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This great Nation & Its People War

How one of America’s saltiest Marines wanted to handle the Vietnam War

The United States had a secret weapon at the beginning of the Vietnam War, one it chose to ignore at its own peril: Lt. Gen. Victor “Brute” Krulak.

Krulak had been fighting his whole life. Born short in stature, he was barely tall enough to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. His nickname, “Brute,” was supposed to be an insult hurled at him by an upperclassman, but it was one he adopted as true in spirit.

He was a lifer Marine, a veteran of World War II, where he led a diversionary raid while the main attack came at Bougainville Island. He also fought at the Battle of Okinawa. In the Korean War, he landed at Inchon, helped recapture Seoul from the communists, and distinguished himself at the Chosin Reservoir.

If that weren’t enough to establish Krulak’s vision, consider his biggest contribution to the Allied victory in World War II. Before the war ever kicked off for the Americans, Krulak was in San Diego reviewing potential amphibious landing craft. None of the designs ever worked. High gunwales and exposed propellers left Marines in terrible danger during the potential landings to come.

In 1937, Krulak had been transferred to China in time to see the Japanese invasion in real-time. He watched the Japanese landing craft in Shanghai, looking for potential solutions to all his problems. The fixes he found would later contribute to the creation of Higgins Boats, which helped win the war on both fronts.

How one of America’s saltiest Marines wanted to handle the Vietnam War
A Higgins boat bringing troops to Okinawa, 1945 (U.S. Navy)

Krulak’s biggest battles weren’t with the Japanese or the North Koreans, however. The toughest fight of his life actually came from within the Pentagon: his adversary was Gen. William Westmoreland.

Marine Corps-Army rivalry has always run deep, ever since the Battle of Belleau Wood in World War I saw the Marines not only stop the enemy but push the advancing Germans back. The Army notoriously left the Marines out of its memorialization of the battlefield there, a wrong not righted until 1955.

When it came to Vietnam, however, Westmoreland and Krulak saw the situation two very different ways. Westmoreland was brought up in the large-scale combat of World War II and Korea. He wanted to bury as many Viet Cong and communist troops as possible in a war of attrition that would compel the North Vietnamese to bring out its forces and meet the Americans in a pitched battle.

How one of America’s saltiest Marines wanted to handle the Vietnam War
“For the last time, Bill… no nukes. Not yet.” (maybe) (U.S. Air Force)

Krulak saw Vietnam very differently. The Marine Corps had been fighting homegrown insurgencies for decades, even before World War II, in places like Central America, the Philippines, and the Caribbean islands. He knew when a situation called for counterinsurgency tactics – and Vietnam was just the place if there ever was one.

Winning in Vietnam meant pacifying the villages of the country, improving the quality of life for the people, thereby releasing them from the communist grip. Krulak wanted the Marines to be a shield for the South Vietnamese, to protect them while they did this civil improvement and taught the villagers to defend themselves. In his mind, the Marines would pacify one area, then move on to another, eventually spreading the pacification like an “ink blot.”

Westmoreland preferred sending Marines out on search and destroy missions.

Khe Sanh was particularly annoying to Gen. Krulak. In his mind, Khe Sanh had no strategic value and Westmoreland kept up constant pressure for the Marines to leave their bases and search for the enemy. Westmoreland believed Khe Sanh was the perfect place for the U.S. to bring its full firepower to bear on the communists.

In conversations with President Lyndon B. Johnson, Westmoreland promised a quick end to the war, using that firepower to fill enemy body bags. Krulak told the president the Marines already had a playbook for this kind of operation (they literally did, the Small Wars Manual, first published in 1935). He told Johnson it would take longer but wouldn’t take as much American commitment.

How one of America’s saltiest Marines wanted to handle the Vietnam War
Lt. Gen Krulak in a training exercise at Camp Pendleton, May 7, 1964 (U.S. Marine Corps)

Johnson, wanting out of Vietnam as fast as possible, opted to take Westmoreland’s approach. Krulak’s “I told you so” moment came in 1967 and was captured on camera. The photo shows the Marine pointing a finger at an obviously uncomfortable Johnson. Krulak told the president that the firepower approach was needlessly killing Marines.

