This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My Rifle: The Creed of a U.S. Marine
Major General William H. Rupertus, USMC
These are words that you have heard if you've ever been a U.S. Marine (well, since around midway through World War II, I suppose) or have ever been exposed to modern American war films. They may mean nothing to you. They may mean everything to you. I guess it depends on your experiences and your beliefs.
I am a fatassed civilian. I am a liberal Democrat, with strong tinges of libertarianism (who was it who said that trying to label one's political views is like trying to watercolor the wind?). I know these words from popular culture and from friends and acquaintances who are or were U.S. Marines, either from casual conversation or attempts to correct my media-driven view of the Marine's life and training. I treat them as an important part of United States history and military culture, and as a Macguffin for the whole wild gyre that is civil-military relations in this my country.
I never thought, as I aged and remained an even more lard-assed civilian, that they would be more than that to me.
Recently, I "purchased" a gun.
The quotes are because I do not legally own it, and I do not physically possess it. This is because I live in a country, a state and city which has declared that this gun is an 'assault weapon' and therefore cannot be legally possessed by a civilian where I reside, however licensed. I explicitly refrain from offering an opinion on this legislation here. But my money procured it, and it is held in trust for me, locked securely away in the home of a friend, its legal owner (receipts and everything) who lives somewhere it is legal for him to possess it.
I arranged for this purchase sight unseen. I trusted, and trust, the go-between. The rifle belonged to an old friend of his, now deceased; the friend's son wished to sell it. It hadn't been fired in many years - my friend states that he last fired this rifle in 1985. It was, however, in a controlled environment, well cared for.
It is an M1 Garand - what General George S. Patton described as "the greatest implement of battle ever devised."
Today I visited my friend, and he opened his gun cabinet and with a broad grin handed me my rifle.
And the words came without thought, without pause, and without hesitation as I held it in front of me, having verified it was unloaded, the bolt open, muzzle pointing at the sky.
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will!
My rifle and myself know that what counts in this war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit!
My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weakness, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights, and its barrel. I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and damage. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will!
Before God I swear this creed. My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but Peace!
I had to be helped through some of it. Words were supplied. But I was astonished how much of it I remembered, and how very different it felt, holding my rifle.
Even though I am not, myself, at war; even though I am not, myself, a Soldier or a Marine; even though I, myself, cannot picture myself using this weapon on another human being, the fact remains - this object was designed and built for the purpose of killing. And in a way that is difficult to describe to people even my age who are used to modern products, it was designed and built well.
The receiver of my rifle has a serial number which indicates it was built by the Springfield Armory between 1943 and 1945, probably in October of 1944 by the production sequence. I do not know if my rifle was carried into training, or into combat, or was even issued to a soldier. I know that it was acquired by the gentleman from whose hands I indirectly received it in 1953, leaving nearly a decade of its life unaccounted for.
Its wooden furniture is dented. It has no sling. The cleaning kit normally stored inside the butt stock is missing. This rifle has been used, and used long. It might have seen service in training. It might have seen service in Korea. It might even have seen service in the closing months of World War II. It might have remained in a warehouse and been sold as surplus to a civilian who used it over the decades with the understanding, as so many men have come to, that it could take whatever he could dish out and outlive him, functioning, as a certainty.
Originally, I had planned to purchase a Garand, one likely with mismatched parts from its years and dents and scratches just like this, and restore it. Use heat and oven cleaner to remove the oils and grime from the wood, lightening it back towards paleness and drying it. Use a steam iron over a wet towel to pull the dents out of the wood. Spend a couple of weeks with the wooden parts, once clean and straight, rubbing linseed oil into them for protection. Disassemble the action. Clean it meticulously. If necessary, have the barrel either looked at by a professional or send the entirety of its metal back to Springfield Armory for restoration.
My friend shook his head after I told him this. "This rifle shoots. It shoots good. It's well shot in," he said. "It ain't broke."
No. No, it ain't broke. And therefore, it would not only be pointless but wrong to fix it - worse, to use it as an exercise for a new gun owner to try to attain the skills and habits needed to maintain it.
So I'm not going to do that. One day, I may find myself a Garand that is broke. I may find one that has been sitting under a barn. One that's been sitting in a rack. One that has been used just as long but much more frequently, with barrel worn and wood beaten. If I find that gun, and if (as I plan and hope) I have come to know my gun and what it needs, perhaps it will need my care and assistance. My rifle does not need pampering. It needs me to clean it after firing. It needs me to maintain its lubrication. It needs me to know how to clear jams and misfires. It needs me to ensure its iron blade sights are set correctly. It needs me to procure and probably handload proper 30-06 M2 ball ammunition for it, with perhaps 46 to 50 grains of 4064 powder rather than the hotter powder or bigger loads that drive modern bolt-action hunting rifles, for those CUP pressures will bend the operating rod on my rifle and cause it harm.
But most of all, it needs me to keep it and respect it and shoot it.
And I will.