games ended that string.
While McMillan’s wins overseas in the later Olympics were denied, he was still going very strong in domestic competition. His Colt National Match .45 was the handgun he used to take the National Trophy for Individual Pistol in 1963. Fitted with a set of gold and silver grips from Mexico, these exotic grips are not what one would normally see on a competition pistol.
However, McMillian used the gun regularly in practice as part of the NRA 2600 Club. He was also recognized as a Lifetime Master in Pistol and Outdoor Pistol. In 1979 and 1980, he received honors as part of the NRA National Training Team.
McMillan’s Colt pistol was one of two handguns donated by his son to the NRA, and one that is seen by thousands in the Fairfax galleries annually. Alongside the pistol in the case are his three Distinguished Badges, mounted together as a combined award that celebrates just a fraction of the accomplishments of a most multi-talented shooter, Marine and Olympian, William W. McMillan Jr.
To see McMillan’s Colt National Match .45 and thousands of other unique, historic and significant firearms from across the world and throughout history, visit the NRA National Firearms Museum in person or online!
What makes men gravitate toward war? War is, after all, the most horrific of all human pursuits. Killing a lazy Saturday afternoon behind my favorite black rifle perforating paper or ringing steel is pure unfiltered recreation. By contrast, kicking in the door of a mud house dirty with tooled-up ISIS fanatics at three in the morning would be fairly horrifying. Given the obligatory terror, deprivation, physical pain, and emotional suffering concomitant with modern combat, why on earth would anyone do it willingly?
That’s a thorny question. There are roughly 20,000 foreigners fighting in and for Ukraine as I type these words. They make up seven full battalions. I’m told most hail from the US, the UK, and Georgia (the country, not the state). Their respective nations warned these insanely brave adventurers not to do this. In the event of capture, they have literally zero support. Yet they went anyway.
We humans do seem quick to embrace a proper crusade. In Ukraine, the Bad Guys are very, very bad, while the Good Guys seem pretty decent. We’re all going to die of something. It might as well be something that matters.
On a certain visceral level, however, some folks are just addicted to the rush. SSG Barnes from the movie Platoon is the archetype. Once Barnes discovers that war is his calling he just cannot get enough.
I served with a guy like that back in the day. He did three combat tours in Vietnam and found it difficult to thrive away from a war zone. He was forced to retire with more than 30 years of service after beating the crap out of four MPs at once. He succumbed to a brain tumor shortly thereafter.
Today we will explore the extraordinary life of Ivor Thord-Gray. Thord-Gray was a combat addict. While history and his own memoires might have embellished his experiences somewhat, the places he went and the things he did are amply impressive even when viewed through that lens. His journey began in Stockholm, Sweden.
Ivor Thord-Gray was born Thord Ivar Hallström on April 17, 1878. The reasons he changed his name at some point have been lost to history. Ivor was the second son of a primary school teacher named August Hallström and his wife Hilda. He came from gifted stock.
Ivor’s older brother was the esteemed artist Gunnar August Hallström. His baby brother was an accomplished archaeologist named Gustaf. By all accounts, Ivor’s upbringing was typical for his geography and his era. However, from an early age, young Ivor was found to suffer from a most deplorable wanderlust.
In 1893 at the age of fifteen Thord-Gray enlisted in the Merchant Marine in pursuit of adventure. For the next two years he sailed aboard three ships and explored the world. In 1895 at age seventeen he left the service to settle in Cape Town, South Africa.
Things Get Salty
In 1896 at age 18 Ivor took a job as a prison guard at the South African prison on Robben Island. I obviously wasn’t there, but I rather suspect the young man got to meet some fascinating personalities in that job. While working at the prison Ivor became both a master fencer and a world-champion archer. The following year Ivor Thord-Gray thought he might try his hand at soldiering.
Over the course of the next decade, Ivor Thord-Gray fought in five conflicts. The first and last were under the Union Jack. One stint was served alongside the Germans.
Thord-Gray first fought as a Private soldier with the Cape Mounted Riflemen during the Boer War. As a native Swede, the argument could be made he really didn’t have a dog in that fight. However, this was his first taste of proper war, and he found he had a knack for it.
With the formalized violence abating, Thord-Gray found that the weight of a pistol on his belt suited him. He therefore signed on with the South African Constabulary and served as a policeman from 1902 through 1903. During his time in the Boer War and the South African Constabulary, Ivor served as an instructor in the care and feeding of the Maxim machine gun.
Following a brief period in the Transvaal Civil Service, Ivor joined the German Schutztruppe of European volunteers fighting in Africa. During this time he would have at least touched the Namaqua and Herero genocides, the first such travesties of the 20th century in which some 80,000 people perished.