The president kicked Krulak out of the Oval Office and when it came time to choose who would become the next Commandant of the Marine Corps, Johnson passed over Krulak, forcing him to retire.

The Green Machine This great Nation & Its People War

Why America Loses Wars By John Waters

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Terms of Agreement Entered into with Gen.  Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865, and  Supplementary Terms April 10, 1865 | American Battlefield Trust

Clausewitz tells us to measure society’s strength by whether we achieve victory on the battlefield. Victory entails not just destroying the enemy’s fighting capability or claiming his territory, but achieving certain political objectives. American politicians have shown a willingness to end wars without achieving their objectives. In other words, they have shown a willingness to lose.

Precedent was set with the 1953 ceasefire in Korea and upheld when America withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021. It remains unclear whether politicians intended to lose those wars (and others) or merely accepted that the price of victory had become too high, that victory was no longer worth the time or effort required.

Whatever the case, our troops care about winning. Desire for victory is one reason young Americans leave their homes and families to enlist. They join to gain a mission, to make a difference, and to win on the battlefield. Desire for victory was part of the reason our troops performed so well in the fight against terrorism. Ask anyone who served whether they believed their combat deployments were making a difference. Odds are they answer ‘yes’, but acknowledge the overarching policy was misguided if not destined to fail.

No one blames the troops for our failures in Korea, Vietnam, or Afghanistan. Rather, it is “the political leaders who have forgotten that victory matters,” historian and Clausewitz scholar Donald Stoker told me recently over the phone. And since the politicians do not believe that victory matters, our troops have found themselves trapped in endless wars that lead to defeat or stalemate, a doom loop of poor planning-leads-to-poor results, where the pursuit of war itself becomes more important than defeat or victory.

In his book Why America Loses Wars (Cambridge, 2019), Stoker argues that flawed thinking about war, especially limited war, has led to flawed war policy and poor results. And, Stoker anticipates more of the same unless our political leaders clearly define their political objectives and apply the necessary military strategies and resources to achieve those objectives. The following is our conversation on war and politics.

Can you first define “war” for our readers?

War is the use of military force to achieve a political aim. The violence (force) element is pivotal. What you will see argued is that you can have war without violence. That’s wrong. You have rivalry and competition, but war must have politically directed violence, directed at an adversary for a political end.

Your writing is concerned with winning on the battlefield. Define victory.

Achieving your political aim. That’s the one that shines through. When you get what you want, and have the strength or ability to convince the other side to agree to your terms. This is where the complexity of the book comes into play. The most difficult chapter to write was on how to end wars, particularly those wars fought for a limited aim where often you’re not able to impose your will on the enemy. In such situations, it’s difficult to force the other side to come to your point of view, as was the case in the Korean War and the Gulf War, to name a couple of examples. It was too difficult to get the agreements to end those wars on the terms we wanted.

I’ll add that we almost never plan for the ending of a war, which is one reason for our failure to achieve victory in some of our wars since 1945. This is not just a problem for the United States—most countries never plan for the end of a war. The Russo-Japanese War [1904-05] is one of those very few examples where a nation-state (Japan) contemplated in advance exactly how to end the war. Japan thought through the negotiation steps needed to end the conflict on favorable terms. In contrast, the H.W. Bush Administration had thought about the need for a plan to end the Gulf War but didn’t create one. Instead, it had General Schwarzkopf negotiate in a very ad hoc way, and he was criticized for the settlement even though everything he did was approved by the administration.

You are opposed to loose usage of “war” in academia, government, and journalism. The term “limited war” is particularly bothersome. “Hybrid war” as well. To borrow a line from the Smiths: What difference does it make?

I get criticisms sometimes that I’m worrying about nothing, but as you dig into the arguments, you discover that we don’t even agree on basic definitions for “war” and “peace.”

