A bit of background. My mother’s younger brother carried an M1 Garand as a member of the 103rd Infantry Division during WWII. His unit arrived at Marseilles, France, in October 1944 and pushed its way across France into Germany. It was there my uncle lost his life during a campaign near Muehlhausen while repulsing a German attack.
He was buried in Epinal American Cemetery near Dinozé, France. On the other side of the family, my father, and his father both served in the U.S. Navy during wartime. My grandfather was a pharmacist’s mate aboard a ship during WWI and was issued a Colt Service Revolver. My father was a skipper on a PT Boat during WWII and was trained on the M1 Garand rifle and the M1911A1 pistol.
I served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam conflict, and my oldest son served in the U.S. Army immediately upon his high school graduation in 1993. We were both trained on the M16. My son was trained as an armorer on the M16 rifle, M9 pistol, and M60 machine gun. Although my training was on the M16, I carried an M2 Carbine and S&W .38 Special revolver in my medevac helicopter during my Vietnam tour.
Passing the Torch
My wife’s father and brother were both submariners trained on the M1911A1 pistol. With four generations of military service on my side of the family, plus my wife’s father and brother in the Navy, it’s just natural for the shooters in our family to have an interest in the firearms used by these men. For the past couple of years, I’ve been informally mentoring a small group of shooters. The group includes one of my sons and his best friend, a 17-year-old grandson and his best friend, the landowner who allows us to shoot on his property and his eight-year-old daughter plus one of his co-workers, along with the co-worker’s wife and 10-year-old son. Whenever we shoot together, the group members pick the guns they want me to bring. Military firearms are always in high demand.
Our family arsenal includes an M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, and AR-15, which is as close to an M16 as I can afford. In the pistol department, we have a replica U.S. Army 1911A1, Colt Service Model Ace 22 1911, Beretta M9, Colt M45A1 CQBP, SIG Sauer P226/MK25, SIG M11A1, and a .22 version of the HK416 pistol used by the Navy Seals. We go through a lot of ammo, so I have included reloading in our mentoring program.
Guidance from Military Manuals
My M1 Garand is a Civilian Marksmanship Program Service Grade rifle. Whenever I break it out, there’s no lack of people lining up to shoot it. CMP sent some information with the rifle about caring for it and I purchased The M1 Garand: OWNER’S GUIDE by Scott A. Duff, but the most helpful information I found was in military manuals from the WWII era. My father’s Bluejackets Manual used in his training to become a naval officer has a chapter on small arms that covers in detail the U.S. Rifle, Caliber .30, M1, and Caliber .45 Automatic Pistol. Within this chapter, I discovered where my father learned the techniques and terminology, he used to teach me to shoot as a young boy. It is also where my grandson and I learned the techniques for disassembly, cleaning, and reassembly of the M1 Garand rifle.
I grew fond of the M2 I carried in Vietnam. However, because it was a machine gun, I couldn’t bring it home. Buying one is way out of my price range, but I did manage to get a true WWII M1 Carbine. My M1 Carbine was made by Underwood in March 1944, so there is a good chance it saw combat during WWII.
When I acquired a Tisas replica of the WWII vintage M1911A1, I remembered my military training regarding Field Manuals and Technical Manuals. On Amazon I found the following manuals: Automatic Pistol Caliber .45 M1911 and M1911A1 Field Manual; Combat Training with Pistols, M9 & M11; US .30 Caliber M1 Rifle Manual published by the War Department July 1940; and the Army and Air Force Technical Manual Cal. .30 Carbines M1, M1A1, M2, and M3. The information in these manuals is an amazing way to learn not just the technical specs regarding the care and operation of these military firearms, but also the programs the military used to train soldiers on how to use them.
Quite often, information in the military manuals is different from what we’ve been taught as civilians. For example, the recommended method for cleaning the M1911 and M1911A1 pistols is to clean the barrels with water. Instructions for using water for cleaning also appear in the M1 rifle manual.
The shooting fundamentals and exercises in these military manuals are a great way to teach someone how to shoot well. Here’s an example comment from FM 23–35, the manual of the M1911: “Good shooting is more the result of careful instruction than of mere practice. Unless properly instructed men instinctively do the wrong thing in firing the pistol. They instinctively jerk the trigger which is the cause of flinching. Hence mere practice fixes the instinctively bad habits.” We knew that, didn’t we?
In each of the training manuals, learning to shoot is broken down into steps similar to what most civilians learn when being trained by NRA Instructors. They all stress that trigger squeeze is the most important part of learning to shoot. The way it is described in the military manuals rings so true to me because it is exactly what my former Navy officer father taught me. Shooters are instructed to “Squeeze the trigger in such a way as to not know just when the hammer will fall.”
The training steps in the WWII era training manual for the 1911 take the trainees through multiple dry-fire exercises such as firing, rapid firing, and quick firing, which must be perfected before they ever load ammunition in the gun. The rapid firing exercise involves tying a four-foot-long cord to the hammer of the gun and wrapping the other end around your non-firing hand which should be hanging naturally at your side.
Each time the hammer falls, a quick backward jerk with the non-firing hand cocks the pistol and jerks the sights out of alignment with the bullseye. This is meant to correspond with the recoil of the pistol when live ammunition is being fired. The detail with which the training regimen takes the new shooter is far beyond what we see in the civilian world. It is designed to develop habits that will serve the soldier well in combat. While we don’t do them all in our range sessions, we do pull a few combat training maneuvers from the field manuals to make our training productive.
More Than Just Shooting
I have worked with some of my guys on the art of zeroing the rifles at the 60-yard range where we shoot. The landowner, along with his neighbor and several friends are among the shooters who enjoy shooting military firearms. In one session, a woman wanted to shoot the Garand. She’s a small woman, so encouraged her to shoot from the bench. However, she chose to stand. She held the rifle to her shoulder and fired all eight rounds. She did a good job of hitting what she was aiming at too.
One of the most popular military handguns in my collection is the M9 pistol. I would have thought it would have been one of the 1911s such as the M45 Colt, but maybe that’s just because I’m a 1911 fan. The M9 has had many trouble-free rounds through it and is reasonably accurate. Two of my SIG Sauer pistols, the M11A1, and P226, provide a lot of satisfaction to my shooters. They are both exceedingly accurate and a pleasure to shoot.
Recently, I was shooting at a range where they have over 100 machine guns for rent. Two guys and a young girl came in and set up on the lane next to me to shoot an M16. The girl went first. She stepped up to the firing line and fired a single shot, then a three-round burst, and finally, a nice, controlled string of full-auto. When the gun was empty, she stepped back and offered it to the next shooter. I had stopped shooting to watch her and couldn’t help but comment, “You’ve had some training on that gun.” One of the guys with her said, “Yeah, she’s ex-military.”
We owe those who serve in our military a lot, including our freedom to enjoy the types of weapons they used to keep us free. Getting to know and use these military firearms is worth the effort and price to do so.