He later joined the Lydenburg Militia, this time as an officer. He fought through the Bambatha Zulu Rebellion as a Lieutenant in Royston’s Horse. He battled the Zulus at Mome Gorge where between 3,000 and 4,000 African warriors fell in battle. During this gory fight, Thord-Gray commanded a battery of Maxim machine guns. The resulting contest between assegai spears and belt-fed machineguns was a proper slaughter.
There followed a year as a Captain of the Nairobi Mounted Police in Kenya before Thord-Gray grew dissatisfied with the available chaos on the African continent. After an unsuccessful effort to join the Kaiser’s forces fighting in Morocco, Thord-Gray migrated to the Philippines to become part of the US Foreign Legion. By now he was serving as a Captain with the Philippine Constabulary. He was at this point in our tale 30 years old and had already carried a gun under more flags than I can reasonably catalog. It turned out he was just getting started.
Sundry Bush Wars
Ivor tried his hand at farming in Malaya for a couple of years but soon grew bored with it. He joined the French Foreign Legion in the Tonkin Protectorate of North Vietnam in 1909 and fought in Hoang Hoa Tham’s rebellion. He spent 1911 fighting alongside the Italians as they forcibly evicted the Ottomans from Tripoli. By 1913 he was fighting in the Chinese Revolution.
From China, Ivor sailed to Mexico to offer his now-extensive martial expertise to Pancho Villa. In short order, he had been appointed a Captain in Villa’s army in charge of the revolutionary’s artillery. At this time Villa and his rebels were supported by the United States against the Huerta political regime, though Uncle Sam obviously soured on Villa in fairly short order.
Ivor repaired disabled guns and smuggled weapons from the United States. Over the next twelve months, he quickly rose through the ranks to Colonel. He ultimately served as Chief of Staff of the 1st Mexican Army. However, it turned out all this was simply preparation for the Main Event. Back in Europe, things were heating up fast.
The First War to End All Wars
The British Army was a growth industry in 1914, so Ivor Thord-Gray signed up. His extensive military history secured him the rank of Major in the King’s service. You recall Thord-Gray was still technically Swedish.
Within a year he was the commander of the 11th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. In late August 1914, Thord-Gray and his Fusiliers landed in France ready to scrap. Two weeks later they were on the front line. Before the war finally wrapped up, Thord-Gray had grievously offended his British commanders but had also been awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, and the Allied Victory Medal.
After the armistice he wrote the Military Secretary at the War Office as follows, “Would you kindly inform me whether you have any objection to my offering my sword to France, Belgium, or Serbia.” Throughout it all there was a persistent allegation that Ivor Thord-Gray was actually a German spy.
Thord-Gray tried and failed to join the American Army and settled for Canada instead. He served for a time as Inspector of the Imperial Munitions Board in Montreal. He eventually deployed as part of the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force to fight in the Russian Civil War.
Thord-Gray transferred to the Russian “White” Army in the winter of 1919 as a Colonel serving under Admiral Alexander Kolchak. Before the year was out he was a division commander of the 1st Siberian Assault Division.
Less than a year later he was a Major General serving in the Provisional Siberian Government. One of his tasks was to sell gold reserves to foreign banks. Ivor was captured by the Soviets in the winter of 1919 with the capitulation of Vladivostok but successfully concealed the gold receipts in his pocket. One was valued at $146,946, a king’s ransom at the time. With the Communists clearly in their ascendency, Thord-Gray thought he’d just hang onto the cash.
The Golden Years
Finally in 1923 at the age of 45, Ivor Thord-Gray was ready for a break. He returned to Sweden, the country of his birth, and penned a popular tome on Mexican archaeology. Two years later he emigrated to the US and started an investment bank under the flag I.T. Gray and Co in New York City. He used the pilfered Russian gold money as a seed for his new banking endeavor.
Thord-Gray’s final mercenary foray saw him serving as a Lieutenant-General in the Army of Venezuela in 1928. While there he fought the dictator General Juan Vicente Gomez but lost. He then returned to Sweden yet again and, in his free time, earned his Ph.D. from Uppsala University.
Getting rich in America suited the man. By 1934 he was married and had two children. He settled with his family in Greenwich, Connecticut. In the summer of 1935 Thord-Gray was appointed Major General and Chief of Staff to Florida Governor David Scholtz. By 1942 his primary mission was counter-espionage in Florida.
In his declining years, Ivor Thord-Gray wrote fairly prolifically using his many-splendored exploits as grist for his typewriter. He was ultimately kind-of married five times and penned seven books.
His most popular work was titled Gringo Rebel: Mexico 1913-1914, a tome relating his experiences fighting in the Mexican-American War. Thord-Gray eventually established a winter home in Coral Gables, Florida.
By the end of his life, Thord-Gray had thrived through fully six careers as a sailor, soldier, ethnologist, linguist, investor, and commercial writer. He served in ten identifiable armies across sixteen wars. This remarkable man peacefully shuffled off this mortal coil in the summer of 1964 at the age of 88. His extraordinary life was that of the archetypal war junkie.