Ready on the left, ready on the right, ready on the firing line

Sunday, May 3rd, 2015

I was born in Vienna, Austria in July 1952. I am eligible for the Presidency and have a letter from the Library of Congress to support my campaign, if necessary.

As a member of the 796 Military Police Battalion, my father opted, actually begged, for this European assignment rather than be ordered to Korea in 1951. He found himself in this predicament because he used his GI Bill to attend Loyola University in New Orleans where he joined the Army ROTC program for a few extra bucks. The GI Bill benefit resulted from his service as a Signalman Third Class on a sub-chaser in 1944 and 1945. He enlisted on his 17th birthday because his mother, my grandmother, would not permit him to enlist any sooner. He never dreamed that he have to serve in combat after college having been mustered out of the Navy in 1945.


One of his initial assignments as an MP was to supervise the firing-line at Camp Gordon, Georgia qualifying infantrymen for their own assignments to Korea. He described with some relish and a good deal of relief of the early weeks of that duty where the men were not doing particularly well in their qualifications as Marksman, Sharpshooter and Expert. Apparently, the word amongst the troops was that if you didn’t qualify, you would not be sent to Korea. This backlog was such a problem that his superior officer counseled him that if the scores didn’t improve ASAP that he’d find someone who would improve the situation, reminding my dad that MPs were needed “over there as well.” Dad convened immediately his own rifle range staff which consisted of senior enlisted men, most with combat experience in WW2. Threatening and cajoling, my father was in desperate need for an immediate program improvement process. One senior sergeant, without much explanation, volunteered that he’d ‘take care of the problem.’

The next morning as the long line of shooters adopted their prone positions, aiming at the raised targets down range, ready to commence fire, my dad observed the senior sergeant pause from his inspection walk down the line and literally kick one of the prone-positioned shooters out of ranks. This sergeant took his place on the line in a prone position like the rest of the shooters. As the firing commenced, sarge shot bullseyes into the targets of those suspected of purposely underperforming. My dad described the responses as stunned and immediate. If a shot was wide of the mark, the sarge shot through the center of the target and the score was announced as a bullseye by the spotter. At first, the firing infantryman was made incredulous by the outcome; after several repeated episodes, he would inevitably zero-in his weapon and fire with purpose. The word spread rapidly up and down the firing line that no matter if you qualified or not, the Army was sending you to Korea.The scores improved immediately; the daily and weekly through-put goals were achieved; there was never such a problem again.

Of the innumerable evolutions during our Naval Academy Plebe summer: PEP, forming-up in T-Court, lectures in Mahan Hall, marching in circles through and around the Yard, memorizing rates, chow call, folding laundry, the sailing and YP classes, my favorite or the one that I remember the fondest compared to all of the ones that I despised was the two weeks on the pistol and rifle range. I have no idea today where those facilities were located, although I recall that a daily Mike boat ride was part of the program. I qualified as an expert with the .45 pistol and as a sharpshooter with the M-1 rifle. Irks me to this day that I was but one errant shot away from being a double expert. My left eyebrow aches thinking about it.

Six or seven years later after that summer of 1970, I had the collateral responsibility as the security officer aboard the USS Joseph Strauss, DDG-16. We may or may not have had nuclear capable weapons aboard, and we sure had plenty of procedures for protecting them in case that we did. These procedures included qualifying 20 to 25 sailors of every above decks rating, e.g. no engineers, as weapons-carrying members of the Security Alert Team (SAT) and Back-up Alert Force (BAF). This is when I-realized how privileged that we were on the rifle and pistol ranges at Annapolis.

Larry Sobel was my partner for the .45 pistol qualification. Our instructor was enlisted Navy, tall, laconic, friendly, patient and capable. His match-quality weapons were polished, well-balanced, easy to handle with the smoothest of trigger mechanisms. I learned this because the standard issue from the Joseph Strauss’s armory were none of these. So good did Larry and I become at handling and firing these weapons, that on one live-fire for time and grade, something like a full clip of 7 rounds in 20 to 30 seconds, before the target rotated 90 degrees to present the bullseye, Sobel fired, hitting the side of the target, the thin edge initially presented. You could see where the bullet hit the ‘side’ of the target.