For instance, there’s this constant drumbeat that we’re at war with Russia, that we’re at war with China. I think many terms we use confuse “subversion” and “crime” with actual war. Now, the “gray zone” is a big one used to denote actions occurring in this supposed realm between peace and war, but my point is that people are again misunderstanding “subversion” and elements of Great Power Competition. I think we’re creating new terminology and imaginary complexity that amounts to sloppy thinking. This affects our ability to plan and make war.

Let’s apply these terms. Was the Iraq War a failure?

That depends. You can look at the question several different ways.

First, what were the political aims being sought in the Iraq War? The political aims were to (a) overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime; and (b) build a democratic Iraq. You can make a good argument that we achieved both aims, but that we did not understand that achieving these aims required different things. Building a democratic Iraq is a completely different political aim and, when the aims are different, usually the ways must be different. The Iraq War certainly killed more people and cost more than it was expected to, but you could argue that the war was a success.

All that said, I don’t like the question. You could certainly argue that we helped create a situation in Iraq that allowed Iran to obtain a dominant position in the country, that this probably would not have happened without overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Okay. How about the War in Afghanistan. Was it a failure?


We wanted to (a) overthrow the regime; and (b) build a democratic Afghanistan. Then, late last year [2021], we decided we didn’t want to support the regime we created. What we did in Afghanistan failed to achieve the aim. In Iraq, we got our aim but was it worth it? I’m iffy on that. In Afghanistan, we didn’t accomplish our political aim.

But is it a problem of thinking or a problem of will? We knew the political objective of the war: to create security conditions for peace and the development of a new government and military. We also understood the problem: accomplishing the objective would take 100 years.

Both. Loose terminology is a problem of thinking. But it always boils down to will, too.

Clausewitz would say it always comes down to one side’s ability to hold. People would argue that the North Vietnamese or the Afghans were just willing to do it longer.

What if it’s impossible to achieve the aim? I think it’s a fair question to put forward in the context of Afghanistan. I’ve seen it in a couple of books. When Mullah Omar and Karzai cut a deal in early 2002, the administration wouldn’t accept the deal because it was very much an Afghan deal. It was rejected by the administration. Just think if they had taken the deal – what would have happened? It’s a fascinating one to think about.

It’s really tough if you’re in the political decision-making role. You may have to make the decision that you’re willing to lose. That’s the criticism leveled by Peter Bergen at the Biden Administration in Afghanistan, that they decided to lose. But did they really think they were losing the war?

Harry Summers’ book on Vietnam says there was no clear political aim in Vietnam. But it’s very clear from the Kennedy and early Johnson administration documents that these administrations wanted a non-Communist Vietnam. The interesting thing from Summers’ argument is that there are all these flag officers he interviewed who did not know the political aim. It’s as if it was not pushed down the chain. There’s a broken link in the chain.

When you look at the political aims for the Iraq War, it’s very clear that the administration wanted to overthrow the regime and establish a democratic Iraq. But then you have Rumsfeld writing in his correspondence that the goal was not to establish a democratic Iraq. Moreover, the political aim given to the war planners was to overthrow the regime, not to plan for creation of a democratic Iraq. The disconnect between the WH – DoD – ground commanders was huge in the Bush Administration. I think it was very different in the Obama Administration. As far as communicating the political aim, I think there was some improvement in the Obama administration but there was also a real tightening of control at the WH in the Obama administration. Consequently, there was a real loss of strategy in favor of tactical planning. In Ash Carter’s memoir, he writes that the Administration was slow to figure out a strategy to fight the Iraq War in 2014 and beyond. I think there was a lack of emphasis on winning during the Obama Administration.

I’ll add that it’s very weird to see flag officers say that the point of fighting a war is not to win. You’ll see evidence of that dating back to the Korean War. It’s very odd. The class I taught at the Naval War College was essentially on “how to win wars,” but now you’ll see from military officers and politicians and others that the point is not to win the war. If you’re not trying to win the war, how will you ever get to peace? Fighting the war becomes an end. There’s a phenomenon where the war becomes more tactical the longer it goes on, and planners and decision-makers lose sight of the strategic picture.

