THE EXTRA MILE by Tom Reiten
One hundred years ago this April, the United States of America declared war on Germany and the other Central Powers. It was America’s entry into World War I, "The Great War". Millions of lives had already been lost by the combatants, in what would be termed the debut of modern warfare. World War I saw the introduction, on large scale, of machine guns, tanks, combat aircraft, aerial bombing and the use of poison gas to the battlefield. Trucks and automobiles also played an important role in logistics and communications, though horses and wagons continued to play a major role. The United States military was present for a mere eighteen months prior to the armistice, but played a key role in bringing the slaughter in Europe to an end. The other combatants had been fighting since 1914 and neither had the resources to bring the battle to a conclusion. Like punch drunken boxers in a bare knuckle fight they were hanging on to one another throwing ineffectual punches. Each punch thrown resulted in the death or wounding of tens of thousands of men. The American military was enough to swing the balance over to the side of the Allies, primarily, Britain and France. However, the issues behind the conflict were not resolved and continued to fester. Twenty years later we were once again facing a war in Europe, World War II.
When the Forks Rifle Club started holding as-issued military rifle matches, it provided shooters with the opportunity to compete with the firearms that were used in these world conflicts. Having been fascinated with all manner of firearms from an early age, for me, it was a natural progression. In the 1970s I had gotten involved in competing with muzzleloading rifles and pistols from the 1840s through the Civil War. I was a member of the Coon ‘n Crocket Muzzleloaders, and competed in the rendezvous, but I never was a buckskinner.
Next came the cowboy era and cowboy action shooting. Growing up watching westerns in the fifties and sixties, what red-blooded American boy could resist the call of cowboy action shooting? However, clothing was no longer optional. Not that you could shoot in the buff, but you had to have some minimum western attire; hat, Levis and boots would suffice. Then you had to choose an alias, which led to a persona, which in turn lead to a particular time from the Civil War to 1900, "the cowboy era". In my case, it was "Ole Gophertail", an early settler in the Petersburg area who, during the1880s and 90s, made his cash money shooting, snaring or trapping gophers (Richardson ground squirrels) for the bounty the county paid. As your character developed, so did the firearms and gear used to match the period. One might argue that it was the other way around, but in either case you researched the time period for clothing, gear and firearms. In the process, you learned a lot about the "Cowboy Era", that wasn’t necessarily what you saw as a youth on the TV or silver screen. Yes, I am still playing cowboy.
Having been shooting high power rifle for "more" than forty years and collecting firearms for even longer, wild horses couldn’t hold be back. (Sorry, it is a cowboy thing). As soon as the Civilian Marksmanship Program introduced the as-issued military rifle match format in the John C. Garand Match, I was on it and at the very next club board meeting, I was pitching it to the somewhat skeptical high power shooters. I was not alone in my interest and soon we held our first vintage match. That first match was just about rained out. The rain finally stopped, but the wind just increased. We shot the vintage military rifle match and then went right into our first vintage sniper rifle team match. There were only a few of us. Regular infantry rifles were available, but as-issued sniper rifles were far and few between, but it was interesting. The old Weaver 330 on my Springfield 03A4 had nowhere near the windage adjustment even if I wanted to subject the 70-year-old scope to that kind of abuse. Instead, I just held on the far side of the number board on the next target.
Soon, we had added M1 Carbine matches to the mix and now even have state championship matches for the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, vintage military rifles and vintage sniper rifle. As more individuals got sniper rifles, they wanted another match after all the rest of the outdoor shooting was over. Not to be denied, we set up a Battle of the Bulge vintage sniper rifle match. The match was set up loosely around the Battle of the Bulge fought in December of 1944 and January of 1945. It was our first match commemorating a battle. It was held on January 11, 2014. Since the target pits were full of snow on the high power range, the targets consisted of cardboard silhouettes in stands on the berm in front of the target pit, which were shot from 300 and 600 yards.
The next December, it was a Marine battle, the Battle for Fox Hill, in Korea that was commemorated. Again, this was a vintage sniper match. For this match, we moved the targets over to the silhouette range and shot them at 200, 300, 385 and 500 meters. It was shot the first Saturday in December 2014. The actual battle was fought right after Thanksgiving 1950. With each successive year, more emphasis is placed upon the fact surrounding the battle that is being commemorated.
In December 2015, it was the World War II Battle of Attu which was fought on the frozen tundra of Attu Island in the Allusion Chain southwest of Alaska. This battle was actually fought in May of 1943, but the wind swept frozen ground and no cover conditions on the battle field are not too far from the Forks Rifle Range in December.
In December of 2016, it was the World War II Battle of Monte de Difensa in the Italian Campaign. In this battle, the 1st Special Services Forces, a joint US and Canadian commando unit that trained outside Helena, Montana for action in the liberation of Norway, were tasked with taking a fortified mountain top which both British and American forces had fail to take. The chosen route of attack was up a vertical face of the mountain that the Germans felt was impossible for a unit to scale. The attack achieved surprise and pushed the Germans off the mountain and the Force subsequently pushed the enemy off the surrounding peaks as well. The match was held on December 3rd, the very day that the actual battle kicked off in 1943.
At the suggestion of Kevin Fire, this year we have added another as-issued vintage rifle match to the schedule. It is the Battle of Belleau Woods, which is primarily a Marine battle, which was the first major battle by an America unit demonstrating its mettle. The battle kicked off in June 1918, with the Marines crossing open wheat fields under machinegun fire from the woods. The match is loosely patterned after the infantry team match (rattle-battle) at Camp Perry. In this case, it is a forty-round individual match with individuals shooting prone from 600 yards then advancing to 300 yard shooting prone and then advancing to 200 yards and shooting both prone and off hand. This match will be fired with as-issued WWI vintage military rifles.
This summer for the vintage military rifle matches we are going to take a page from the cowboy action shooters and encourage them to wear a uniform appropriate to the rifle that they are shooting. Half of the fun of the vintage military rifle sport is assembling your firearm and locating the appropriate gear to go with the firearm. In honor of the individuals who carried the firearms into battle in defense of their country, wearing the appropriate uniform is going the extra mile. We are going to try to capture some of the atmosphere of those times. There is no requirement or even pressure to put together an appropriate uniform, but I think it will make the match just that much more interesting.