I fired and fire a side-arm in my right hand. I fire a rifle from my left shoulder. I also bat right and throw left; I play golf right and putt left. One office colleague commented, “you may not be left-handed, but you certainly act that way!”

In the second week of our range qualification, after the days of fam-fire and clicking-in and learning how to sight, breathe and squeeze, we got our chances to fire the 7.62mm rounds from these gas-operated, air-cooled, semi-automatic shoulder weapons. An odd recollection is that we’d each possessed such a weapon, unlocked in our rooms for 4 years, and never again fired an M-1 while at the Academy.


Given the expert instruction and the match quality of the weapon, hitting the target down-range at 200 yards was merely a plug N chug exercise. Sight, breathe and squeeze. Except my routine was sight, breathe and squeeze, ejected heated cartridge hits me about an inch above my left eye since I shot left-handed. I am able to point to the spot right now. Somehow in the heat of the qualifying competition and having had dozens of hot, brass casings ricochet off of my brow, I was not the expert as I was with the .45. I even tried a clip or two from the right shoulder without satisfactory results. I qualified as a Sharpshooter.

Like everybody else, I wore the blue marksman ribbons with the E for expert and the S for sharpshooter next to my National Defense Ribbon on my service dress uniforms. After a year or so aboard ship, I stopped wearing them as I didn’t feel as though I was still the same shooter that I was 5 or 6 years ago on the range.

I mentioned in a previous note that I transferred on sudden notice, like 30 days, from San Francisco to the Joseph Strauss in Pearl Harbor to relieve as Anti Submarine Warfare Office, the Brigade Commander from our plebe year. Let’s just say that his files and records and the overall condition of his nuclear weapons safety and security program were not of 6 striper quality. I believe the material and administrative conditions as well as the pending annual inspection of the ship’s Nuclear Weapons program, NWTPI, caused the sudden back-problems that necessitated his medical transfer from the ship.

I was also in charge of the ship security force which we tested daily by issuing M-14s, riot shotguns and .45 caliber pistols. Live ammo, of course.

To maintain morale amongst these security teams, e.g. have them fire the weapons in case, well, they ever had to fire the weapons, we reserved the naval base pistol range one morning. We signed-out weapons and ammunition from the Strauss’s small arms locker, 15 or so sailors and I headed by launch to the Halawa Pistol Range. Nothing dramatic occurred except that the safest place to hide would have been as near the targets as possible. These .45 caliber weapons were old, stiff and out of calibration. Targeting was accomplished by shooting first to see where the round landed, then walking the rounds to the fixed target. These were not the match grade weapons of Plebe Summer and I was not an expert instructor. A testament to the standard issue M1911 was that despite the nearly terrifying short-comings in the marksmanship of the shooters, I don’t recall that a single weapon jammed or was otherwise required to be taken of service.

We returned to Strauss, returned the weapons to the Duty Gunner’s Mate and decided that the riot shotguns would probably be the weapon of choice if we truly needed to deploy tour security teams.

To pass time and enliven a Sunday afternoon while peddling across the Pacific on deployment to Japan, we slowed to headway only, tossed the large bags of accumulated cook-out trash over the fantail, laid-out the M-60 machine gun – the ultimate weapon in our nuclear weapons security arsenal – and gave those huge bags of paper plates, plastic forks and hamburger debris the full nine yards. You are correct. The safest place to hide would have been sitting on top of this trash as the belt-fed, high velocity 7.62 mm rounds sailed into the far distance or shot-up the water just aft outboard of the life-lines. Would have been no problem for that Army sergeant.

Stifts Kaserne 4