There is a divergence between the academic’s answer and the participant’s answer. Many veterans believe we won tactically but lost strategically. There is a sense that the people most out-of-touch with war—politicians, bureaucrats, other “experts” in war policy—are the people most responsible for our failure. Can people who never served in war fully understand war?

I think at some levels “yes” and some levels “no.” There’s a friend of mine who spent a year in Iraq and a year in Afghanistan. His father had been an infantryman in Vietnam. He said when he came back from Iraq, his father finally talked to him about Vietnam and the wounds he suffered. He never spoke about the Vietnam War beforehand, maybe because it was too personal and he feared he wouldn’t be understood. Another colleague had a similar experience with a student who had a grandfather who served in World War II. The reason why is because they had someone they knew—someone they knew would understand.

So, yes, I think it’s difficult to really understand the violence and chaos of war unless you’ve experienced it.

You mentioned Clausewitz. I’ve not given you any preparation, but can you apply his “ends,” “ways,” and “means” analysis to the engagement in Ukraine?

I’m probably wrong on this because I’m guessing, but here it goes, from the Ukrainian side:

ENDS – I don’t know. Ukraine wants to secure its independence. Do the Ukrainians also want to retake land they lost in 2014? Some would argue “yes” but we don’t know.

WAYS – depends how you want to slice it. Probably defensive. Attrite the Russians and give ground until Ukraine can mount an offensive. [Which has happened since the interview was conducted]

MEANS – an effort to mobilize the entire country. Zelensky tried to revive the levée on masse at the beginning of the war, from ages 16 to 60. I’m uncertain how well this has worked.

That seems right. Thanks for doing the analysis on the fly. 

Sure. And one further note on Clausewitz, if I may.

Of course.

He was first and foremost an infantryman, a soldier. We have this misperception that he was just a staff officer. He was in at least 36 battles. There were weeks where they would fight every day. He was at the Battle of Borodino. He once took a bayonet to the side of the head. He experienced nearly everything about war, from being wounded to being a prisoner of war, to leading in combat. But he also sat in meetings with the Czar. He had vast experience and vast education on war—he built his theoretical approach on all these different things. Bad theory will get you killed, he believed. And so, I’ve taken up that last point by writing this book, an attempt to encourage better thinking about why and how we wage war.

John Waters is a writer in Nebraska. 

The Green Machine This great Nation & Its People War You have to be kidding, right!?!

How this US Paratrooper Found his Way to the EASTERN FRONT After Missing an L-Zone Over France

Soldiering This great Nation & Its People War

Alexander Gardner: The American who fought for the Sikh Empire

This great Nation & Its People



Increasing numbers of citizens are buying and carrying defensive sidearms.
Dave says “practice” and that’s what he’s doing, prepping for the day
we all hope never comes.


There are now 25 states with so-called “Constitutional carry” and Florida appears to be approaching permitless carry, which translates to more citizens soon being able to carry defensive firearms without having to jump through the hoops of a licensing process.

There is another translation: Criminals, be careful … be very careful. In fact, now might be a good time to reconsider your career choices and see if the hardware store is hiring.

I routinely report on the number of active concealed pistol licenses in my home state of Washington, and following a slight end-of-year dip reported Jan. 3, the number has been steadily climbing. Last month, a whopping 698,186 active CPLs were reported by the state Department of Licensing.

Each state has its own laws regarding the use of lethal force, and in Washington, the statute is RCW 9A.16.050. Here’s what it says:

“Homicide is also justifiable when committed either:
(1) In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or
(2) In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.”

Collaborating with Alan Gottlieb, best known as the founder and chief executive officer of the Second Amendment Foundation, I’ve done a couple of books over the years dealing with firearms and self-defense incidents. Anecdotal information contained in those books has been appreciated by some while making others uncomfortable and a few upset because the stories reinforced the notion of armed self-defense being a good thing.

One cannot pick up a newspaper or read an online news publication without finding stories with such headlines as “Robbery suspect shot,” or “Clerk kills armed robber,” or “Homeowner kills burglar.” The first Workman-Gottlieb collaboration — titled “America Fights Back – Armed Self-Defense in a Violent Age” — is still found on Amazon and other places.


The goal is not winning a gunfight, but surviving. Some armed citizens get hurt while defending themselves.

Never Ends Well


There’s an interesting line of dialogue in an old Patrick Swayze film titled “Road House” in which he plays a famous bouncer. While he’s in the ER being treated for a knife wound, the attending doctor asks him, “Do you ever win a fight?”

His reply is sobering. “Nobody ever wins a fight.”

Fox News recently reported an incident that didn’t end well, especially for the alleged bad guy, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience for the good guy, either. In East Hartford, Connecticut, two men wearing ski masks entered a clothing store, and for one of them, it was the last thing he did besides expire.

The report said the robbers shot the merchant in the back, but bad news for them, he had two legally owned firearms, and he fought back. Fatally-wounded in the encounter was a suspect identified as Jashar Haslam of Hartford. He was only 26 years old. The unidentified wounded store owner suffered non-life threatening injuries, and he survived a terrible experience.

When WVIT News reported on the gun battle, it noted the other suspect fled and, at the time, was still at large. Not much friendship among criminals when the shooting starts and bullets start punching holes.


Mother Knows Best


Check your favorite Internet search engine with these words: “Woman kills home invader.” You will find lots of incidents.

One, which recently got my attention, was a CBS News report about a Louisiana mom who “allegedly” brought a sudden end to a strange incident involving a fellow identified as 51-year-old Robert Rheams. This guy had been paroled from a 20-year-stretch for armed robbery, and it evidently didn’t take long for him to find trouble.

The report said he was apparently involved in an alleged carjacking hours before he showed up at the home of the woman, who lived in Hammond, Tangipahoa Parish. He was reportedly armed with a shovel and lug wrench. Never take those tools to a gunfight.

Sheriff’s Office Chief Jimmy Travis was matter-of-factly quoted in the CBS story, observing how this fatal confrontation was a case of a “homeowner exercising Second Amendment rights to protect herself and her children from a violent home invasion.”

The case was forwarded to the local district attorney’s office for “further review,” the report noted.


Call police if you have time, but growing numbers of homeowners
are buying guns and practicing in case they don’t have the time.

Heaven? No, It’s Iowa


A 30-year-old home invasion suspect in Monticello, Iowa was shot and killed in a January confrontation involving a homeowner and his 10-year-old son, both of whom were unharmed, according to KWWL News.

This was an early-afternoon incident on a Wednesday, which was unusual when it comes to this sort of crime. The 44-year-old homeowner armed himself after calling Monticello police with a report of an “in-progress” break-in, but by the time cops arrived, Pattrick Michael O’Brine was down for the count.

The incident underscores the wisdom of an oft-repeated observation in the self-defense community: “When seconds count, police are minutes away.” Nothing is closer to the truth than this seven-word principle. While police would be delighted to always arrive in the nick of time to catch the bad guys and save the good folks, rarely does that happen.

It may be one reason why the past couple of years have seen a lot of first-time gun-buyers in shops from Tampa to Tacoma. Toss in longer response times in communities where police ranks have been shrinking thanks to “defund the police” efforts, and nightly news broadcasts that frequently lead with a violent crime report, and it doesn’t take much to figure out why people are buying guns. That good old Second Amendment is the ultimate fall back when everything else goes haywire.


Fort Smith Fatal Encounter


According to a story on “Today In Fort Smith,” an Arkansas man identified as 29-year-old Jacob Andrew Webb had a background that included previous drug-related arrests “for which he received suspended imposition of sentences.”

Early last month, Webb reportedly entered the residence of an unidentified 58-year-old homeowner, armed with a knife. He never left.

There was some sort of confrontation, during which the homeowner was injured and Webb was shot in the midsection. After police arrived, the homeowner was taken to a local hospital for non-life-threatening injuries, according to KHBS 4029 News. Such injuries are still painful.

At the time he died, Webb was reportedly on “extended probation out of Logan County on two separate drug-related arrests in 2020 and 2021.”


Wisconsin Strong


There’s a 79-year-old man in Marathon County, Wisconsin who recently proved age doesn’t necessarily translate to vulnerability.

According to WSAW/Gray News, the septuagenarian was apparently followed home by a 22-year-old man in the early morning hours. The suspect attacked and stabbed the older gent as he was exiting his car, which had been parked in the garage.

This was another example of making a fatal error in the victim selection process. The older man drew a gun and fired one round. The bullet struck the younger man in the chest, and he reportedly expired while trying to flee.

The story made it all the way to Texas, where it was reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, probably because it was a tale in which an older would-be victim prevailed.


The Moral?


Perhaps the moral of this stroll into the realm of violent crime and self-defense is that all the gun control laws on the books, and the ones still waiting to be written, will not deter violent criminals.

Gun prohibitionists think they can penalize law-abiding citizens and somehow get outlaws to change their ways. History tells us differently — after all, Jesse James, Cole Younger, the Daltons, Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and a host of other societal losers provided ample proof — and history is unforgiving, no matter how many times some people try rewriting it.

If you’re one of the millions of armed private citizens responding to a changing world in which the nearest police officer or sheriff’s deputy is minutes away or maybe much longer, find out about your state’s self-defense laws. Today is a good time, yesterday


Nice gun, a 5-shot .41 Magnum; what if it were stolen? You want to report that theft immediately to the police.

Lots of ‘Crime Guns’


Here’s something we know about crime: When bad guys are packing iron, much of it is hot.

The New York Times last month confirmed that between 2017 and 2021, law enforcement recovered “about two million guns linked to crimes.” The newspaper said the information came from the most comprehensive national accounting of crime guns in decades. The times was referring to the “National Firearms Commerce and Trafficking Assessment (NFCTA): Crime Guns – Volume Two” published by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

When a gun is stolen, it is technically “involved in a crime.” When a gun is recovered from a burglary investigation, or seized from a criminal during an arrest, it is “involved in a crime.” The term “crime gun” can be applied, even if the gun wasn’t fired.

“While more than 95% of stolen guns originate via thefts from private citizens (see Figure BRL-01 below), FFL and commercial shipping thefts are nevertheless a direct source of crime guns,” the report says. “As of 2022, only fifteen states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia — require private citizens to report when a firearm is stolen. As a result, while the reported number of firearms stolen annually from individuals is substantial, there is significant underreporting; a 2016 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that only about 75% of private gun thefts are reported to law enforcement.”

There are lots of videos of middle-of-the-night smash-and-grab gun store thefts. That’s one way to arm a community of thugs.

If you don’t own one, buy a gun safe. Your firearms are valuable, along with your right to have them. Record the serial numbers of your guns and keep that log someplace safe.

If your gun is stolen, report it immediately. There’s a possibility you might get that gun back if it is recovered, and you certainly don’t want to be linked to any crime that gun might later be part of. Thefts from private citizens account for almost 96% of stolen guns during the 2017-2021 time period. During those years, the report notes there were 3,100 theft incidents involving 21,585 guns. Any way one looks at this, it’s a lot of hot hardware.

This great Nation & Its People War Well I thought it was funny!

You do know that old Zach will NEVER live this one down, right?

r/NoSillySuffix - [Military] US soldiers take defensive positions after taking fire from Taliban in Korengal Valley. Spc. Zachary Boyd was still in his pink “I love NY” boxers as he rushed from his sleeping quarters to join his fellow platoon members. [3888×2592]

US soldiers take defensive positions after taking fire from Taliban in Korengal Valley. Spc. Zachary Boyd was still in his pink “I love NY” boxers as he rushed from his sleeping quarters to join his fellow platoon members.

A Victory! The Green Machine This great Nation & Its People War You have to be kidding, right!?!

Hard to believe but this is not Italy. Istead this is Alaska and the 7th InFantry Dision is chearing out the Jap Army

Haversack ou Backpack ?

A Victory! All About Guns Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad Our Great Kids This great Nation & Its People

History In A Handgun: William W. McMillan’s Colt .45 by Doug Wicklund, NRA Museums Senior Curator

LtCol William W. McMillan, Jr. USMC (Ret'd)

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/

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!